Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the latest in a series of adventure puzzle games from Frictional Games. Amnesia shares many similarities with Frictional’s other major work the Penumbra series. Using both its engine and its physics puzzle system, the only major change to gameplay is that unlike Penumbra you are incapable of hurting enemies.
Amnesia opens with you filling the shoes of the voiceless amnesiac Daniel. Daniel must survive the pitfall of the castle while being pressured by a creature known only as the ‘shadow’. The story is told through Daniel’s journal pages, that were fortunately spread throughout the castle in chronological order as you go deeper. You are also treated to audio flashbacks of the Castle’s memories of traumatic events in its past that are reminiscent of the ghosts in Bioshock.
The entire game feels quite a bit like the early hours of Bioshock. The initial culture shock of not knowing where or who you are mixed with horribly disfigured monsters trying to kill you. The only departure is that instead of a wrench and plasmids Daniel is armed with a lantern and cupboards to hide in.
Something to understand immediately is that Amnesia is not a game. The puzzles are lackluster and the stealth elements aren’t as polished as Metal Gear’s. The one reason to play Amnesia is for the thrill ride it takes you on as you jump and scream, and your blood pumps as a faceless abomination from the far reaches of the maw of madness hunts you down for your last drop of blood.
Amnesia tries to feel like an adventure game like Riven or Grim Fandango, but it falls short. The puzzles are mind numbingly simple and once you explore the area and find out if you’re alone or not there is no sense of danger. I spent half the game hoping I was going to have to do a puzzle while dodging monsters but never had to. Once the sense of danger is gone from Amnesia the cracks begin to show.
In the course of playing Amnesia I ran into numerous bugs, not little bugs like “this monster got stuck on a wall” but having to restart my computer three times to get the game to properly initialize its graphic engine so it would run above 5 FPS. At one point an entire level disappeared and I found my self wandering around in nothingness and had to reinstall. Their official forums were useless and no patches could be found that would improve the game being more then a crap shoot.
The game quickly becomes easy to figure out, there are two types of levels: Puzzle levels which have no enemies and Run-for-your-life levels that involve constantly dodging patrolling enemies. You can also count on an enemy to spawn after every big puzzle, like your flicking the switch shouts far and wide “lunch is served”.
The first time a monster forced me down an alternative path only to find it was blocked and I had to go down the monster tunnel it was a scary fun ride. After learning that the monsters constantly despawn and only a handful in the entire game stick around after the initial attempt at eating you the monsters quickly lost their scary factor.
Amnesia relies heavily on suspension of disbelief. If you are unable to let the game suck you in you will find a sub-par puzzle game with lackluster stealth elements and a plethora of bugs that make you wonder why you’re even trying. If you allow the game to suck you into its world, let yourself for a single moment pretend you are Daniel, then the game shines. Imagine for a moment running down a corridor with a monster chasing you thinking its going to rip you to shreds, ducking its attacks and eventually hiding in the darkness as your sanity slips away. You hear Daniel mumbling to himself as the creature walks right by you, seen only as a black outline in the murky darkness.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review,