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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review of Amnesia: The Dark Descent

I know it is late to review a video game that was released by October 2010 in January 2011, but it is not too late. I got this game by the end of December and finished it about 2-3 weeks ago.

I have never been a fan of horror games or horror movies. I do not know why, but the horror never scares me. I guess it is because I realize that I am watching a movie or playing a game so that I have nothing to be afraid of. Furthermore, if I die (in the game) all I have to do is load a save. The general rule of gaming is to save a lot, and that is what I often do. So when there are dangerous scenes in the game that I should be concerned about, I am just not too concerned about, because I know that if I die all I have to do is load a save and replay that scene. It is for this reason that horror never scared me.

Well, actually there was one movie that I found disturbing. I still have no idea what was up with that. That was "Eyes Wide Shut". I turn on this movie on TV once and I see a bunch of naked people walking around with masks of bulls. What the fuck? That was really scary because it made no sense whatsoever. But other than that I never seen any movies that bothered me or even made me disturbed.

Online I heard about Amnesia and how it is the most horrifying game made in the past 5 years. Some even called it to be the most horrifying game of all time. The reviews also gave very positive reviews of this game. So I figured I should play the game to see what it is about.

Is the game scary as people say? Well, I did not really find it scary. But as I said I seem not to be bothered when playing video games or watching movies. Asking me to review a horror game is like asking a color blind person to review a picture of a rainbow.

There were instances in the game when I said to myself "oh great, do I really have to venture down into there?", in particular with the Storage room and the Prison cells. I was not afraid to play, but there was a feeling of not wanting to be there. I also had this feeling in the Choir. Which is a huge room (not even a room, it is outside) with red fog surrounding you, I had no idea where I was going. And I knew there were enemies around me. It was not a pleasant feeling to be in the Choir, though the rooms that you explore in the Choir are cool. When I finally got everything in the Choir and I found the exit door out of there - which was all luck, since I had no idea where I was going, I just walked and walked until I found it - I was relieved to never have to go into that place again.

Amnesia does successfully create a survival horror game. In Amnesia you have no weapons whatsoever. Your character, Daniel, is completely defenseless. To create the feeling of "you" the game is played entirely in first-person mode. There is an instance in the game when Daniel (you) finds a crowbar. I found this part pretty funny because I thought to myself, "if this was not Daniel, but Gordon Freeman, he would have used the crowbar to hack the enemies to death".

Most games that call themselves "survival horror" fail at making the game about survival. Take F.E.A.R. for example. There is no feeling of survival in the game at all. If you have a rocket launcher, an assault cannon, and are covered in body armor, what exactly can you be afraid of? Not to mention your character in F.E.A.R. has nearly perfect reflexes.

Amnesia is different. In Amnesia you have no method of defense at all. You are entirely helpless. And you do feel helpless. This is what a survival horror game is supposed to be about. Amnesia is not the first game to implement a no-weapon system. Fatal Frame (which to be fair I never played, but it is regarded as a masterpiece of horror gaming) has preceeded Amnesia many years prior to doing that. Having no weapons was definitely the right decision for a game such as Amnesia.

Amnesia is therefore not an action game. It is an adventure puzzle solving game. You explore the castle (the game is set in a castle which is falling apart) and solve problems to move on in the storyline. The puzzles are generally easy, but at least their solutions make sense, unlike in other puzzle solving games where the solutions are really messed up. But there is no action. You occasionally have to hide or run from monsters to avoid being killed. Most of the time there is no threat to you at all, there is just a feeling of suspense that something is about to kill you.

Amnesia also added an insanity meter. Not only do you have to watch out after your health you also need to pay attention to your insanity levels. If Daniel experiences a lot of paranormal events, or is captured in darkness, or is being chased by monstrosities, he will become insane. This seems to be some sort of new system that I never seen before added to a video game.

The story is good but not excellent. The game begins with Daniel waking up in the middle of a castle not remembering anything. He only knows, after reading a note he wrote to himself, that he made himself forget the past for reasons that will become clear to him. As you play the game you discover the events that led up to Daniel ending up in the castle and why he made himself forget the past. The story is fantasy-based, a little. So if you not a fan of those kinds of stories then you might not like this one too much. I think the developers of Amnesia could have made an excellent story if they worked a little bit harder on it, they did have a good idea on the storyline, and I just wished they did a better job.

I will give my review for this game based on five factors: (i) graphics and sound , (ii) story, (iii) gameplay, (iv) value , (v) revolutionary. Let me explain what I mean by each one. Each one will be rated out of 10 and then the final score of the game will be the average of the five scores.

I am one of those people who do not care about graphics. Graphics do not make a good game. They never did and they never will. I know a lot of amateur reviewers always like to talk about a game's graphics, but that is pointless. You can have a masterpiece of gaming with sucky graphics and you can have a piece of garbage with awesome graphics. Graphics do not make a good game, graphics can only enhance a game that is already good to be even more enjoyable to play. But since a lot of people do seem to care about graphics I will include graphics in my review, together with how good the sound is. In games there are only two senses, graphics and sound. So (i) will be based on how good the game appeals to your gaming senses. I will give it a 10/10. The sound is great and the graphics are good. Especially the lighting. The interplay of dark and light areas is very important in Amnesia, they do create a good effect of bright streaks of light entering into dark rooms quite well.

Story (ii) should be self-explanatory. Amnesia is a story-based game so it should be judged by how well it tells and develops its story. Amnesia begins with no story at all and you discover the entire story as you keep on playing the game. Not excellent but good. I give the story 9/10, I did really like the Amnesia aspect, and how you do not remember anything.

Gameplay (iii) refers to how fun the game is to play, how friendly are the controls, how friendly is the interface. The developers of Amnesia really put in a lot of care into this one. When you load Amnesia they ask you to adjust your gamma settings to achieve the correct balance on light/dark areas with the pictures that they show you. There is no difficulty settings in Amnesia, but why should there be? It is not an action game. Amnesia has no in game save option. Well it does, but there is no quicksave. You need to save and then exit the game, only again to load up the game. If you are someone who likes to save often then this will be a hassle. But I guess the developers of Amnesia felt that you feel more helpless if you have no quicksave option. One more thing about the game saving system. Amnesia does not let you name your saves, nor delete them. It just collects all of them with a date and location. I find this to be a problem. It is really sad how well they put so much work into the game and messed up with saving a game, which should be the easiest part to make in a game. That is why I give it a 9/10 instead of a perfect score.

Value (iv), refers to how much you get out of this game. Amnesia is not a long game. It is a medium length game, I completed it over a course of a week by playing a little bit everyday, I spend like 11 hours beating it. You can replay the game again for the second time if you are interested, but since you already know the story you will not gain much out of it. Furthermore, the game is entirely scripted. Whenever a monster appears, it is not spontaneous (as in first-person shooters) but a scripted event that the game was designed to show. So everything you seen before you will see again. Obviously a game like Amnesia has no multiplayer option. For this reason I will give it a 7/10.

Revolutionary (v), refers to how much of an impact does this game have on the art of gaming. I would say a lot. Amnesia is really a unique game that moves away from excessive action towards a more adventure-like and story feature. It does give a very good name for survival horror. Hopefully, there will be new games influenced by the elements of Amnesia. I think it is fair to give it 10/10.

The average of 10,10,9,9,7 is 9. Which is my final rating 9/10 for Amnesia. It is a game I highly recommend. Amnesia is something you should not forget to buy.

I do want to say one last thing. If you are into dark gaming, and by dark I do not mean dark as in dark lighting, but by dark story. As in death, horror, fear, pain, suffering, that kind of stuff, then this is a game for you. Amnesia is extremely dark. I will not give away the story here but it is based upon death, mutilation, dead corpses, suffering, execution, and torture. This is something you discover near the ending of the game. This extreme darkness was my favorite part of the game.

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