Pls be empty, pls be empty…OH MY GOD, it’s not empty!!!

…that’s typically one of THE sentences that you will most likely be screaming. While trying to maintain a somewhat decent sanity, you move through Brennenburg, not able to remember anything besides of your name and a couple of flashbacks every now and then. “Amnesia – The Dark Descent”, winner of “Technical Excellence”, “Excellence in Audio” and “Direct2Drive Vision Award” at the Independent Games Festival 2011 combines multiple levels of horror, creating a unique gaming experience, not felt as intense before.

Set in the 18th century at Brennenburg castle in the Prussian Woods, Daniel awakes and finds himself laying on the floor, stripped from memories and orientation. There is just one more thing besides of his name that he knows…he needs to kill someone. While advancing through the castle, Daniel slowly uncovers his past and history through notes, flashbacks and text-pieces during loading screens and realizes that he is destined to be here, but something is going terribly wrong. Something is after him.

Switch on the light! – No don’t!

Created in 2010 by the independent games company Frictional Games, Amnesia grew fast into the hearts of horror gamers. While the story itself is certainly not a groundbreaking, interesting invention, its unique feature is the absence of weapons. (As opposed to other first person horror scenarios, like F.E.A.R, Doom, Dead Space, etc.) Amnesia intensifies the common atmosphere of danger immensely, by giving the player nothing more than a lantern and cinder boxes for safety and control over the environment.
This makes light the most precious resource throughout the game. When moving in darkness, Daniel’s sanity will decrease rapidly. Lighting up the environment will help regain sanity, but also make him visible to creatures in the dark and deny hiding. A low sanity however will make Daniel’s vision blur and waver, eventually leaving him helpless, screaming in fear and unable to move on the floor. So at the same time, being a life-saver, light is the most vicious enemy that players will encounter in Amnesia.

Is someone following me? – I think I’m safe here…

Since you already have to think about light and darkness so much, there is no need for the typical Scarejump moments, which almost completely make up games like Dead Space and Doom. In fact, the game is very “encounter-efficient” overall. Physical enemies are almost never seen, but always present. The eminent sound design of the game creates the feeling of being followed and watched every moment and makes you check your tail at least every 10th second in fear that something might be sitting right next to you. The worst enemy is the one you cannot see!
At certain points, the game provides relieving sanctuaries, allowing the mind to rest and to ease the stress level. While giving your heart and head the chance to calm down and your muscles to relax, it also lulls the player into a false sense of security: An unruffled mind is far easier to be shocked…

What’s left to say?

Overall, Amnesia does many things right and, especially being an Indie, oftentimes better than its commercial others named above. As always though, a couple of things remain to be said:
The dread of the game works best upon entering and in the first minutes of every stage. After that, the pattern gets repetitive. “Oh, that’s just the scream of a prisoner. It’s happening from time to time.” Especially slowly exploring non-rushers can see through the system quite quickly. Actual sightings of existing opponents cover this problem quite nicely though and keep the player stressed. The physic engine allows it to throw objects around, open drawers and cupboards, while preventing defensive interactions with monsters at the same time. While the last point is good and essential, the engine is not used very often and interesting opportunities are wasted.
Besides these minor critique points Amnesia might just be the best horror game available on the market right now and with 14,99€ on Steam very affordable and worth every cent.

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