There have been many story comparisons given with regards to Amnesia: The Dark Descent –most notable would be to H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, but that would be too much of a simplification (we do some bits about otherworldy beings, eternal life through alchemy, and other little Lovecrafty stuff –but nothing on the same scale as the maddening old gods). The Dark Descent is a little less about the bigger picture and more about the protagonist’s growth as a character –or more specifically, how he regains his humanity by slowly restoring bits and pieces of his past while pushing towards a future where he must right the wrongs that he was subjected to.
What is Amnesia: The Dark Descent?
Amnesia is a survival horror story where players take on the role of Daniel, who unfortunately wakes up without his memories somewhere in the middle of the Brennenburg Castle in Prussia. With nothing but a small lantern and a note (written by his pre-amnesiac self) that says that he has to kill “Alexander”, players must venture deeper into the castle in order to uncover the mystery of Daniel’s past as well as to fulfill the mission he has given himself.
Unlike most survival horror games, this one is all about running away from danger and solving puzzles in between. You get no weapons –at all. Combat is not part of the game here, and for good reason too. The monsters you face will be creepy and scary, and more than half the time, action-oriented players will really wish they have a way of fighting back. This creates a strong level of tension that is not often felt in other horror games. But since you do not do much fighting, the overall gameplay time to complete this will be significantly shorter than games like Resident Evil. But as to why Daniel does not take up proper arms story-wise is a spoiler that is best uncovered by playing the game.
Stealth and Running Away
There are two main ways for players to move about in-game: the first is to move with the intent to explore carefully. You must manage Daniel’s safety and sanity –keeping him in the dark allows him to hide from monsters but makes him all the more paranoid, staying in the light relaxes his mind, but it also makes him more visible to enemies. Balancing the time you spend between the two is tricky, tension building, and a lot of fun for players wanting to get the full fright experience.
The other thing you do in this game is to run away from monsters. This means running to the little nooks and crannies to keep Daniel out of sight (usually in madness-accruing darkness) and waiting until the monsters eventually give up on the search. It is a very unnerving situation to be chased down long hallways and wondering if your hiding spot is good enough, and the sound of monsters creeping along the area is going to make your hairs stand on end.
How Scary is It?
The fact that you cannot fight back make the player not only feel helpless, but also trapped. The game’s events –the way it reveals parts of Daniel’s past and other memories that he cannot understand are depicted as if the player was seeing apparitions. It is disturbing and boggling at the same time. Jumpscares are few and far in between, much of the game’s fright factor comes more from knowing that danger awaits you in the light, but staying in the shadows too long is going to cause problems with your sanity.
Old School Horror Game
The real story behind Alexander, Daniel, and even the mysterious presence in the castle is well written, and is cleverly executed. With three variations of the ending available, there is also room for a replay or two. All in all, you are certainly worth getting a good gaming experience from Amnesia: The Dark Descent.