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Amnesia: The Dark Descent


Excuse me while I have a heart attack.
Not since Eternal Darkness on the Nintendo Gamecube has a survival horror game come along to frighten me with such calculated terror as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. From the developers that also worked on the Penumbra horror games, Amnesia puts the player into the role of a young amnesiac named Daniel thatís trying to figure out why heís trapped in a medieval castle. Ripped out of the Memento plot, Daniel is forced to rely on notes that heís written for himself and is tasked with killing the baron of the castle. Heís also surrounded by living nightmares that are in the way of his main goal, all of which he has no defense for. Itís survival horror without any offensive tools to survive, hence the constant sense of heightened tension. The presentation, while dated, creates the most terrifying mood that Iíve ever encountered in a video game. Playing at night with a great set of headphones is not recommended for the faint of heart.



The game seems to be partly inspired by H.P. Lovecraftís The Outsider; the lack of memory and castle setting for instance. As Daniel begins his journey, you start to realize that heís missing a few of his marbles. To make matters worse, the developer included a twist on his growing insanity by increasing the rate of craziness when Daniel enters a shadow. This happens more often than not because evading the grotesque creatures that inhabit the castle is difficult in the light. When Daniel goes completely mad, he will start to see odd occurrences around him and the gameís screen / controls will often go haywire to screw with the player, similar to Eternal Darkness. The amount of lighting sources to Daniel is very limited in the game, namely the fuel used to light Danielís trusty lantern.

The core of the gameplay is exploration, puzzle solving and avoiding the nightmarish creatures. Daniel has no offensive weapons at his disposal, thus he can only run from the monsters or stay out of their way. Exploration uses a quirky mouse control system that requires you to swing the mouse in the direction of how Danielís hand is positioned on the object. Want to open a door handle? Move the mouse down and to an angle. Need to stack boxes in the room to get to a ledge? Move the mouse to position the box correctly. Itís interesting to use this control scheme as you are in constant terror of whatís creeping around the next corner. Spending time trying to open a door correctly only adds to the tension. The puzzles are generally simple to solve, although there are a couple that take some brain power to get around.



Beyond the single player story, thereís no multiplayer component built into the game. But itís definitely not a game that needs a multiplayer mode as there are no offensive abilities for the most part. I can tell you that itís wildly entertaining to watch a friend play through the game after you have completed it. Especially when you reach up behind them at the most terrifying points in the game to scare the living daylights out of them. (Although I was tasked with cleaning up the split coffee after that ordeal.)

Graphics

  • Visually, the graphic engine is a bit dated, but does an excellent job of using lighting effects to create tension. The shadows dance off the walls and the creepy monster lurk in the darkness. The developer also did a great job incorporating the disturbing visual effects when the main character falls pray to insanity. My only complaint is that the castle environments start to become repetitive in the latter stages of the game.



Audio

  • The voice acting of the main characters isnít particularly spectacular, namely the occasionally goofy live delivery. It still sells the story, just becomes occasionally distracting. However, the creepy ambient sound effects (which range from monsters to creepy voices) are absolutely frightening and scattered throughout the levels with devilish intent. The musical score is equally as stellar with orchestral tunes that set a shivery feel throughout the entire castle.

Conclusion

Thereís plenty of flaws to point out in the gameplay and graphic design, but itís doesnít hamper the exhaustingly scary experience. The game excels at involving the player in the unsettling narrative and remaining unrelenting at making you fearful of every single step taken throughout the decrepit castle. One caveat to the gameís experience is that itís relatively short, clocking in at about five to seven hours to completion. That being said, the price ($MSRP: $19.99) offsets the game length as well as the overall quality of the title. Donít hesitate to download Amnesia: The Dark Descent for the PC if you love the survival horror genre or simply love wonderfully crafted stories.

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