Custom Search

Friday, August 19, 2011

Indie Spotlight: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Let me get this out of the way here and now, I don't do horror; whether it be books, movies, or games. I generally just don't do it, ever. Sure, I know Bioshock could be considered horror to a degree, I don't really see Bioshock as TRUE horror. What I mean by true horror is the complete and utter feeling of helplessness and being completely defenseless. It's when you have such dread of going around the next corner that you'll sit and gather your wits for 5 minutes before proceeding, or you simply turn the game off altogether and find something cheery to do so you can calm down. So it makes it all the more surprising to me that I actually played Amnesia: The Dark Descent to its completion, AND that I thoroughly enjoyed it! Granted, I couldn't play it alone at any point of the game as I would become way too freaked out; so my cousin (who convinced me to try the game in the first place) helped me with it.

Amnesia is brought to us by Frictional Games, the same folks behind the Penumbra series. You're probably going to hear me say this a lot in this column, but indie developers have so much more creative freedom to realize their visions than big name development houses with publishers on their backs needing a massive profit. Amnesia is a prime example of this; as I seriously believe you will not get an experience like it at this point from any big name developer. Publishers are quite finicky I hear, and rarely stray from green-lighting cookie-cutter games for fear of losing money. Amnesia breaks many conventions of what survival-horror currently is, and shows that the genre can be so much more! If I were someone working in a game publishing company, I would be watching Frictional Games with great interest indeed.

With all of that said, Amnesia is anything but cookie-cutter. You begin the game stumbling through a dark castle talking to yourself. You are reminding yourself of your name, Daniel, and where you're from. As you're constantly telling yourself to focus, you black out and wake up sometime later sprawled on the floor in the middle of a random hall. The only memories you have are your name and where you live; everything else is gone. You have Amnesia; pretty hard to guess right? As you get up, you notice a trail of florescent red liquid (though it also looks like rose petals a bit) leading into room after room. It's dark, very dark, and you find some tinderboxes to light the extinguished candles and torches with. Eventually you come upon a letter addressed to you, but it's also from you. You discover that you've somehow made yourself forget everything you've ever done. You're then given a most grizzly task, to find Alexander Brenennburg, the lord of the castle you're in, and murder him. Without any more information than that, you find yourself with little choice but to head forward and listen to your past self.
I'm not going to say anymore about the specifics of the story, but I will say that the story never drops in quality until perhaps the very end. It's primarily told in flashbacks you have in certain rooms, and scattered letters you find from yourself and other former residents of castle Brenennburg that tell of your previous exploits and give background as to why you're here. This encourages you to explore every nook and cranny you can find for more information to continue the story. It's very possible to pass by a letter with vital information, and you become lost in the story because of the gaps it leaves. I'm a very thorough person though, so exploring in a game like this is very natural to me; but it may prove tedious or difficult to those with slightly shorter attention spans. The story can also be a little predictable at times, but that should by no means distract from the excellent tale that it is.

Gameplay wise, Amnesia is probably as survival-horror as you can get. Daniel is not a super-soldier, the chosen one, a mutant, mage, Spartan, or anything else you can think of that can wipe out legions of enemies by little more than blinking. Daniel is a man, an ordinary man, and he's scared to the point of insanity; literally. Along with his physical health, you must also manage Daniel's mental stability. When Daniel sees something disturbing, and he will quite frequently, his mental faculties will become more and more rattled. At first, this has little effect on him except for a little blurry vision. As he loses grip on reality even further however, he will begin to suffer from severely blurred vision, very hard heart beats, hallucinations of roaches crawling all over his body, stumbling, and eventually blacking out. Considering that the game is set in 1839, there's no Xanax sitting around castle Brenennburg for Daniel to calm himself down with. Instead, he regains his barrings on reality by solving moderately difficult puzzles to progress throughout the castle.

Daniel can also take preventative measures to keep his mind in check by staying in well-lit areas. Where there's no light in an area already, Daniel can create it by either using tinderboxes to light some of the extinguished torches and candles, or use his lantern. Both are very limited resources, but if can manage them properly, they'll go a very long way and you'll rarely find yourself wanting. If you're a wasteful kind of person though, you're going to need to learn better habits, and fast!

Aside from the disturbing events Daniel witnesses, the four enemies of the game will drain his sanity faster than you can shout “Holy reanimated corpses Batman!”. In all, the enemies include the darkness, what Fuzzy (my cousin) and I call the Water-Demon, the Gatherers, and the Shadow. I know it seems a little redundant that there's the darkness and the Shadow, but they are actually two different things. The darkness is very literally the darkness all around you. Without any light to combat it, it will drain your sanity to the point where any slight disturbance will have Daniel stumbling and screaming for his mummy (yea, he's British). The Shadow on the other hand, is an actual being that you never actually see, but you know it's there from the roaring and the fleshy boils and sacks that cover every surface of the environment and hurt Daniel when touched. The Water-Demon lives, you guessed it, in the water and chases anything that enters its domain. You never actually see it either, but you know it's there by the footsteps splashing on top of the water as it relentlessly pursues you. The Gatherers are the most common enemy second to the darkness, and look like mutilated and disfigured corpses that roam the halls of castle Brenennburg. By simply looking directly at them, Daniel's sanity begins to drop like a lead weight. If Daniel is seen by it, it will chase him until he can lose its line of sight and hide. Once hidden for a minute or so, the Gatherer loses interest, leaves, and disappears into thin air.

The presentation that ties all of this together is absolutely phenomenal! I have no idea what engine Amnesia is made on, but I would love to know because it almost has an Oblivion vibe in my opinion. Either way, for being stuck in a dark castle for the entire game, the environment is surprisingly diverse. From laboratories, to engine rooms, to sewers, to kitchens, to dungeons, to even a morgue, it's all here, and it all looks great! Everything is also powered by physics, especially the doors and other opening and closing objects. When opening a door, you need to hold left-click and move your mouse forward or backward and the door will move at the speed you move your mouse. This adds another element of caution because opening doors faster or making excessive noise with objects will draw unwanted attention from nearby Gatherers. As great as the visuals and physics are though, the real star of the presentation is by far the sound. The game could look absolutely hideous (thankfully it doesn't), and it would still be terrifying from the sound design alone. I can't tell you how many times I instinctively looked behind myself after hearing a random shuffling, whispering, voices, screaming, wind blowing, and various other oddities. The music is very subtle and ambient, hardly noticeable but enough so to greatly effect your mood and apprehension level. Frictional Games did such an amazing job on the sound design, I'm going to flat-out demand that they win an award for it at the next Independent Games Festival! Overall, Frictional Games has a real gem on their hands with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in horror!

Amnesia: The Dark Descent Overall Score:5 Star

PC System Requirements

    • OS: Windows XP/Vista/7
    • Processor: 1.5Ghz - Low budget CPUs such as Celeron or Duron needs to be at about twice the CPU speed
    • Memory: 1 GB
    • Hard Drive: TBD
    • Graphics: Radeon 9600/GeForceFX - Integrated graphics and very low budget cards might not work.

Mac System Requirements

    • OS: Mac OS X 10.5.8 or newer
    • Processor: 2.0Ghz
    • Memory: 1 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Radeon X1000/GeForce 6 (Integrated Intel Graphics not supported)
    • Hard Drive: 2GB space free

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment