By Obscure 0 Comments
Frictional Games: The last name “Grip” is strangely apt for a horror game designer.
I recently wrapped up Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and, like many, I have almost exclusively good things to say about it. The atmosphere of Amnesia is pretty much perfect, and while the pacing of the game effectively switches gears from moments of calmer investigation or puzzle solving to moments of excitement and tension, it goes great lengths to avoid letting the player ever feel completely secure. I thought, however, that to keep an Amnesia review interesting, it would be educational to examine the places where the game actually failed for me, and analyze what went wrong. Spoilers abound, but are predominantly relegated to the last paragraph.
You may find it surprising that I think the seemingly hokey, disembodied-hand-based physics engine was actually under-used. I found it quite intuitive, and I can’t conceive of a better way to simulate the flailing dexterity of a panicked person trying to operate a door handle, or pile up a makeshift barricade. The real disappointments were the occasions when it was unclear whether a given puzzle required an abstract solution (like combining and using inventory objects or finding a switch) as opposed to a physics solution (like throwing a rock). If I had it my way, it would have been all physics manipulation all the time, so as to maintain consistency and immersion.
When I first encountered the game’s monsters, I discovered that they would eventually disappear altogether if I merely waited long enough in a secure location, causing me to adopt a boring, tension-dissolving strategy of sitting around in the dark twiddling my thumbs that was in no way discouraged by the game. I discovered that, in later sections, certain monsters never de-spawn – a breach in the apparent “rules” of the game that resulted in me waiting in a side room for 20 minutes straight and wondering whether the monster music had simply bugged out. The permanent monster, aside from shattering my immersion, also totally undermined my “wait it out” strategy, causing me to wonder: Why did the designers choose not to make EVERY monster permanent?
Most of Amnesia’s plot is, predictably, made up of antecedent action, delivered through notes, flashbacks, and monologues with middling to good effectiveness (taking a few cues from Gone Home might have improved this somewhat). The most egregious disruption of immersion in the entire game, however, came from a late game “conversation” with Agrippa, who awkwardly pauses while speaking to the player as if to let Daniel reply, then continues talking as though Daniel had said something that he didn’t. Ideally, I would have simply cut Agrippa from the game, since the appearance of a friendly person significantly undermines the ongoing tension, but in lieu of that, perhaps they could at least have suggested that Agrippa was deaf, or the like, to justify him monologuing at a silent Daniel.