Friday, 11 March 2011

[Review] Anmesia: The Dark Descent

At a time where horror-survival games supply you with a weapon to comfort your grim journey, Amnesia offers only degrees of discomfort and tension.

You play as Daniel, whom wakes up in a castle with, you guessed it, amnesia. Your mission seems simple enough; descend into the castles Inner Sanctum and kill the baron Alexander. Sounds easy, right? As players descend into the Inner Sanctum, they will need to solve puzzles while trying to avoid monsters. Players acquire a lantern (which needs to be refilled with oil) and plenty of tinderboxes to light unlit light sources.

Amnesia tells its story through series of audio flashbacks and notes which are scattered throughout Castle Brennenburg. The audio flashbacks depict Alexander taking Daniel on the grand tour throughout his castle. The notes on the other hand fill in the reason that Daniel has come to Castle Brennenburg. They are diary entries which provide insight to scientific discoveries of ancient terrors and Daniels activities while at Castle Brennenburg. The Story told is extremely solid (and at times disturbing) and is told extremely well, especially when all the notes are collected.

But the strength of Amnesia lies in the game play and atmosphere. Dark rooms, visual sounds (such as footsteps, moans, growls, voices, screams, scratchings,etc), and visual disturbances such as piles of dead bodies and doors blowing open, not to mention the horrific creatures themselves, provided an extremely tense and terrifying atmosphere.

Amnesia makes use of a Sanity level. Sanity is affected by everything listed above. Witnessing unsettling flashbacks, staying in the dark for too long, and staring at monsters for will greatly affect your sanity level. As your sanity depletes, the screen becomes blurry, small insects begin to crawl across your face, you begin to halucinate, and you start heading towards the floor, eventually crawling along the ground. If things get any worse, you black out, leaving you extremely vulnerable until you wake up (with full sanity). Sanity can be gained by finding a light source (or simpling using your lantern) and by completing puzzles and progressing to the next section.

Now for the part you've all been waiting for. The enemies. One of the best strategies Amensia has implimented is the placement and execution of the games horrific creatures. The first thing to know is that if you are standing in a well lit area (or you have your lantern on), the creatures will see you. The second thing to note, is that the lower your sanity is, the easier it will be for a spawned monster to find you, regardless of the amount of light. Many of the gruesome creatures are scripted, that is they will always appear in the exact same place, no matter how many times you play the game. But, there are a lot of random creatures, waiting to spawn at any time. Simply knowning this piece of information causes the player to be extra cautious and, as a result, your greatest fear is based on whether a monster will spawn or not. You fear something that may not happen. But when you do face a monster (yes, this WILL happen sooner or later), you are unable to defend yourself, so you are left with two choices. One, you can stand there as he rips your face off, and your sanity becomes so low that your brain is dripping from your ears. Or two: you can run into a room, barricade the door with anything you find, and hide in the corner, hoping that the
monster will lose interest and de-spawn as he breaks down the door.
In Amnesia, the sounds are just as bone-chilling and tense as the enviroments. As you walk the grim halls of Castle Brennenburg it is not uncommon to hear a wide variety of screams, footsteps, moans, groans, rattling chains and even the grinding of your own teeth (seriously, the character will grind his teeth!).

Now to the puzzles. Most of Amnesias puzzles are pretty straight forward. You collect items found lying around, (like glass jars, wooden hand drills, hammers, etc) then you simply open your inventory and use them with machinery or chemistry sets to acquire a new item which will allows you to move on to the next area. There are some combination puzzles and timed puzzles, but none of them are of great difficulty. After all, this is a horror game, not a puzzle game.
Verdict: Buy it! Whether you are interested in having a look at Amnesia, or your a fan of horror games, buy this game. Frictional studios have done an outstanding job in making a true horror survival game, unlike any other available (maybe except Penumbra, but then, Frictional Studios made that too) which compels players to continue descending even as they face the horrors of Castle Brennenburg.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent - 9.5/10


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