Okay, I’ve been wanting to write about this game for some time, because I played it, in like fifteen minute increments, for the month of May and I finally finished it and I wanted to talk about it. Because it’s scary as all hell, but also, it’s not?
LOOK PEOPLE THERE ARE SPOILERS, OKAY?
Maybe you’re one of those people who are never going to play this game ever. If that’s so, please, continue reading.
So Amnesia is a game about a guy named Daniel who has amnesia. He wakes up in this big castle in what looks like Victorian Prussia or something, very dark and despairing and all that, and starts wandering around. Maybe he knows there’s some scary shit going on, but maybe not; the point is, WE do. We know from the get go. Scary stuff is coming. The byline says it all: The (not just A dark descent, but THE one) Dark (not light! not fucking light at all, you guys!) Descent (we’re not driving up to your grandmothers house in the country here, people! We’re going down down down, the ring of fire, the ring of fire).
This game is not very long. Really! I think it took me ten hours tops to finish it. But those ten hours were spread over fifteen minute increments of TERROR. The game is designed to scare the poop right out of your pants. If you have constipation, don’t play this game, as your poop will force its way out of you, even if that means emergency C-section. Your poop will get out. And I don’t blame it! I would try to get out of my own skin if I could while playing this game.
The purpose of Amnesia at first is to figure out what the hell you’re doing. To do this, you wander around in the dark, lighting torches and lamps with some tinderboxes you find on shelves and in drawers that you open using a neat mouse interface. Basically you use the movement of the mouse to open drawers and doors and cabinets, and turn wheels, cranks, lift boxes, etc. It’s physics based, meaning you don’t click and then the door’s open. You have to hold the mouse button down and move it to move the door. You got me? Okay. This adds to the tension in later parts, like when a fucking monster is chasing the shit out of you and you have to physically open the goddamn door and then close it behind you before it claws your face off.
So you find tinderboxes to light torches and stuff. Lighting things is good, because guess what? There’s a sanity meter, and lower sanity is No Good. You also have a health meter, but it means less than the sanity meter, since you will spend more time running away and hiding than you will actually getting hit. Being in the dark lowers your sanity. The lower it is, the harder it is to control yourself. The screen gets all wobbly and it looks like you’re on LSD or something. Eventually, if your sanity is low enough, you will pass out. Then you wake up in the same place and you’re fine, but still hoping that there’s not a creature about to eat you.
Like I said, light sources keep you from going insane. But guess what? again? That’s right, there’s monsters. They’re called Brutes or something but I like to call them OH JESUS CHRIST WHAT IS THAT?!
That’s what it looks like when you spot one of these fuckers. It literally looks like what happens when you see a scary thing in real life. The screen gets all tunnel vision and then your heart starts beating like crazy and you breathe heavily. In the game, I mean. You do this in real life, too, and then you die because your poop ripped itself out of the colon through your back. Meanwhile, the monsters growl, they run after you, and if they catch you, they kill you. It’s scary. It’s goddamn scary, okay? It’s like, I don’t know, it’s scary.
So part of the game is about finding things while evading these guys. It’s actually surprisingly easy to evade them, though that doesn’t stop it from being terrifying, ever. Generally they will growl before they chase after you, giving you time to find a place to hide, at which point you think, “I wonder if the AI is good enough that these guys can, I don’t know, smell me or something1.” You can hide in the dark, by the way, and they won’t find you, EXCEPT that your sanity drains, and the lower your sanity is, the easier it is for them to find you. So you got that going for ya. Eventually you learn the difference between being able to hide (say, in a room) or just breaking for the hard exit, where the glorious load screen will save you from inevitable doom2
The other part of the game is puzzles involving mechanics and other stuff. One puzzle is supplying electricity to an elevator so you can descent into the deeper parts of the castle so that more poop can be extruded from your body via terror. For the most part, there are no monsters in the puzzle parts. The puzzles were pretty simple but took some time to understand (you know, those kind of puzzles), and I appreciated the chance to breathe, even though you really don’t have time to breathe because you think there will be monsters in the puzzle rooms, so you’re always waiting for one to jump out at you. Later on in the game, though, you get the idea that monsters aren’t in puzzle rooms. In fact, after a while you tend to understand how the monsters work in general, and how the game works in general, which is a bit of a letdown, to be honest.
After a while, you’ll start to discover why there are monsters. You’ll discover Daniel’s diary pages, and, coupled with the load screens and Daniel’s flashbacks, you learn about Alexander, the owner of Castle Brannenburg, and the mysterious orb and the “shadow” that’s chasing Daniel. And by “chasing,” I mean “not chasing.” The shadow is mentioned countless times in the game, that it’s coming after Daniel and will kill anyone in its path, and what it does is kill everyone except Daniel. So, okay. It also leaves this gross red pustulating stuff on the walls which, like, shoot blood at you or something, but it doesn’t hurt. I don’t get it. It’s just there to scare the jibber jabber out of you, I guess, but very quickly you realize it doesn’t hurt and you’re like, “You can’t take my jibber jabber, red stuff,” and move on with your day.
Continuing down into the bowels of Brannenburg, it gets scarier, there’s weird shit going on, and another monster appears that’s worse than the monster pictured above, and then, eventually, you get to the end, which is disappointing. I guess it fits with the storyline, but the last third of the game is spent in an increasingly sci-fi environment, where it’s less scary and more … I dunno. Science fiction. I spent a lot of time just running through environments because there were no real threats. There were monsters, sure, but their movement was predictable, and there’s a big part where you have to navigate a huge room full of red fog, and there are monsters in there, you can hear them and sometimes the “get the fuck out of here music” will play, but they never got me. And the story behind Alexander is interesting, but presented in a way where I felt let down. Granted, the game has no ability for Daniel to actually fight whatsoever, besides throwing boxes at the monsters and stunning them temporarily, so a showdown at the end is kind of inconceivable. And there are three endings you can get, as well, but they’re all let downs, both in their scope and what actually happens. The “best” ending, where you throw Agrippa’s head into the portal3, is really boring.
I just wish that the end of the game was the ultimate in terror. The add on, Justine, was released as part of the Portal 2 release ARG, and it’s scary too, though more, I dunno, forced (and there is a part that I can’t get past because god damn it I can’t be silent and the monster kills me!), and they also released a short story set which describes the characters better, kind of, but not really.
Basically, I love this game, except for the ending, which took a turn away from “psychological horror” and into “sci-fi blooblah.” I hope that Frictional Games makes another scare the poop out of you horror game, and has the courage to keep it as just a horror game, rather than throwing in the sci-fi nonsense because they assume gamers are into that kind of shit. We are, just not all the time!
If you really need an excuse to play this game, however, then I suggest you watch this video, because while it is hilarious, it is also what you will do if you play this game.
- It’s not. They barely chase you, which is weird considering how seriously they are looking for you in the first place. ↩
- I dislike this, by the way, thought I understand its necessity. I don’t think it’s really fair that a monster can chase you only so far, before being stuck because a lousy door is in the way. Granted, the exit doors look sturdier than the other doors, but still. Also, when you return to a room, the monster is gone. What is the deal with these guys? They are the laziest monsters ever. They chase and almost immediately give up. What a bunch of maroons. ↩
- Yes, the Heinrich Agrippa (not the Roman one) is in the game, tied up, with his jaw missing, and apparently immortal or about to die or, oh, who cares. His part really isn’t explained that much, but you get the option to saw his head off and take it into the final chamber, and when the portal to another dimension (the dimension Alexander is from … ugh, really? Why couldn’t it just be a psychological horror thing?) opens, you toss Agrippa’s head in there and then a really, really weak cutscene happens, where, I guess, you’re dead? and in the dimension too? ↩