With Christmas and New Years now seemingly far in our rear vision mirrors with 2016 well under way, I used this opportunity to catch up on many things that fall by the wayside over time. Pastimes such as reading books, watching TV shows and movies – the list is almost endless. However, this also brings about a time of quiet in the gaming world with very few new releases until later in the first quarter of the year; subsequently allowing me the chance to catch up on games that I have continuously put off time and time again. So, with this in mind, over the next two weeks, I’ll be digging into Amnesia – a renowned indie survival horror series. Beginning with Frictional Games’ The Dark Descent and following on to The Chinese Room’s A Machine for Pigs.
Back around the time of Amnesia’s release in 2010, I would have perhaps scoffed at the idea of a burgeoning indie scene for gaming being right around the corner. And, of course, I would have been incredibly wrong with early pioneers such as Bastion and The Dark Descent making waves with both small time and mainstream critics alike. Obviously, years later we have millions of dollar and thousands of indie gaming projects being undertaken through platforms such as Kickstarter, with some very impressive results even coming out of our home base here in Perth, Western Australia.
The Dark Descent was released and developed by Frictional Games who were previously known for their series of Penumbra games, as well as recently for their newest title, SOMA, which released last year and was reviewed by our very own Editor-in-Chief William Kirk. To provide some context on the setting, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is set during 1839 in Prussia – following the story of a young man from London named Daniel. Awakening with little to no memory of himself and the events that led him to his location, he quickly learns that he has deliberately wiped his memory and will need to descend into the inner sanctum of the castle to kill the Baron, Alexander.
I enjoyed the narrative structure of the Dark Descent, in that by exploring every nook and cranny of the castle revealed slightly more about Daniel’s past and what exactly had led him to where he was and what he needed to do. By drip-feeding the story to its audience, Amnesia allows itself the pacing and deliberation to both emphasise and highlight the atmosphere that they’re trying to create throughout the entire game of danger and unease. As I’ve mentioned in previous games, I’m also a huge sucker for any title which involves collectible pieces related to narrative building – and I feel that Amnesia did this particularly well through the use of audio voiced notes.
The design was spectacular, and while not a graphical masterpiece – you can tell a lot of thought went into the design of the game. The system of lighting combined with trying to keep Daniel’s sanity in check was a refreshing addition to the game and required a lot of forethought to safely traverse the castle while not scaring the protagonist to death. Paired with the appropriate set dressing for an 1830’s Prussian castle, Amnesia ticked all the right boxes in creating the world which never allowed you as a player to feel entirely comfortable sitting still for too long. The only downside I managed to find with Amnesia was that sometimes it could be difficult to figure out exactly where you needed to go next, as the game never prompted you in a deliberate way as to where you next needed to head to proceed.
As mentioned earlier, Frictional Games are known for another series of games – Penumbra. Amnesia and Penumbra share a very similar style of gameplay, which requires player prompting with actions such as opening doors, lighting candles, etc. While not always entirely useful, I did appreciate that Amnesia allowed you to interact with almost everything – meaning that if an unknown monster were chasing you, you could very well run into a room and close the door, and then hide in the cupboard. By allowing the environment to become so flexible, it helps create a unique experience for players where they can experience the game in a variety of different ways.
While I applaud both the simple yet effective systems and narrative of Amnesia, the real winner is the care taken with the presentation of the game. The voice acting of Daniel puts you right in the character’s shoes, as you slowly find out how unsure and rattled he is by the whole experience that led him to his current situation. The subtle use of music and minimal use of vibrant colours also helps add to the atmosphere of Amnesia and sets the tone for the game in such a way that has found many players such as myself heavily engaged with the caution and uncertainty that the world of the Dark Descent strives to cultivate.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is truly a touchstone of the first wave of indie gaming to make a splash in the mainstream consciousness. With stellar reviewing and a sequel which followed some years later, the popularity of Amnesia speaks for itself – and is one of many reasons why, if, like me, you haven’t played it until recently, you should pick it up during the next Steam sale. I’m curious to see if there are more instalments waiting in the future for Amnesia, but until then I’ll be back next week to give you my thoughts on Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.