I Drink to Forget

Over the weekend, I played through the rest of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Amnesia was made by the same people who created the Penumbra series and shares many traits with it. Amnesia is another first-person horror/suspense/adventure game but shares only a game engine–rather than a continuing story–with its predecessors.

Amnesia begins with the protagonist suffering from (wait for it) amnesia. He quickly finds a note from himself, to himself instructing him to go deep into the depths of the castle and murder Alexander. Who Alexander is and what, precisely, he has done to warrant murder is slowly revealed over the course of the game as the protagonist finds pages from his own journal.

Like its predecessors, Amnesia largely builds itself on its atmosphere. The entire game attempts to instill a tense, uneasy feeling. Darkness is ever-present and being in it the sanity meter to fall. Failing sanity then causes the protagonist to undergo both visual hallucinations–in the form of extremely exaggerated motion blur and a surprisingly unnerving undulation effect on the world–and auditory hallucinations–themselves often relevant to where you are (for example, the sound of dogs howling, just on the edge of perception in the room where you find a dissected dog).

Several people that I talked to about Amnesia, before playing it, had very strong feelings about the level of fear that it induced. Whether due to my extended history with horror/suspense games, the fact that I had recently played the Penumbra games, or my general jadedness, I tended to not react to the game with fear. It certainly managed to startle me on several occasions, but the enemies–themselves a common thread that others mentioned as something that made them quit playing–I mostly saw as an aggravation.

The sudden arrival of an enemy as a rounded a corner tended most often to mean that I would die another pointless death. Since Amnesia follows in the footsteps of the second Penumbra game (Black Plague), there are no weapons and the enemies themselves act primarily as things to be avoided. Unlike Black Plague, however, enemies could be defeated in a somewhat meta sense. I realized, rather quickly, that dying at the hands of a given enemy would cause that enemy to not respawn when I died (or at least to respawn somewhere far away). This meant that, in general, my method of dealing with an enemy was to flee in the direction that I wanted to move anyway and to shrug if I died.

One can argue, perhaps reasonably, that in assuming the above strategy, I was ignoring the game’s admonition, given before it even started, to “not try to win”. I would, of course, respond that such admonitions are an attempt to alter player behavior without bothering to make the gameplay (or meta-gameplay, in this sense) jibe with the authorial intent. Put more succinctly, I’d call it developer laziness.

My main complaint with Amnesia is that it feels incomplete. Although the journals, notes, and small bits of dialog work well in reconstructing what the protagonist knew before losing his memory, it seems as though the greater world–and the real motivation of the very small number of other characters–is left as a under-explained. For a game so heavily built on its storytelling, I felt like the third act didn’t provide the resolution that was necessary. Too many vital questions were left unanswered.

Amnesia is another game that I wanted to like. It is certainly one of the better done pieces in the horror/suspense genre that I’ve seen lately, but I think the endings (all of them) left me disappointed and unfulfilled. And if there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s a game that drops the ball at the last second.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent: 0

2 thoughts on “I Drink to Forget

    • That section was one of the few times that fleeing and accepting death wasn’t a viable strategy (or maybe meta-strategy). In that sense, I think it captured what the game could have been, had it been slightly better constructed. Therefore, I’d say it one of the stand-out sections of the game. I was a bit disappointed that later in the game, when presented with another flooded section, we didn’t see any more of the invisible, indestructible, relentless pursuer.

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