This blog was written as an assignment for my Experimental Game Design class, so if it seems more formal than my usual entries, that's why.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is one of the very few games that I can claim legitimately scares me. This game scares me so bad that I havenít even finished it yet, despite having owned it for almost an entire year. Itís not that the game is long, I am just literally afraid to sit down and play more of it.
Amnesia is a first person adventure game. There is no combat in the game and very few enemies, but the enemies that are there are among the scariest that gaming has to offer. You see, if you spot one of the monsters and look at it for too long, it will sense your presence and start chasing you. Because you have no way of defending yourself, your only option is to run into a darkened room (preferably one with a door you can shut behind you) and wait and pray that it didnít see where you went. If it did, it will follow you into the room (breaking the door down if it has to) and potentially kill you. If the room is dark enough and you donít look in the monsterís direction, you may escape its wrath by crouching in a corner, if youíre lucky. This design choice reminds me a lot of the movie Alien, where the titular alien was rarely seen in the film. This lent a serious sense of dread to the movie whenever you spotted part of the alien. I feel the same way about the monsters in Amnesia. Since you never get a really good look at them, they are ten times scarier than they would be if you saw them in full every 30 seconds. Amnesia is a very dark game, check out this screenshot from one of the "safe" areas in the game...
When youíre not running for your life from monsters, the game plays like a standard adventure game. You find objects and use them to solve puzzles, such as getting a steam engine to work so you can use an elevator to get to the next level. The catch is that the game is very dark, and darkness causes your character to go insane. Going insane means that the graphics will warp and bend, a creepy crackling noise will start playing over your speakers and you may even start hallucinating and seeing things that arenít there. You can combat this by using matches you find to light candles throughout the environment or by using an oil lamp you carry with you. Both the matches and oil are in short supply, so you should use them sparingly. In addition, light will attract the monsters in the game, so whenever youíre running from them, you must also suffer the effects of insanity. It all makes for a very compelling and emotionally charged experience, as you must decide between the comfort that lights brings and the safety of darkness. This is what most of the game will look like for you scaredy-cats out there. Put that oil lamp away, you'll be fine, I promise. (cue evil laughter)
The scariest moment of the game for me happened early on. I was walking around in an area with ankle deep water on the floor. I was just doing my thing, exploring rooms and looking for matches/oil and items I may need to progress when all of a sudden, footsteps started appearing in the water near me, despite there being nothing there to make said footsteps. Clearly there was some sort of invisible monster in the room with me. The footsteps started coming straight for me and naturally, I freaked out. I tried running but it was too quick for me. It caught up and within seconds, I was a corpse. My game reloaded and this time I was ready for the footsteps. When they appeared, I quickly tried to run past them, only to end up just as dead as I was earlier. The monster was too fast and too strong. The third time, I tried something new. When I got to the area with the monster, I stood on some boxes up out of the water. This proved to be an effective strategy, as the footsteps stopped just short of where I was standing. Clearly the monster knew where I was, but was unable to reach me unless I was in the water. Feeling triumphant since I had figured it out, I shut the game off, saying to myself that it had scared me enough for one night. I didnít play again for more than two weeks. Most of the game's story is told through notes you can find in the environment but there are also flashbacks that occur when you step into certain rooms.
Amnesia is game that everyone should experience in my opinion, even if youíre not a fan of having the pants scared off of you. I say this because it proves once and for all that video games are capable of delivering the same emotional intensity and indeed the same scope of emotions found in other mediums like film, music and literature. Not only is it capable, Amnesia proves that video games may even be the most effective medium for delivering emotion, since it is the only medium where things are happening to you and not someone else. You are the person being chased down a dark hallway by a deadly monster; youíre not watching it happen to some teenage girl. You are the one suffering from insanity; youíre not just reading about someone elseís breakdown. I think Amnesia is one of the first games to deliver these types of experiences but it certainly will not be the last.
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