It’s from the folks who did Penumbra, so I pre-ordered this without much in the way of hesitation.
In the game, I am Daniel. A young Englishman. At least I think I’m Daniel. My memory has been wiped almost clean. I’m probably right about that, because every now and again, I’ll see something that triggers a fleeting scrap of memory. Then again, not all of those memories seem to be my own.
As Daniel, my two key indicators are my health and my sanity (both accessible from the inventory screen). Sanity, it seems, isn’t my strong-suit. Daniel’s vision sometimes swims, his balance can be uncertain, and he’s fainted on me more than once.
All is clearly not well in sanity-town. Being in the dark just makes things worse.
Almost immediately a few things are obvious: I am trapped in a large castle, somewhere; I am all alone; Something is wrong with the place and some natural or unnatural force seems to be fixing to bring it all down on top of me; There is an intermittent trail of odd pinkish drops back the way I have apparently come.
Following the trail leads me to new knowledge. In short order, I discover who wiped my memory, that there is one other person in the castle (or more properly, below it), that I must do a terrible thing, and that I am not alone. Some thing is after me. A thing that I cannot face nor fight, and that will spell my doom if it finds me.
The game plays as a first-person, real-time, action-adventure in 3D. You can walk, run, jump a bit, crouch and interact with your environment in the same sort of reach-out-and-grab-something way that we saw in the Penumbra series. Stuff can be picked up, thrown, dragged around, pulled, pushed and rearranged. Some puzzles rely on this.
You’ll occasionally pull levers, press switches, turn cranks and valve-handles, and push and pull at drawers, doors, cupboards, cabinets and the lids of trunks. You will be combining objects, using them from your inventory, throwing the occasional stone, repairing machines and generally solving puzzles to progress.
Then things will try to eat your head.
Graphically, it’s solid with vapour, water, blood, glass and stone all doing their job. Sonically, it’s also a grand experience.
Now, the horror.
Remember I mentioned how Daniel’s sanity tends to leak out of his ears in the dark? There’s quite a bit of dark. You can carry a lantern for which there is a limited supply of fuel, or you can light torches and candles along the way with a limited supply of lighting resources for those.
Your offensive capacity is essentially nil. There are things (plural) who will kill you (or worse) if they can. You have no way to oppose them. You can ineffectually toss rocks or manageably-sized bits of furniture, as if that will help you any. You cannot fight them. You cannot even really look at them without mister forebrain going on a bit of a holiday.
You can run, but in a straight footrace, they’re actually a bit faster than you are.
Among my top recommendations is cowering, sick and hyperventilating with gut-wrenching fear in a dark corner, preferably behind something. Or in a cabinet with the doors shut. You know… in the dark.
When things are looking for you, you don’t want to be the daft bugger standing in the middle of the room with a bright lantern.
You want to be in the dark, hiding, and letting the shreds of your sanity run out through your boots. At least I hope that wet feeling is his sanity.
A good 80% of the horror that you’ll experience in Amnesia is horror-by-implication. The game is mostly well-behaved insofar as keeping actual shocks and scares to a reasonable minimum.
There’s plenty of gore. An appropriate amount, however, for the story.
There’s blood and bones and body-parts and roaches. There’s pulsating, glistening flesh in places where it rightly ought not to be.
There are things you cannot even see, but which will feast on you if you afford them the opportunity.
Performance-wise, the game runs at about 20fps at 1680×1050 on my system, which is plenty of fps to handle the game credibly.
Playing time: I’m not sure how far I am through the game. I’ve been at it for about 5 hours or so altogether, I think (I’m pacing myself, okay?), and I feel like I’m about halfway through. I understand it isn’t a very long game, but it’s not also asking for a lot of dollars.
You can purchase the game online for Windows, Mac and Linux for somewhere in the ballpark of about $20USD. The Web-site lists a number of services that will sell it to you, including Frictional Games’ own store.
If proper horror is your bag, then Amnesia: The Dark Descent delivers it in soul-crushing spadefuls.
Play it now, if you’re up for it.