Amnesia: A curiously relaxing horror game

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Edited By Egge
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Inspired by the Giant Bomb podcast discussion following Patrick Klepeck's recent playthrough of the game, I decided to finally start making my way through indie developer Frictional Games' celebrated survival horror title Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which I bought when it came out two years ago but for some reason never got around to at the time. Although I have certainly been at least moderately frightened by various horror titles in the past (and YouTube is full of "watch-this-kid-scream" reaction clips featuring this particular game), Amnesia honestly doesn't scare me at all. To be fair, the gothic environments are atmospheric and the game artfully maintains the illusion that grisly monsters could emerge from the dark shadows at any point. Crucially, however, the somewhat Lovecraftian enemies aren't nearly as scary to the player as they are to the slightly unhinged protagonist himself, and these creatures all too soon (not to mention all too often) reveal themselves to the player in all their low-polygonal monster mundaneness, instead of remaining a more intangible but distinctly unnerving threat lurking in the dark corners of Castle Brennenburg (which would have made the game better). Not giving the player any combat abilities was undoubtedly a clever design decision, but in practice the gameplay soon becomes very focused on a few core procedures (i.e. methodically searching rooms for valuable objects and hiding once in a while to avoid detection) rather than on being immersed in any kind of sustained state of anxiety and horror. And while the sound design is great from a purely technical standpoint, the supposedly spooky noises and sudden outbursts of the game's predictably dissonant score are simply not original, unexpected or eerie enough to catch me off-guard. Disappointingly enough, even the infamous water monster scene (assuming it's the one I think it is) turned out to be a lot more silly and annoying than it was scary.

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I must admit that I'm a little puzzled as to why Amnesia has garnered such a reputation for being unusually frightening. A partial explanation for the praise of the game as an almost overpowering experience could be the fact that many younger players (i.e. people below 30) simply aren't accustomed to survival horror as a distinct genre. Self-described genre fans such as Patrick Klepeck aside, an ever-increasing percentage of players got into gaming only after the Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark series began their transformations into decidedly more action-focused affairs. These poor impressionable youths were presumably not prepared for the kind of slow-paced, unabashedly action-free gameplay which Amnesia delivers, but which isn't that exceptional in the context of the genre as a whole.

But even though other games such as System Shock 2, good old Silent Hill 1 (which I played for the first time relatively recently and was genuinely freaked out by) and arguably even some of the more cerebral titles such as Pathologic are ultimately superior as far as horror experiences go, Amnesia still provides some pretty neat gameplay which manages to keep the player engaged via atmospheric exploration, compulsive scavenging and simple but at least moderately engaging puzzles. Taking care to check every chest and drawer in the vicinity is almost always rewarding the player with additional items (mostly oil for your lantern and tinderboxes) or a bit of optional lore, and there's generally a nice balance between moments when you're simply exploring and other times when skillfully avoiding enemies is the primary concern. So while Amnesia doesn't make me scream (even in a good way), I'm still having fun with it. Indeed, you might even call the game relaxing...

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Egge

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#1  Edited By Egge
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Inspired by the Giant Bomb podcast discussion following Patrick Klepeck's recent playthrough of the game, I decided to finally start making my way through indie developer Frictional Games' celebrated survival horror title Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which I bought when it came out two years ago but for some reason never got around to at the time. Although I have certainly been at least moderately frightened by various horror titles in the past (and YouTube is full of "watch-this-kid-scream" reaction clips featuring this particular game), Amnesia honestly doesn't scare me at all. To be fair, the gothic environments are atmospheric and the game artfully maintains the illusion that grisly monsters could emerge from the dark shadows at any point. Crucially, however, the somewhat Lovecraftian enemies aren't nearly as scary to the player as they are to the slightly unhinged protagonist himself, and these creatures all too soon (not to mention all too often) reveal themselves to the player in all their low-polygonal monster mundaneness, instead of remaining a more intangible but distinctly unnerving threat lurking in the dark corners of Castle Brennenburg (which would have made the game better). Not giving the player any combat abilities was undoubtedly a clever design decision, but in practice the gameplay soon becomes very focused on a few core procedures (i.e. methodically searching rooms for valuable objects and hiding once in a while to avoid detection) rather than on being immersed in any kind of sustained state of anxiety and horror. And while the sound design is great from a purely technical standpoint, the supposedly spooky noises and sudden outbursts of the game's predictably dissonant score are simply not original, unexpected or eerie enough to catch me off-guard. Disappointingly enough, even the infamous water monster scene (assuming it's the one I think it is) turned out to be a lot more silly and annoying than it was scary.

No Caption Provided

I must admit that I'm a little puzzled as to why Amnesia has garnered such a reputation for being unusually frightening. A partial explanation for the praise of the game as an almost overpowering experience could be the fact that many younger players (i.e. people below 30) simply aren't accustomed to survival horror as a distinct genre. Self-described genre fans such as Patrick Klepeck aside, an ever-increasing percentage of players got into gaming only after the Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark series began their transformations into decidedly more action-focused affairs. These poor impressionable youths were presumably not prepared for the kind of slow-paced, unabashedly action-free gameplay which Amnesia delivers, but which isn't that exceptional in the context of the genre as a whole.

But even though other games such as System Shock 2, good old Silent Hill 1 (which I played for the first time relatively recently and was genuinely freaked out by) and arguably even some of the more cerebral titles such as Pathologic are ultimately superior as far as horror experiences go, Amnesia still provides some pretty neat gameplay which manages to keep the player engaged via atmospheric exploration, compulsive scavenging and simple but at least moderately engaging puzzles. Taking care to check every chest and drawer in the vicinity is almost always rewarding the player with additional items (mostly oil for your lantern and tinderboxes) or a bit of optional lore, and there's generally a nice balance between moments when you're simply exploring and other times when skillfully avoiding enemies is the primary concern. So while Amnesia doesn't make me scream (even in a good way), I'm still having fun with it. Indeed, you might even call the game relaxing...

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Still_I_Cry

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#2  Edited By Still_I_Cry

Still trying to find that one great horror game..

I really want to check Amnesia out because I have heard good things about it and I am a sucker for the atmosphere and Gothic environments that it seems to offer.

Though after reading this my hesitation has grown..

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MariachiMacabre

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#3  Edited By MariachiMacabre

@Still_I_Cry said:

Still trying to find that one great horror game..

I really want to check Amnesia out because I have heard good things about it and I am a sucker for the atmosphere and Gothic environments that it seems to offer.

Though after reading this my hesitation has grown..

It is such a good horror game that it takes an iron will to continue playing at certain points. It's fucking terrifying. Well, that's what the majority of people who have played it would say. OP is an abnormal case from what I can tell.

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deactivated-5e49e9175da37

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Amnesia is more stressful than scary. I don't feel afraid, I feel annoyed by constant pressure. The 'lose sanity and die if you're not in the light/limited lamp oil and tinderboxes' thing just grinds on my nerves. It feels the same as being at my job, where satisfying one half means the other is pissed, so the only way to get through without catching shit is to keep both pots simmering with mild anger. That's annoying, not scary.

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#5  Edited By jadegl  Moderator

I wish I could say that Amnesia didn't have a profound effect on me, but I found it to be butt-clenchingly terrifying and intense. I couldn't relax for a moment when I was playing it. Even in areas I knew were not going to have encounters, I still felt an overriding sense of dread. Again, I think it must depend upon the type of person you are, but I found it really unnerving and yet still something I wanted, or maybe needed, to finish.

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Deusx

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#6  Edited By Deusx

I was about to call bullshit but then you mentioned Pathologic. You do know your horror my fellow duder. What happens is, people have different fears. You may not be afraid of the kind of horror Amnesia is trying to give. There are others though, that find the lovecraftian horror, to be quite shocking. Still, Amnesia is a great example of good and simple game design.

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#7  Edited By Tarsier

im assuming you didnt wear headphones or play in the dark alone .

also if you were 'casting' whilst playing, that counts as not playing alone . ive noticed that game casters dont get frightened by scary games because they know theyre being watched and that psychological comfort doesnt let them get scared . .

there are a number of htings you have to do to fully experience a game like this. if you dont want to get scared, or if you are too lazy to create the right situation, you wont get the intended effect.

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Still_I_Cry

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#8  Edited By Still_I_Cry

@MariachiMacabre said:

@Still_I_Cry said:

Still trying to find that one great horror game..

I really want to check Amnesia out because I have heard good things about it and I am a sucker for the atmosphere and Gothic environments that it seems to offer.

Though after reading this my hesitation has grown..

It is such a good horror game that it takes an iron will to continue playing at certain points. It's fucking terrifying. Well, that's what the majority of people who have played it would say. OP is an abnormal case from what I can tell.

Still on the fence, I do so love being terrified :)

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#9  Edited By AlexW00d

@Deusx said:

I was about to call bullshit but then you mentioned Pathologic. You do know your horror my fellow duder. What happens is, people have different fears. You may not be afraid of the kind of horror Amnesia is trying to give. There are others though, that find the lovecraftian horror, to be quite shocking. Still, Amnesia is a great example of good and simple game design.

Is Pathologic a horror game? I played like 15 minutes of it, got beaten up by Bam Margera and gave up, it seemed pretty terrible.

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#10  Edited By BBAlpert

I think the scariest horror game I ever played was this old Lovecraft-themed text adventure game, the name of which I can't remember. I spent like 2 hours wandering around this big, maze-like building in complete silence. When I finally encountered something evil, it played a series of sinister (but tinny sounding) beeps out of the built in PC speaker.

I didn't know that the interactive fiction program even COULD do sound, and I nearly knocked my monitor off my desk in surprise. A cheap trick, but damn was it ever effective.

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#11  Edited By RagingLion

I think one od the reasons why Amnesia can be found to be so scary for some and yet really not by others is that many of the encounters are dynamic and procedural in nature as far as I'm aware unlike a more linear game where the encounters are always going to take place in the same way for every person. There's more scope for people to have far more varied experiences with the game, with some like yourself maybe, being very methodical in the way you approached it and so left yourself less open to getting into awkward spots with the monsters whereas others will have accidentally run into one, then fled in a panic into a room where they try to hide in one corner before realising they have no cover and then have to run over to the another part of it - all the while with the monster crashing the door in and then maybe they were already in a position where their sanity was low due to poor conservation of the light-making resources and it all becomes a completely manic and stressful moment for them.

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#12  Edited By MordeaniisChaos

@Still_I_Cry said:

Still trying to find that one great horror game..

I really want to check Amnesia out because I have heard good things about it and I am a sucker for the atmosphere and Gothic environments that it seems to offer.

Though after reading this my hesitation has grown..

One guy vs the floods of others who would disagree? You need to figure out priority duder.

That said, right after the water monster (or at least the first encounter), the game stopped being scary for me, though for other reasons that weren't exactly the fault of the execution of the horror, but other issues with the game. But I'd say the masses are a good measure of the game, and you can at least assume it's a safe bet to say you'll get something out of the game.

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NlGHTCRAWLER

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#13  Edited By NlGHTCRAWLER

Started playing today. It's pretty hard to be relaxed when playing this game, i'm constantly stressed out the entire time and --

OMG. HAS ANYONE SEEN STAY ALIVE?? YOU KNOW!! THE ONE WITH FRANKIE MUNIZ.

This game reminds me of it.

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#14  Edited By Doctorchimp

Silent Hill?

I played that game when I was like 9 and I didn't think it was that scary back then let alone now.

All I know is out of all the movies and "horror" video games I've played nothing gave me the rush that Amnesia did. What a great game.

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banishedsoul1

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#15  Edited By banishedsoul1

to tell the truth i did not think it was that amazing. It had some good moments in the game. However it became very predictable when the monsters show up. On top of that the voice acting was awful they over did it so much. the story was okay but did not really grab me. I liked pemubra game they made.

An awesome game that plays a bit like amnesia is slender its about the slenderman myth its free and only like 50mbs compressed check it out.

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#16  Edited By Egge

@RagingLion: In effect, I believe you've reiterated my "experience with horror games" argument from a slightly different perspective. People who don't play these types of games methodically and who don't expect "procedural" encounters clearly do not have any experience with the genre. I should perhaps note that my own experience with survival horror is very limited compared to people who, say, owned a Playstation 1 and were gaming far less on the PC than I was in my youth, but at least I know enough to always expect the unexpected, so to speak. Unfamiliarity with the basic gameplay concept is the key here, I think.

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#17  Edited By Egge

@Tarsier: You're making a lot of assumptions, there. As a matter of fact, I did play the game in the dark at night with headphones while being alone in a house which has a tendency to make weird noises all of a sudden. Also, the streaming of gameplay was merely a test and no one actually watched my stream when it was up (...which means that I didn't interact with anyone while playing the game). Bottom line is, the conditions were ideal for me being scared - and I definitely can be scared by games - and I still wasn't.

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ShaggE

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#18  Edited By ShaggE

@Egge said:

Unfamiliarity with the basic gameplay concept is the key here, I think.

I'm a horror junkie who's well-versed in the history of horror games, who knows all of the tricks and cliches that the subgenre is founded on, and Amnesia had a strong effect on me just the same. The thing is, horror is so very, very subjective. You make it sound like people reacted to it because they didn't know any better, but you can suspect what's going to happen and still freak out when it does.

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Tarsier

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#19  Edited By Tarsier

@Egge said:

@Tarsier: You're making a lot of assumptions, there. As a matter of fact, I did play the game in the dark at night with headphones while being alone in a house which has a tendency to make weird noises all of a sudden. Also, the streaming of gameplay was merely a test and no one actually watched my stream when it was up (...which means that I didn't interact with anyone while playing the game). Bottom line is, the conditions were ideal for me being scared - and I definitely can be scared by games - and I still wasn't.

interesting. although youre probly lying ill give u the benefit of the doubt

if i ever am playing a horror game i set the atmosphere accordingly, and i dont play with people, and i have played through a number of them .. including silent hill, dead space, resident evil, doom 3, etc. and i have found amnesia to be WORLDS scarier than any of these. i dont know, maybe your frustration of the puzzles caused you to not be able to get into it ?