Personal Rating: "Worth playing"
Traditional Rating: 7/10
Amnesia’s veritable house of horrors – Castle Brennenburg - is a superbly realised piece of gothic digital real-estate that comes straight out of hell even if you may have already seen its catalogue of horror clichés and settings in other games and films. Decaying and crumbling from within - your initial encounter with this hide-away-for-hell is akin to almost every lonely cabin or castle in the woods that pepper many a horror story. Ramshackle rooms will lead you from one area to the next, bookshelves will be covered with dust, dinner tables will almost always be covered in grime and decay as the food left on them begins to rot, windows will be cracked or outright smashed and an eerie wind will almost always be blowing through: finding its resting place in long, deep and dark cavernous hallways. One glance at the place should immediately tell you something very bad once happened here and another glance that it ain’t over yet!
Amnesia takes place in the early nineteenth century where you take on the role of a man named Daniel, a young man from London, who wakes up in Castle Brennenburg with little or no memory of his past except for his name. All the player is armed with at the onset of the game is a simple note – descend into the inner sanctum of the castle and find and kill a Baron that goes by the name of Alexander. Players soon realise that all is not well within the confines of Daniels mind. Events from the past – slowly revealed through letters and notes strewn across the castle – begin to paint a disturbing picture of how the evil in all of us can be accessed and then exploited by others for their own selfish gain.
Employing a rather genius mechanic of not actually being able to fight back at the various terrors encountered within the walls of the castle, Daniel needs to literally rely on running ahead and hiding in the shadows to avoid being caught or seen. This act, however, is a bit of a double edged sword. Not only is Daniel’s mind fast unravelling but his sanity too. The only way to keep Daniel from flipping out completely (which results in the entire screen dissolving in a dizzy flow of wavy lines with cockroaches running up and down its borders) is to keep Daniel within the confines of a light source. Fleeing from the terrors held within the castle and into a darkness so oppressive you can almost feel the weight of it falling out of your monitor is one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever encountered in any medium that uses horror to tell its story. Looking for a suitable hiding place as your eyes scramble to make out objects all while dealing with the onset of going totally insane by having your vision blur is the stuff nightmares are made of.
At its heart Amnesia: The Dark Descent is an adventure game. Puzzles are strewn about the place, requiring solving before any advancement can be made. The puzzles themselves are not too hard to figure out but some of them do border on the obtuse and you get the feeling the developers are doing nothing more than padding out their title.
Graphically the game looked outdated even upon its initial release but we have to remember that the game has been created without the AAA Budget of some big publisher and for an Indie it works. What the game lacks in graphical beauty it makes up in audio which really enhances this stark and grim world.
There are many times throughout the game where it literally becomes a heart-stopping affair. I won’t lie – the game can be relentless in its efforts to scare the bejesus out of you. While games like Dead Space and Resident Evil are quite happy to rely on trigger-happy scares to thrill their audiences, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is more happy to tie you up and then hang you upside down all whilst it slowly, very slowly hacks at your groin with a hack-saw with the intent to slice your buttocks open - doing all this while laughing manically. In other words – if you love horror, you should love this!