“Less is more” is a motto that cannot be expressed enough times for the horror genre. More often than not, though, it falls on deaf ears—especially when it comes to horror games, where too many times “terror” seems to be mistranslated into gross-out blood baths with relentless action. AMNESIA: THE DARK DESCENT, however, seems to understand the power of minimalism and uses it in spades.
AMNESIA is steeped in the style of Victorian-era horror, which recalls the familiarity of Mary Shelley, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, and other gothic writers with a penchant for dreary, dark looks into the human soul. You awaken in a foreboding, long-since-abandoned mansion. Exactly how you got there is a mystery… and might remain somewhat of a mystery, depending on how much you love your narratives being delivered in epistolary papers scattered throughout the game. On the plus side, the story is also told through flashbacks done only with voices and noises. And to Frictional’s credit, the audio alone during the flashbacks creates a far more vivid image than any visuals could provide.
But story isn’t the main focus of the game, nor should it be. It’s here to deliver what’s promised: a dark descent into a terrible abyss.
Even though a few years have passed, AMNESIA is still a refreshing contrast to the action/horror genre. Mainly because there is no “action” to be found. You don’t have any muskets, knives, or even fists to fight the monsters you confront. Just your wits to either hide or run away.
In fact, confrontations are far apart and few. Most of the moments are spent wandering around the corridors, solving complex but not too frustrating puzzles. Just walking down the creepy sections with—
And then it appears without a warning.
Like any good scare, AMNESIA knows how to let your guard completely down before finally doing what it’s done best. Every encounter and shock feels organic. No violins playing up the encounter, or moments where it feels too quiet to be true. You make your way through the mansion with little light, not knowing if the creaks and cracks are them walking about or simply your imagination—until it’s too late.
Unfortunately, the same shock and horror cannot be said for the creatures’ looks. At the start they’re only seen from a distance, and with good reason. Without spoiling it, once you start seeing them up close, it’s a bit like seeing the rubber monster with the zipper in the back. And while they still give a good rush of adrenaline during their appearances, they start to go from terrifying to a mild annoyance as the game progresses.
Despite its shortcomings, AMNESIA makes up for them with atmosphere dense enough to cut a knife through, smart puzzles, and above all, a brutal and unrelenting suspense that never lets go.
Release Date: September 8th, 2010
Publisher: Frictional Games, THQ
Developer: Frictional Games
Rating: M (Mature)