October, that wonderful time of year when the weather starts to cool and scary movies start to pop up on television and on the main page of streaming services! To celebrate this month and the upcoming Halloween holiday, I have decided to take a look at some games in the horror genre. This time we’ll be taking a look at the first-person survival horror game Amnesia: The Dark Descent released in 2010 by Frictional Games.
You play as the partially amnesiac Daniel, who has consumed a potion of some sort that is messing with your memories. You don’t have full amnesia, as you remember your name and know that you are from London. Whatever you drank also seems to be messing with your equilibrium, as you initially teeter your way through a decrepit castle following a trail of red liquid.
As you follow along the trail, text overlays give you basic information about the game mechanics. In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, hereafter Amnesia for short, you have two basic stats: sanity and health. These are only visible from the inventory screen, and you are only given a rough indication of how sane and healthy you are.
When you see unnatural events, otherworldly creatures, or are stuck in a dark place your Sanity drops – leading to auditory and visual hallucinations, loss of mobility, and potentially death on the Hard difficulty setting. Sanity can be restored by staying in well lit areas and not seeing scary thing for a time. You also find tinderboxes throughout the castle, which can be consumed to light various candelabras, or torches, throughout the castle in order to provide an additional place to restore sanity.
Health is lost if a creature hits you. Health can be restored by consuming an in-game item, laudanum. This also seems like a good time to note that you have no weapons in Amnesia. When monsters appear your only defense is to run away and hide.
A few minutes after following the initial trail of liquid, Daniel finds a note written to himself from before drinking the amnesia-inducing potion. It instructs you to find a man named Alexander within this castle, and murder him. The note also lets you know that a reality-bending “shadow” is following you, and that you need to kill Alexander to redeem yourself. Oh, and it also lets you know the year is 1839, hence the candles and laudanum all over the place.
I won’t get any further into the plot. The above is hardly a spoiler, since it’s about the first five minutes of a game that takes several hours to play through. Instead, let’s talk a little more about the gameplay itself. You interact with the world through a point and click system. As an example, you can click on a door and push it open, or pull it shut.
The artwork for the game is slightly dated, but the gritty look and feel combined with the various camera tricks used to give you a sense of the castle shaking, or possibly your sanity slipping away, still hold up fairly well even today. The strongest part of the game is probably the story, told through voiced over in-game notes, flashbacks where you hear past conversations, and a few sentences of Daniel’s past when loading between areas. It is the main reason to play the game.
The actual gameplay consists mostly of trying to find some items that will unlock the next area and occasionally hiding, or running, from monsters. The music and sound effects for the game are very well done, and really help to give the game a creepy horror atmosphere. The voice acting is mostly okay, though Alexander is particularly well done.
As a decade old game, Amnesia is considered by some to be a classic of the survival horror genre. It has seen a lot of love over the years. A free extra level, Amnesia: Justine, was released in 2011, the developers released tools allowing for user created mods, Steam achievements were added in 2016, and Hard mode was added in 2018. Several later games, like the one I talked about in the first Halloween article, were likely influenced by it as well.
Overall, I would give Amnesia a solid “B+”, or 8.5/10 stars. It’s a little dated, but well worth a play through if you enjoy non-combat, survival horror games. I should note that this is not an appropriate title for small children to play.
You can pick up Amnesia: The Dark Descent on Steam here, where it has an overwhelmingly positive set of reviews. You can also go download the source code here and compile it for yourself, as the developer was nice enough to provide several of their older games as open source projects.