Amnesia: The Dark Descent will forever hold a place in the deepest, darkest bowels of survival horror history. A genre besieged down the years by oversaturated jumpscares, unimaginative plot lines and far too predictable enemies was brilliantly rejuvenated in 2010 when a little-known studio triumphed where so many others had failed before it. Founded just a few short years before The Dark Descent‘s conception, Frictional Games delivered one of the most arguably intense and frightening experiences any player could ever hope for, a game that showed players so little by the way of “in-your-face fear” but rather, allowed your little frail and fragile minds to do the bulk of the legwork instead.
The thought of the unknown can be a scary and unforgiving tool to the human mind, that when left to its own devices possesses the eerie ability to blur the lines between reality and insanity, with horrible consequences. So what do you do when you’re not insane? when the monsters that stalk the shadows, prowling each corner are in actual fact real? Thomas Grip and the Helsingborg-based studio swept up our fears, emotions and our very sanity and used each element against us brilliantly with the introduction of Amnesia, and with the release of its collection for PS4, allows us once again to strike a tinderbox to light up the darkened narrow, malevolent hallways and rooms of Brennenburg Castle, the games brilliantly gothic setting.
Amnesia Collection: PlayStation 4 [Reviewed]
Developer: Frictional Games, The Chinese Room
Publisher: Frictional Games
Release Date:22 November 2016
Price: £23.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
Full disclosure: Amnesia Collection is not a remaster by any stretch of the imagination, more a ported collection of horrors that bind together, allowing us to return to the fear induced madness that dwells within the heart of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, its DLC Amnesia: Justine and The Chinese Room’s Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs for the first time ever on console. Some might argue that a collection of this nature deserves to be reworked; when separated from its somewhat short DLC, Justine and A Machine for Pigs, which Frictional overlooked the development of, the first iteration in the series is a sheer and unerring masterstroke of horror development.
Arguably the greatest horror game ever crafted, The Dark Descent did away with the want or need to fight back against its morbid looking enemies, instead, expertly playing upon players fears, forcing them to frantically dash and hide in the darkened shadows and wooden cupboards of Brennenburg Castle to avoid their unwanted attention. Hiding out of plain sight might very well be the optimal way to survive navigation through the inner workings of this gothic Prussian stronghold but it comes with its own perils. The Dark Descent‘s protagonist Daniel awakens on the floor of the castle with no memory of how he came to be there other than a mysterious letter written addressed to himself, from himself that details how he should seek out and kill Alexander, that its the right thing to do and that everything will be OK, players are left to think of that as they choose.
A sufferer of amnesia, Daniel must brave a labyrinth of murky hallways and the dank basement of the games beautifully gothic setting to locate and kill the mysterious Alexander while encountering creatures born from the darkest of minds. What makes Amnesia: The Dark Descent such a compellingly scary game to experience is its uncanny ability to frighten you out of not wanting to continue with only the gentlest of nudges. While some might take comfort in the darkness of the shadows, darkness itself breeds insanity for Daniel, and so while it helps you to avoid the games ghouls for a short time, it also draws them in closer to your location if you choose to linger too long in the shadows, an uncompromising position and staple of the series. Balancing light with darkness is imperative to survival; lighting up too much of a hallway with tinderboxes might keep you nice and sane but trespass across the path of a patrolling enemy and you’ll be left scrambling for an exit with no darkness to rely on. Equally, whilst an oil lantern might aid in guiding your way, knowing when to extinguish it is pivotal, and that’s part of what makes The Dark Descent such a truly terrifying game, balancing your wants with your needs.
The Dark Descent is a grand example of how to perfectly orchestrate and build up tension within a game, shifting gently throughout the blood ridden gears of its early carefree navigation to subtle yet eerily placed moans and groans that echo throughout the dreary hallways that lie ahead. Distant murmurings and sounds that elevate the atmosphere with perfectly weighted precision, allowing the player enough time to construct an idea in their minds as to what awaits them with further progression. The Dark Descent doesn’t simply force the enemy upon the player or spring out on them for an easy scare but nonchalantly drip feeds you moments of pure fear that will have you reaching for the main menu as the tension begins to border on the palpable.
When not clawing away at the layers of your sanity, The Dark Descent and other entries present players with frequently inventive and moderately complex puzzles that would leave you scratching your head with frustration for a solution more often than not were it not for the many notes and scribblings left scattered around Brennenburg Castle, that not only alleviate some of Daniel’s memory loss but drop-in subtle hints at how to solve each particular one. Uniquivicobaly, horror games at their core, The Dark Descent and its sibling’s puzzles help to flesh out the gameplay without being overly obvious, offering up blockades that require some knowledge or out-of-the-box thinking to manoeuvre through. Amnesia‘s riddles are simple yet effective moments that steer you away from moments of unbridled panic.
As masterful as The Dark Descent certainly is, it’s not perfect by any means. Frictional created genuine horror in its purest most horribly disturbing form and yet its voice acting leaves a lot to be desired, interactions with objects at times feel overly fidgety although work extremely well when puzzle solving, which feels comfortable for the most part, its ending feels a little unsatisfying, underwhelming and deserved of so much more which is disappointing when you consider all of the groundwork that went before it, everything leading to that one defining moment that feels slightly mediocre when compared to the rest of the game. Without the tweaks accompanying a remaster, its graphics are grained and outdated for an inclusion on a console as powerful as the PS4, but this should take nothing away from all of the great things Frictional accomplished.
After a successful release on PC, Amnesia: The Dark Descent spawned an addition piece of content with Justine, the often forgotten add-on that thrusts players back inside the horrors of Brennenburg Castle again, albeit as a different protagonist with a completely different story to tell. The addition of Amnesia: Justine is a nice accompaniment to the terrors of the main game, and although it’s remarkably short on gameplay, it remains equally as absorbing as its older yet more demanding brother. If the studios debut with the brilliant Penumbra series set the tone for things to come from Frictional Games, Amnesia: The Dark Descent cemented the Swedish developer in survival horror folklore, sadly the studio opted to oversee the development of its follow-up title, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, leaving the game in the hands of Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture developer, The Chinese Room which failed to reach the heavy heights of 2010’s masterpiece.
Renowned for pioneering the walking simulator genre, The Chinese Room sought to place their own unique spin on the Amnesia series with A Machine for Pigs but it was never likely to fulfil the monumental landmark set before it, that isn’t to say it doesn’t come without its own fair share of scares but at a price. Relinquishing the player of the need to collect tinderboxes to light the way or oil for that matter, A Machine for Pigs doesn’t rely on the constant need or worry for light, instead offering players a constant source of light in the form of a lantern, something The Dark Descent executed so brilliantly.
An indirect sequel to 2010’s introduction, A Machine for Pigs stripped The Dark Descent to its very bones, withdrawing so many of its predecessor’s bread and butter functions in the process. The elimination of the thirst to hunt for a source of light was swiftly followed by a bizarre move to take away the player’s sanity meter, something that made The Dark Descent such an exhilarating rollercoaster of a ride. The absence of so many key facets that came together to make the first entry such an iconic, engrossing fear fest leaves A Machine for Pigs feeling more like a scary walking simulator than anything else, a distant relation to what came before it. And yet, despite its abundant drawbacks A Machine for Pigs offers players a more substantial storyline balanced with a significant influx of terrifying moments such as a walkway collapsing under the weight of the player, who promptly falls into a grisly area where feasting monsters lie in wait, resulting in a heart-pounding race to escape death. With the series trademark puzzles making a return and ghastly enemies players could actually gaze upon without the need to stare away, A Machine for Pigs is surprisingly effective and a nice alternative to The Dark Descent.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent remains the most terrifying horror experience to come out of the genre over the last decade. With a nightmarish atmosphere and perfect tension build up, The Dark Descent delivered on a large scale, illuminating a genre sadly bereft of great games of late. In 2010, Frictional showed that you don’t need to show your entire hand in order to create a tense and thoroughly frightening experience, a formula many studios have attempted to emulate in the wake of The Dark Descent‘s release. Although A Machine for Pigs will never be looked upon with the same gaze as its predecessor, it delivers an acceptable alternative to the horrors of Brennenburg Castle with a compelling storyline that might possibly overshadow even that of The Dark Descent itself. Survival horror is a much-loved genre, sadly it is also one full of forgettable moments, Amnesia Collection is not one of those moments and should be garnered for what it ultimately achieved – sheer, unrivalled terror.
- The Dark Descent remains a masterstroke of horror development
- The build up in tension is unparrelleled
- Sound effects only add to the drama
- Inventive puzzles
- Nightmarish atmosphere throughout
- More a port than a remaster
- The loss of so many features in A Machine for Pigs is disappointing
- The Dark Descent shows its age