Hard to forget
Becoming a cult favorite of indie games can be devastating. When larger publishers weed out the potential for profits, the charm of what made a game so popular tends to vanish. In Amnesia, we have a product that began as a favorite of gamers, garnering a cult following and massive YouTube appeal (Lets Plays tend to thrive with horror games). By the time Machine for Pigs hit the market, Amnesia evolved into something bigger than your traditional indie title. The question, then, is whether the ‘fame’ sullied the overall experience. Fast forward to present day, and the Amnesia: Collection released for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Amnesia finally made its debut to consoles quite some time after its horrific counterparts (Slenderman: The Arrival and the more recent Emily Wants to Play, for example), continuing the trend of porting popular horror titles to console. With Amnesia, players are given three separate titles to play: Dark Descent, Justine, and A Machine for Pigs. Within, players will take control of three separate stories and characters to escape the madness of their particular situations and combat the shadows that lurk about their minds. Does the descent into madness illuminate the consoles, or does it flutter and fade with the age of time?
Overall, Amnesia succeeds. Each title feels like a vastly different experience, even though Justine is more of an expansion pack than standalone title. Gameplay throughout remains mostly unmolested, as basic gameplay translates well between titles. Your objectives, while narratively unique, remain constant – keep your pathways alight while avoiding contact with or looking at various creatures and solving myriad puzzles. The greatest differences lie with continues, visuals, and lanterns.
Amnesia: Dark Descent plays well still, if a little brief. In Amnesia: Dark Descent, you play as a man who awakens with no memories (though you experience flashbacks periodically). You find a note in front of you, and you determine, via the text, that it is your duty to slay the allegedly villainous Alexander. To do so, however, you must travel to the depths of your castle – but the trek is a deadly and maddening one, indeed.
The PS4 port runs very well and holds up with a visual mediocrity (though that’s to be expected with indie games). What makes Amnesia stand out from its fellow horror titles like Slenderman or Outlast is its dedicated puzzle solving. Wherein Slender you simply search for 8 pages (The Arrival saw a few more complicated trials), Amnesia: Dark Descent is littered with puzzles that periodically hinder your advance. As you progress, the puzzles don’t necessarily become more difficult to solve, but your sanity becomes frail and more enemies lurk deeper within and under the castle. Mechanically, the game works – for the most part. Twice, my progress was halted by a stray lock that fell off a door and became jammed and invisible beneath said frame. Fortunately, I could remedy each glitch by searching the floor, grabbing the garbage, and tossing it away.
Justine, the second experience in the collection, plays extremely close to Dark Descent. More of an expansion than a separate title, Justine has the player attempting to escape his/her prison. The ‘catch’ in Justine is that, unlike Dark Descent, where death spawned you in a nearby room, if you are killed, your entire game is over, and you must restart your adventure. Needless to say, without a proper guide, I found the initial going very difficult. Still, the objective was simple in theory, and finding oil and tinderboxes eventually became my biggest concern (after avoiding those damn shadows). Justine, for me, is the weakest title in the trio due to its relatively short lived experience and frustrating re-start mechanic.
Lastly, the Amnesia Collection features A Machine for Pigs, its most refined entry. Where Dark Descent may have faltered visually and, perhaps, mechanically, A Machine for Pigs built upon the past success of the franchise and succeeded in remedying glitches and innovating new gameplay. Nearly everything about A Machine for Pigs was an improvement over the first two titles, and its narrative – that of a man searching his sprawling mansion for his children – is clever. The way notes and memories are discovered and presented in A Machine for Pigs strengthens its story telling and tension, which is a combination most necessary for a horrific success. For me, ditching the need to find oil for your lantern saved A Machine for Pigs, which focused more on avoiding enemies by dimming your light rather than sprinting through the darkness searching for oil or tinderboxes. And while that recipe worked well for Dark Descent, A Machine for Pigs felt refreshing by excluding it.
For me, Amnesia wasn’t frightening because of its clever sanity set up or creepy creature visuals (though both were pretty cool and, indeed, helped). The entire collection found success in my eyes because of its tremendous use of sound. In a horror situation, proper sound can intensify a situation. I tend to dislike horror soundtracks, as they build up for cheap scares and synthetic tension; Amnesia, however, relies more upon actual sound. Loud crashes, mansion shaking booms, and groans and growls haunt every corner; these truly build Amnesia’s tension and served to keep me on the edge of my seat.
In the end, there wasn’t much to complain about within the Amnesia Collection. Any tension that was removed from Dark Descent’s death system was salvaged through its excellent use of sound and setting. Built upon believable narratives, excellent sound usage, and unique gameplay, Amnesia shows why it is considered one of the best horror experiences available and why it deserved a port to consoles. It has stood the test of time presently and should remain in the annuls of innovative horror champions for some time.