By strangemodule 8 Comments
My friend President Barackbar read my writeup on my feelings towards Amnesia: The Dark Descent and suggested I post it here on Giantbomb. I finished the game today and these are my thoughts. This writeup has NO spoilers.
WARNING: BIG WALL O’ WORDS HERE
So, I just completed Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Took me about 7 hours, and I only really needed to check an FAQ near the end for a sidequest.
This game made me feel many things: Panicked, creeped out, frustrated. Every time you hear someone talk about this game or read a forum post/recommendation on Steam, they usually say how scary this game is, and pretty much that.
Being someone who has only limited experience with horror games (I completed Silent Hill 2 + 3 only just this year), I have to say I definitely can see why people got scared. This game has a plethora of creepy ambient sound; creaks, disembodied footsteps, and more based on where you are in the game. Sometimes Daniel (the main character) will read off diary pages of his, or flashbacks will act out…well, things that happened in the past. Furthermore, when monsters come into play, the game plays a distinct booming tune that you will soon know by heart.
Sound design alone isn’t why this game is creepy. The castle’s dark, tight corridors (only lit by either disposible tinderboxes or an oil-sucking Lantern) mixed with the game’s excellent sound design and enemies who have the speed of Olympic medalists and attack power of a prize fighter means that the castle keeps you guessing and always wanting your lantern fueled up to the brim. It’s very difficult to truly describe how creepy the atmosphere is; perhaps the best way to do so is to say that while many games and movies in the horror genre have tried to be scary, Amnesia KNOWS how to be scary.
I won’t deny I felt scared. Many moments in the game had my blood pumping and me repeating expletives in rapid succession. Unfortunately, the game also made me feel irritated and confused about some of its design choices. Although they don’t completely ruin the quality of the game, the weakest links in this game (in my opinion) were the monster encounters and the sanity system.
As mentioned before, the occasional enemies you do find are one of the biggest reasons why the castle feels so unfriendly. Although you (almost) always have a chance to hide before they come your way, if they do see you they sprint much faster than your character can ruin, and one hit can take out half your health. Avoiding them is the only way to deal with them, and the tense music that plays when an enemy is around is also helpful for telling you when the coast is clear when it stops.
The problem is that the game is somewhat vague on what to do exactly to get the enemy to despawn. Since you have no weapons, the obvious (and only) solution is to escape their notice until they give up and move on. The problem is that sometimes an enemy will be just standing around in the middle of a path you need to go to without seeing you, and even if you distance yourself/hide yourself from them and never get seen they will not despawn. When this has happened, the only way to get them to disappear was to get out of my hiding spot and either get halfway across the level from them, or actually sneak around them into the next room.
May whatever deity you worship help you if they actually see you. Their aforementioned speed means they can easily outpace you, and a dark corner to duck behind isn’t always available. Granted, the only times I died in this game were near the very end (and by enemies who could one-shot-kill, apparently) but it was extremely irritating to have an enemy spawn just a few feet ahead and have no place to hide. Thankfully the enemy does despawn if you die, so you don’t have to deal with them over and over again. Still, the lack of options on how to deal with enemies and occasional getting stuck in a situation where you can not escape was annoying and made me question what I was supposed to do in that situation.
The Sanity mechanics were my other problem with the game. Although I really like the idea of sanity and what having low sanity could do to you, the execution more often than not broke the game’s pacing for me. I got the idea early on that I should probably try to keep my sanity as high as possible (full details on how sanity works here), but that was more an exercise in patience than anything else for two reasons.
The first reason why Sanity was annoying was because there are many scripted events that will drop your sanity. The only ways to get Sanity back was to solve puzzles and complete objectives (staying in the light only stops it from draining), and scripted “scary” events either made your sanity go down a notch, or all the way down to the worst level of sanity. Sometimes, these events happened shortly after I completed a puzzle! Although I get the idea that sanity is fleeting, it felt rather “game-y” that it was taken from me in such an arbitrary way. Meanwhile, I could lose sanity just by being in the dark, looking at monsters, or through the aforementioned scripted events. I never really felt that sanity was part of how I played; it was more like something that just came and went whenever it felt like it.
As for my other reason for disliking Sanity’s mechanics, it’s not because of how it was lost, but how you could regain it. As mentioned above, being in the light stops sanity from being lost, and it will eventually regain itself by a little bit. When my sanity went down to the lowest level, the thing I would typically do is light a torch with a tinderbox and stay still until my sanity went up a level. This typically takes a long time and combined with the arbitrary loss of sanity and the standing around while waiting for it to (eventually) go back to a “not-going-to-have-hallucinations” level, sanity felt more like something that broke the game’s pacing for me. I felt like whenever my sanity went to critical levels, I had to sit around until it was done regenerating so I could go on playing the game again. Maybe this is because of my playstyle, but I felt like the game was forcibly stopping me whenever it launched a sanity-draining scripted event at me.
Honestly though, my two problems with the game are just small flaws in a horror diamond that is Amnesia: The Dark Descent. A game does not need to be perfect in order to be something great, and Amnesia is a great game that does the horror genre justice. If you have the chance and want quality horror, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is your game.