I acquired Amnesia – The Dark Descent from somewhere, and played it recently, while escaping Dragon Age II. I probably did that, because did badly and lost one of my favourite characters in the game. It also crashed, erasing some ten minutes worth of dialogue. If a Bioware game should autosave at some point, it should be after a dialogue. Nothing annoys me more than having to go through minutes and minutes worth of dialogue immidiately again.
But back to Amnesia. I am not a big fan of horror games, probably because I like games with a light tone. Horror is too dark and serious for my tastes. When I started the game, I actually was afraid that I would just deconstruct the mechanics and try to see the gears behind the game, losing the sense of dread the game apparently oozes. I was wrong, however. Mostly. Gameplay and puzzle-related spoilers beyond this point.
The game is very good and atmospheric. Being unarmed, equipped only with a lamp, facing inhuman monsters feels very vulnerable. The pacing is finely done, with a first potentially deadly encounter happening only long after having glimpsed the shambling horrors around corners. The use of light is good, the puzzles are clever and the story unfolds nicely. However, at few points I felt my immersion slipping.
People complained that in Dead Space 2, the monsters give themselves away with a dramatic violin music. The same applies to the Amnesia monsters, except the sound effect is more annoying. After the music ends, it is generally safe to do anything, for the monster has unsummoned itself. At about halfway through the game I started to notice a certain pace in the game: Explore, hear groan, hide, wait, explore, etc.. Very ironically the random spawning started to become predictable.
A smart person once said that killing the player is the stupidest thing you can do in a horror game. It breaks immersion, as the player realizes that “oh, I died. Guess I’ll use my divine loading power and try again”. Bearing that in mind, I think the monsters were a tad too deadly. One part in the game, where you have to pull a lever in a dark dead end, a monster spawns right in the hallway. I was unsure how to proceed: The thing was coming right at me, and there was only a dead-end room behind me. I thought that it would find me, since if it wouldn’t it would be the stupidest thing ever and made a desperate break for it. I died, and respawned with a message “Hide in the shadows”. Of course the horrible monster that moves in dark hallways cannot see in the darkness! Duh, it’s not like it’s its natural habitat. Using this meta-knowledge, I avoided the thing like a ninja. Another monster was a certain water-based creature that I died to before being told by the game to distract it with a piece of meat. While I understand that telling it explicitly to the player would be counter-productive, this knowledge could have been given to the player before he had to die. For example, when a player enters an unavoidable spot in the room where the distraction must be used, make it that the player must knock a body part into the water somewhere, so that the creature goes after it.
The game also feels like it goes on and on. There were about four or five points in the game where I thought that I would finally get to the finale. I would have communicated the player’s position in the game timeline a bit more clearly, with perhaps hints on what the next are will be like. The monsters lost their novelty after a while, and in the final larger area I swear I died to a monster and actually spawned in a room further up. I realized that I could use the monsters to teleport. The next time I met a monster in that particular area, I thought “I don’t want to wait until it unspawns, I’ll just kill myself and respawn near. I’ll save time”.
The main character has a voice, which is heard when reading his journal. But in the game he does not speak or make any kind of sound, apart from some very generic grunting. There is actually a part in the game where it is possible to speak to a… person. But the main character is a silent protagonist, apparently projecting his thoughts to the recipient mentally, creating a very silly and immersion-breaking situation. In Dead Space Isaac breathes, grunts and otherwise vocalizes his actions without ever saying a word. It increased my empathy immensely, and would have been a very good addition to Amnesia. The player’s replies would have been good to hear, and it would have created a slight moment of clarity in the otherwise mad and frightening world.
But my complaining aside, Amnesia is a good horror game. It managed to frighten me well enough and felt unique in the genre. With a few Valve-like moments where the game gives hints to the player indirectly, the game would be a masterpiece.
Now let’s see if I’ll ever finish Dragon Age II with my first character.