Amnesia – The Dark Descent

Amnesia is the newest game by Frictional Games, and more importantly – runs natively on linux!
(and on windows and mac.)

Frictional games is also the company behind the Penumbra series, whose engine was recently open sourced after being featured in the Humble Indie Bundle. (another fine initiative for Linux Gaming) The penumbra series is a first person survival horror adventure, taking you deeper into a mysterious mine in a quest for answers and an escape from its dangers. Its extremely atmospheric and though low on actual monsters, the threat is ever present. A strong game!

Amnesia was released September 8th and thanks to the fine people at The Blog of Helios I got an evaluation version! 🙂 Game downloaded and installed; lets see how this one plays!

The story starts with the player character waking up and not really knowing a lot, if anything. I didn’t mind because this way at least I was on equal footing with the character, deepening the immersion. We find out more with each note and flashback and get introduced to a dark back story and a collection of pretty horrid characters. And some twists apparently, I hear there are several possible endings and I always appreciate that in a game 🙂

Amnesia seems to be built on a newer version of the Penumbra engine; a real coming of age. First off they were able to address some of the frustrations I had with the previous engine. Rotating objects in Penumbra was impossibly hard and required pushing the object against a wall or the floor until it was right. Quite the nuisance for some of the physics puzzles where you had to stack boxes.. These new functions are also nicely introduced in the sporadic in-game hints; coming up when necessary.
The game also has a fresh bag of tricks containing mist, wind, insanity effects and more. All these are great mechanics for building suspense without going into cheesy stuff or actual threats. The first part of the game solely relies on these to convey a sense of danger. Combined with a nifty mechanic where your character starts swooning and fainting, like the fear/adrenaline effect in Penumbra, but again a more polished version. Adding a layer of uncertainty that isnt just darkness or danger, but doubt in the character itself. You might see the monster but will the game character be able to actually run from it?

As with Penumbra, the Production Values are superb. Penumbra had incredible voice acting and Amnesia follows that suit. The ambient sounds set an incredible mood to the point that for the first time playing a game, I have wondered about playing it in a 5.1 setup. (I dont care for 5.1 with the usual shooting games; with Amnesia on the other hand, I do believe the extra level of immersion would be worth while..) The story is told through a series of letters and flashbacks and again, the voice acting brings it together! Ill confess to expecting less than decent English VO from a Scandinavian game, but am glad to say the English is excellent. (or at least excellent to the extent that I am able to judge) As far as I was able to tell, the text is available in several languages, the audio is English only. I was considering playing the game in French since that might add something to the mood, but Im glad they didn’t add the extra voice acting since that wouldn’t be worth the extra cost as far as Im concerned..

This all adds up to some great in game cut scenes, enhancing the mood at frequent intervals.

The mechanic that really brings it all together is the Insanity System. The usual health and limited light concepts are completed by a Sanity stat. That layer of uncertainty doubt in the character itself. Your sanity starts slipping in the dark and when freaky stuff happens. You restore sanity by being in a lighted room, but the Nasties can easily see you if you’re in the light. And you can see them better which wont help you cope either. You also restore sanity by making progress in the game, solving puzzles.
This prevents you from spending hours walking around the rooms and searching for all the tinder boxes and oil, etc. Instead it keeps you in the mood, making sure you don’t lose that sense of dread and urgency. Knowing there is something out to get you, roaming the rooms. Barely being able to get to the next room because of your fleeting sanity and being unable to discern the insanity driven shadows from real objects, let alone threats.

And as an extra for those who care, there is a Comments track, where the creators discuss the game and design. (I might be behind on games, but its the first time I’ve seen this on anything other than DVDs?) And Custom Stories with an editor for anyone who wants to expand on the default scenario. Im hoping to see some awesome stories, but I guess we ll have to wait and see. Considering how few games provide this tool-set for survival horror, I do have high hopes. This kit is sure to tickle the creative minds of lots of people.

So. If you dont like the mystery, discovering the story and enjoying the scare, you wont like Amnesia much. There is no shooting, you can throw a rock, but thats about it and you ‘re generally quite helpless against a very hostile environment.
But if you do like all that, you re in for a great ride 😉

Published by Gert

Person-at-large.

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