Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Review: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

2:00 PM on 09.30.2010 // Josh Tolentino

In recent years, the survival horror genre has seen something of a decline. Its once-defining characteristics have been co-opted into other genres or simply set aside in favor of more refined, accessible play. These days, the modern survival horror title more resembles an action game with the occasional jump scare than a truly fear-focused offering.

Can Amnesia: The Dark Descent bring some real horror back to the table, or will it end up as an experience one would rather just forget?

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC, Mac, Linux)
Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
Released: September 8, 2010
MSRP: $19.99

Now, a title like Amnesia might already be inducing groans among some players, soured by long years of storytelling weighed on the crutch of convenient forgetfulness. This amnesia is different, though, in that as you go along, you'll start to wonder if remembering who you are (a nineteenth-century Englishman named Daniel) and why you're supposed to kill a man named Alexander is really worth your being terrified and out of sorts all the time, afraid of shadows but also loathe to stay in the light too long.

Amnesia traps you in the uncomfortable position of having to keep from going completely insane as you play, but all the while, it's constantly forcing you to manage your limited resources and leave your few safe zones, which themselves can be compromised. That tension adds to the atmosphere and magnifies the sense that you are, at all times, teetering on the brink of madness or death (sometimes both).

The game treats sanity as other games might treat health. Stay too long in a dangerous situation (i.e. in the dark or in the presence of an enemy) and it drains. But unlike seeing a meter drain or contrived bloodstains on the screen as in most first-person games, the effects of an ebbing mind extend beyond the visual. As sanity drains, the field of view warps, making nearby surfaces swim, shiver, and deform. Daniel whimpers, his breathing turns ragged, and at sanity’s nadir, the mouse even lags, giving the impression that you, the player, are not so much Daniel himself as you are a passenger in his mind, struggling harder to control his actions as Daniel's ability to perform them deteriorates.

And struggle to control Daniel's actions you will, as Amnesia features a control scheme seemingly derived from Jurassic Park: Tresspasser (or Frictional's earlier effort Penumbra), wherein interaction involves clicking on objects and moving the mouse in the direction you want to push, pull, pick up, or throw. Want to open a door? Click the knob and pull the mouse back (or push forward, if the door opens that way). Want to open a drawer? Click it and pull back. Adding to the fun is the fact that you can pull most drawers straight out of their cupboards, making the act of ransacking a room in search of clues or supplies feel surprisingly tactile and satisfying.

The physics-based control scheme, combined with Daniel's slow default speed and the need to proceed slowly when you can barely see ten feet in front of you (even with the aid of a lantern), makes Amnesia's gameplay feel awkward and ponderous, and would likely punish any attempt to fight back with frustration. It's a good thing, then that you can't (and shouldn't) fight back. It's made clear early on that Amnesia isn't about combat. The shambling monstrosities are to be fled from rather than confronted. You couldn't even fight them if you tried, as even looking at one drains sanity at a startling rate. Thus, an encounter with a monster is always cause for sudden, reckless panic as you sprint desperately in the opposite direction, fumbling to close doors behind you and cowering in dark corners while staring at the wall and hoping that you don't go bonkers while waiting for it to go away.

Light is also treated as a precious resource, as it's the only way to preserve sanity. As the game goes on, you'll naturally start to dart between light sources, huddling near one while you try to figure out where you are and how long you'll be able to last in the shadows before having to bring up your lantern or use up your limited tinderboxes to ignite a nearby candle or torch. Some of the game's most frightening moments occur when you find yourself running out of lantern fuel and a monster's appearance or unlucky gust of wind has snuffed out all the torches, leaving you to scramble blindly into unknown territory in search of oil, tinder or a dim candle. And even then, trying for the nearest light source poses an element of risk, as staying in the light makes it easier for monsters to find you.

The game's puzzles are mostly environmental, usually composed of finding parts in one room and sticking them into some contraption in another room, or arranging and rearranging ingredients to mix potions and the like, based on hints found in scattered notes or the environment. While not nearly as arcane or counterintuitive as the sort typical of more traditional adventure titles, they rarely challenge. Unless, of course, accidentally overlooking a puzzle piece or clue because it wasn't glowing brightly enough in the shadows for you to notice counts as a challenge. Box-stacking puzzles and all the annoyances they present pop up, but are thankfully rare enough to tolerate over the course of Amnesia's eight-odd hours of play.

Set in the European castle of Brennenburg, Amnesia's story is told largely via that most game-like of storytelling contrivances: the scattered pages of Daniel's diary, with the occasional in-game flashback thrown in for flavor. It draws inspiration from Lovecraftian myth, what with all of the "just-looking-at-them-drives-you-crazy" stuff, and is centered around a mysterious artifact Daniel finds on an archaeological expedition. It takes its sweet time getting itself together, stubbornly staying vague and somewhat incoherent for much of the game, but comes together neatly in the final quarter, even offering up multiple endings for your trouble.

The voice acting is also solid, though not without fault. For a man frightened out of his wits and barely clinging to his sanity, Richard Topping's performance as Daniel is a bit too calm and composed, reading his diary entries as if he were recording an audiobook. Sam Mowry (Alexander), though, perfectly captures the impression of a sinister Prussian baron, outdoing his higher-profile work as inFAMOUS' Kessler.

Amnesia is not the kind of game for the person who likes to feel in control of his experience. Frictional seems aware that a key ingredient in the recipe for fear is a feeling of powerlessness. The player should be more the victim than the hero, helpless before whatever horrors stalk the halls and lurk in the shadows. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, developed on a shoestring budget by five Swedes, is a rare game that outshines (or rather, out-scares) the high-end, high-budget, triple-A titles that so often lay claim to the horror game mantle.

Pick it up, but you should know that you might be so scared that you'll have to put it down.

Score: 9.0 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)



Amnesia: The Dark Descent - Reviewed by Josh Tolentino
Entrancing - It's like magic, guys. Time disappears when this game and I are together, and I never want it to end. I'm not sure if this is a love that will last forever, but if it is, you'll get no complaints from me.

See more reviews or the Destructoid score guide.

Josh Tolentino, Random Asian Contributor
 Follow Blog + disclosure unangbangkay Tips
When he's not posting about Japanese games or Star Trek, Josh serves as Managing Editor for Destructoid's sister site, Japanator. Go there for the best in anime, manga, and cool news from Gloriou... more   |   staff directory

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

destructoid's previous coverage:
Amnesia: The Dark Descent

View all:powered by:  MM.Elephant

Ads on destructoid may be purchased from:

Please contact Crave Online, thanks!

Cblogs of 11/25/15 + Turkey N Stuff

Cheat Codes Podcast - Ep. 73: Stay Classy

best tax consultants in rajasthan india

NVGR: Updated Album "ADBC" (No longer an EP)

hermosas chicas ucranianas

So that just happened: The Talos Principle

Sick, Sad and just dumb news: 25th November - Leighapalooza

Context Matters! Fanservice's Secrets EXPOSED!

To editorialize or not to editorialize: An editorial

Tiny Dangerous Dungeons REVIEW - The Pocket Metroidvania

 Add your impressions

Status updates from C-bloggers

Mike Wallace avatarMike Wallace
Playing New Vegas again because reasons, it occurs to me that it'd be nice if Old World Blues gave me the option to move the Brotherhood of Steel to the Big MT instead of wiping them out for Mr. House.
ShadeOfLight avatarShadeOfLight
Near heart attack as for a minute it seemed like the A button of my 3DS was busted. It's fine now though, I think we'll live.
Barry Kelly avatarBarry Kelly
There's now a £4/$5 Raspberry Pi. So cheap it's a cover extra on the latest Mag Pi. Based on the original chipset, it's single core but clocked at 1Ghz so it's quite a bit faster and oh so tiny. I can't wait to see what folks build with it.
Atleastimhousebroken avatarAtleastimhousebroken
After a lifetime of not spending a single cent on FTP games, I finally broke and dropped €1 in the Nintendo Badge Arcade. I just had to have all the Luigi badges asap. I feel dirty. Plus side, my 3ds will be covered in Luigi.
Jiraya avatarJiraya
The postman just brought me gifts i bought for myself ... [img][/img] [img][/img]
James Internet Ego avatarJames Internet Ego
Umm.. no Microsoft. Where is the 'go away' button? [img][/img]
StriderHoang avatarStriderHoang
I tried driving as Uber last night to start supplementing my income and everyone so far has been super chill. Also, I started practicing in my sleepy small home city so the training wheels were still on. No big city bar hoppers just yet.
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
Just got my Gwent physical edition. I don't understand special abilities - for example, Arachas have an icon with two knights beneath the close combat icon. Avallac'h has an eye in that same spot. Help? (I'm no longer a squid btw)
KyWii avatarKyWii
Happy Thanksgiving all! Load up on carbs and then get back to playing Fallout 4.
Archelon avatarArchelon
New extended television spot for The Force Awakens! [youtube][/youtube]
TheKodu avatarTheKodu
I dunno if I just had a freak incident but I think Ubisoft may have just changed the Renown gain in Rainbow Six Siege to be less shit as in overnight they've patched it. If true, kinda good on them.
Atleastimhousebroken avatarAtleastimhousebroken
Does it mess with anyone else's head that when beating a SMBW level in Mario Maker the music doesn't do that little 'booowoo oop' at the end. [youtube][/youtube]
ScreamAid avatarScreamAid
I've developed a new hobby to indulge in while on Skype with friends: creating stupid Sonic OCs. I have so much fun making them for some weird reason, and once I have enough of them I might as well post a c-blog of them, am I right? Look out in the future
El Dango avatarEl Dango
SeymourDuncan17 avatarSeymourDuncan17
Boy howdy, does Divinity: Original Sin take a while to get going. But, it was worth it in the end. Probably the most hardcore RPG I've played. Stellar writing, at that! Combat's pretty amazing too. [img][/img]
FlanxLycanth avatarFlanxLycanth
So it seems I've locked into the Neutral ending for SMT IV and now I need to find specific challenge quests and complete them...? How (un)fun! Google is your friend - the videogame.
Riobux avatarRiobux
Interested in playing some Pathfinder? Trying to arrange a Dtoid Pathfinder group for Saturday nights (GMT) on Skype & Roll 20. If you're new to pen-and-paper RPGs, I don't mind at all and can bring you up to speed quick. Just comment if interested.
Fuzunga avatarFuzunga
Local convention had a great selection of game soundtracks 5 for $20! I got Halo 3: ODST (2 disk!), Gears of War 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Darksiders 2 (2 disk!), and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Some of the best soundtracks of the last 7 years!
Niero Desu avatarNiero Desu
Photos and videos are back on quickposts but clipping on some devices. We're going to add a new quickpost editing interface so photos and videos can only be displayed one way (a la twitter) to solve this. Also, a My cBlog link was added to your user menu
Flegma avatarFlegma
Machine-washed my Wii Fit meter yesterday by accident. Took the battery out and let it dry for the night. Luckily the meter still worked - but it had counted a fair number of steps more that day.
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -