By Video_Game_King 22 Comments
I had a good introduction for this blog, but I forgot what it was. Instead, we'll just have to meand-OH, right! That thing about how I don't like survival horror games. Yea, about how only about twelve of them actually know how to craft a scary, well conceived atmosphere, and usually the remainder is just a mediocre action/adventure game that uses "it's supposed to be scary" as an excuse? Well, Amnesia isn't that. Like, at all. It's not even close. The developers of this game decided that they'd put some effort into making a scary yet believable world, and damn, did they succeed.(Now why did they have so much trouble with that when they were making Penumbra?)
Step one in crafting a believable world: making sure it looks pretty....sort of. Allow me to explain: from a technical side, it looks fantastic, the lighting being the strongest part. There's not a lot of it in the first place, so you bet they're going to make the little that's there look great. I don't even know how to describe it. Dank? Depressing? All around musty? That's the problem I encounter when describing this game: the world looks like shit. I want to compliment the game, but in doing so, I'd have to say how everything looks messy and generally unpopulated for some time. I'm quite aware that this is the point behind Amnesia, and that things are supposed to be gritty and all-around terrible, but it sure does make it hard to recommend the game without sounding like you're being an asshole about it. Rest assured, though, that I actually liked all the bad things I said about the game.
So can you imagine how I'll feel about the good things I say about the game? The obvious answer is "good"; the less obvious answer is "sponge-worthy". Bonus points for the path less taken, because this is where I turn Amnesia into an episode of Seinfeld. Nothing really happens in Amnesia, and that's the strength behind the game: nothing. It may sound like a mind-screw, but just follow me on this one. You wander through the halls of Castle Brennenburg, just waiting for something, anything to happen, but the only thing that comes is nothing. With all this nothing bandying about, you're gonna pay really good attention to the somethings that happen...assuming something actually does happen. See, that's another good thing the game does: make you question the reality it presents. There's even a sanity meter dedicated to it, making things more and more surreal the longer you stay in the darkness. (More on the darkness later, though.) What does that mean, though? Well, if you don't want the entire fucking premise of the game ruined for you, busy yourself with a rapping Nanako while I say that the sanity feature just makes the walls squishy and sometimes hurts you for no real reason. That's it.
Wait, that's not it. I forgot to tell you about the Shadow following you throughout the game. Or maybe it's a Brute? I'm not sure, as the game isn't terribly clear on what the hell's tormenting you. I'd say that's a strength, and while it certainly is, there are better reasons why this guy is so damn scary. Simply looking at the monster, for instance, will summon its wrath, probably because he's completely butt-ass naked. The best part about the monsters in Amnesia: you can't fight back against him. If he sees you, you only have two options: die or pump up the Convoy for the enormous amounts of ass you're gonna have to haul. That's what makes him so scary. If you could defend yourself against him, then you'd defend yourself against him, reducing him to a regular annoyance rather than something to be feared.
Unfortunately, this brings us to a part of the game that feels an odd fit here: the actual game parts. I call it an odd fit for two reasons: the developers tell you upfront that this game isn't supposed to be fun, and there's not a lot to this outside the narrative in the first place. In fact, I can really only name three gameplay features: adventuring, lighting, and sanity...ing. I've already mentioned the sanity, so let's move on to the lighting, because I'm certain that requires some explaining. Remember that sanity feature? Well, light makes you more sane. Of course, solving puzzles also makes you more sane, so really, there's no reason to use your lantern and tinderboxes throughout the game. You can just bump your way through the dark with a decent amount of success. This isn't even a case of me bumping up the brightness to spite the game design; I put it at the recommended level, and I still cloaked myself in darkness with ease, amassing a stockpile of matches that would put an amateur pyromaniac to shame. I'd say that a lot of the game's tension disappears when darkness ceases to be terrifying, but given everything else I've said about the fear, it really is a testament to the game's quality that it can be scary without being dark.
Although that's not to say the game isn't dark.The st-wait, I forgot about the adventure game mechanics. You know, all that business about mashing a fish into a piece of wood until that solves a puzzle. That sentence right there is why I'm not an Amnesia designer: the puzzles there actually make some sense. Granted, they're less compelling and more an occupation of time, but everything's structurally sound. You won't pick up items until you've encountered a problem they can solve, and all the puzzles have an understandable logic to them. Also, ham. On the other hand, though, a lot of the game's challenge comes from poorly designed environments where I have no idea where I'm going. No, this has nothing to do with lighting, and more to do with how everything looks incredibly similar. I get it, Amnesia people: you want to make things feel desperate and scary, but this isn't the way to go about it. Having me wander around, wondering how to progress the story is ju-
RIGHT! The story! How could I forget about this? I mean, there are even a couple of PDF short stories included with the damn game. How much more focused on story could you be? And how much more repetitive can I sound, because I feel that whatever good things I say about the story are things I've said everywhere else. For instance, it's psychotic. You're just walking along your merry path, when suddenly, you get assaulted with the terrified screams of a lone mother or something like that, slowly being tortured by your past self. It only gets worse and worse over time, the terror growing greater, as does your hope that somehow, at some time, the protagonist redeems himself somehow. That's what he's doing, right? He's trying to take down some dude named Alexander because the main character's an incredibly naive prick, right? Well, anyway, you keep wandering through, hoping that the protagonist gets what he wants in the end, but he doesn't. It never happens. You're still an asshole (especially when you consider that the flashback storytelling means you're pretty much repeating all the assholeish things you've done before), and the world still sucks because of it. I guess my only complaint is....nah. Let's end on a positive note this time. The game certainly doesn't.
- A game so dark that I can't even joke about it...anymore.
- Hooray for a game that understands how fear works!
- I'm willing to overlook the impressionless gameplay because of it.
I can't tell if this is scarier than the source material or if it's more delightful.
Why am I thinking of You're the Best (Around)? (No, that's not a link to the song.) I have at least some idea why: the "history repeats itself" line. Remember my Penumbra blog? Remember the second game there? Well, it's the same here (right down to this fucking "Remember X" bit on a patriotic American holiday), except for one key detail: I don't like Splatterhouse 2. It's not the best around and I'm gonna keep it down.
Well, except when it comes to the story, because that's harder to keep down. I mean, there's not a lot to keep down in the first place. Rick (I had to look up his name because it's never used once in the game) has to rescue his squeaky, tinny-voiced girlfriend from hell demons. Not the most compelling narrative in the world, and not the tightest, either (why are the demons capturing Jennifer in the first place?), but whatever. It works for the purposes of the game, those purposes being "combine brutal horror with some awesome moments". OK, you're not going to be scared, but you have to appreciate how far the developers go toward making things look like shit. I don't know how to explain it properly, so let's just leave it at "I really liked the icky horror movie portions". Yet even if that's not enough for you, there are always the brief cinematic portions throughout the game to keep you entertained.
Now I just wish the actual game could keep me entertained like the squid boat fights and hanging demon fetuses. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm probably being dishonest by calling this a game. What game is there here? You walk forward, punch things, sometimes press a jump button, and then continue for too long. Yea, there's something fun about brutally smacking fuckers about with your raw power, but you can only carry that so far, game. Normally, eight levels would be a healthy length for a game, but for something this shallow, it's just grotesquely obese......You know what I meant, damn it. What else do you have? Level variety? Given your "walking straight right" philosophy, this doesn't amount to much; merely changing up when you jump. What else? Weapons? That might actually work, at least on a superficial level. Sure, it changes nothing about the actual gameplay, but for whatever reason, it's more fun clubbing a guy to death than it is to punch them. The problem, though, is that the weapons that are in the game don't have much of a presence. The final boss notwithstanding, weapons in general seem to disappear after the first couple of levels, making you wonder why they were included in the first pla-
BOSSES! That's Splatterhouse's saving grace: the bosses. They're where the game shines. You get the cinematic beauty and disgusting visual design I described earlier, but not the brutish gameplay I described earlierer. Here, you actually have to pay attention to enemy patterns and devise a plan of attack, almost like you were playing a game of some type. The only problem I can think of is that you're a lumbering mess of a character who takes up half the screen, thus giving the enemy an unfair advantage in hitting you, but given how the bosses are the best thing going for the game, I'm willing to overlook such a blemish. What I'm not willing to overlook is everything else wrong with the game. Splatterhouse, why did you decide to focus so damn much on your story? Yes, it's enjoyable, but not enjoyable enough to mask everything else that's wrong with you, like the lack of variety and overly simplistic gameplay.....no pun intended.
- It's like I'm playing a cheesy horror movie!
- But only barely.
- Cool bosses, though.