As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media- games, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
When Paranormal Activity and the sequels came out and revitalized the found footage craze started so famously with The Blair Witch Project, I was totally on board. These weren’t your usual horror movie victims, plucky and tough and able to eventually overcome the big bad. These were normal, flawed individuals who more often than not, did not survive the film.
When Amnesia – The Dark Descent released in 2010, it had a lot more in common with these types of “screwed protagonist” films than the Resident Evils and Silent Hills of the world did. In those games there was always something to hit, or kill, or trick, to allow your protagonist time to get back to safety. Even R.E. 2’s biggest scare (the one way mirror. DEAR GOD), ends up being just a jump scare, because with Leon’s gun the threat is over quite quickly. Picture how much worse that situation would be if Leon could only run or hide in the dark, with no weapon to defend himself.
That worse case? That’s Amnesia.
For those of you unfamiliar with this amazing game, it came out at a pretty stagnant time in the horror game genre’s timeline. Everything had fallen into a pretty predictable pattern – of scary s--t is happening, give the main character the ability to stop the scary s--t and save the day.
Amnesia took that and turned it on its head. What if, the developers asked, the main character is essentially helpless – with just a light source and the ability to run and hide when confronted with the unspeakable evil that is pursuing him? Suddenly you, the player, found yourself in a world that was far more uncontrollable, and far closer to what real life like be like if you were trapped alone, with your sanity slowly dissolving
For my own play-through, I figured I’d play it the same way I did my old marathon sessions of R.E. and Silent Hill – at night, no lights on, headphones. The ominous sound design, and the real fear that one of my kids would bang my door open at midnight looking for a glass of water made that decision only last about a day, before I gave up and played with every light on, and the door blocked.
The plot itself is about the titular memory condition. You wake up in a castle, alone and confused, with a note detailing that you erased your own memory. You are told you must kill the owner of the castle, Alexander, and over the course of your explorations you find more information that slowly fills in your now deleted memory. You also start to hear unsettling sounds and start to hallucinate. Your only protection is a series of tinderboxes you can use to light candles and torches and a lantern that uses oil to illuminate the creepy castle you’re trapped in. You must solve puzzles, seek out information, and stay one step ahead of…something that is hunting you.
The true star of this game isn’t the various beasties that pop up from time to time, but the overall sound design, and how it slowly builds intense dread in even the most mundane of experiences. The simple act of rounding a corner will often times line up perfectly with some creepy noise making your breath catch and your heart rate to spike.
Graphics wise, this is not a 4K experience. The game still looks like a 2010 release in most ways, and while this might be a detriment in a great deal of recent releases, here it actually kind of adds to the creepy factor – as the grainy graphics and less than pristine sight lines increase the fear factor in many locations
Amnesia is a stunning entry in the horror genre of games, that altered the entire landscape a la Paranormal. The sequel, and additional content included here are also excellent, but not quite as ground breaking as the original. If you’ve never played, and can handle the ever present dread, it’s a must play.