4 Hugues Ross Writes a Devlog: Games I Play #1: Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Hugues Ross

7/12/13

Games I Play #1: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

One week ago, I wrote that I was going to start playing my way through my Steam library, writing my impressions of one game each week. These first few weeks, I'll probably be playing around with the format, then I'll try to stick with whatever I find works best.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

The last remaining memories fade away into darkness. Your mind is a mess and only a feeling of being hunted remains. You must escape.
I think I received this game from one of the Humble Indie Bundles. I hadn't really played it before, but I'd heard nothing but praise from the people that had played it. It was, apparently, an excellent horror game. Now, before I give my opinion on the matter, I should warn you that this is the only horror game I've ever played, and that I generally don't play too many 1st-person games(apart from Minecraft). With that said, I honestly didn't enjoy the game too much. The gameplay wasn't too compelling, as you might expect from a game that was designed solely for the atmosphere. This would not have been a problem, but I honestly didn't find the experience to be very frightening.

Here, I'll describe some of the game's elements and what I thought of them:

Graphics

The graphics were not anything to write home about, but they certainly weren't bad, at least by my standards. I'm less interested in graphical power/quality than I am in a game's aesthetics. As you might expect from something aiming for horror, the game is very dark. various candles, lamps, torches and such serve as bright little oases in a sea of darkness. As they aren't always lit, areas tend to start very dark and slowly get lighter as you light things with the many tinderboxes strewn about. The game makes it quite evident that the building you're in is in quite the state of disrepair, with broken sections of wall, boarded up windows, and a good few caved-in portions.

Sound

I liked how the game used sound. I'm afraid I don't quite recall if there was any music(I don't think so), but environmental sounds were used to great effect. Everything seems to creak, which is pretty accurate considering the environment. The sounds of the monster roaming around looking for you make things tense even when it isn't right there. I recall one point, before I saw the creature proper, whereupon picking up a key I heard a roar, followed by some shuffling sounds. Convinced that the monster would appear and tried to kill me, I 'cleverly' hid myself in a conveniently placed closet, waiting...

...and waiting...

...and waiting. The monster never showed up, and I was perfectly safe the whole time. However, the game was able to convince me that something terrible would happen to me, without creating the chance of  having to redo an entire section of gameplay. This encounter is probably what convinced me the most that the game's sound was well executed. Had the whole game been executed as well as this one tiny bit, I would've been scared shitless.

Gameplay

The game consists primarily of exploring the building you're trapped in, and overcoming various obstacles that you run into. This generally involves exploring the surrounding rooms until you find a key, switch, or hidden passage. Sometimes, frustratingly enough, the game relies on arbitrarily placed scripted events to open the way forward. Since your avatar's mental condition is questionable at best, you start going crazy when you're in darkness. To alleviate this, you can take out their lantern which slowly drains your reserves of oil, or tinderboxes which light up the various scattered lighting elements, which will somehow burn forever. This leads to a certain question: Why not take one of theses infinitely burning torches/candles with you? I understand the answer from a gameplay perspective, of course. For someone like me though, who already couldn't seem to get into the right mindset for this, it just made the game seem silly. Also, why would they make individual books physics enabled, while leaving stacks immovable and indestructible? These kinds of inconsistencies made the game feel a bit confusing at times.

Concept

The idea of being stuck in a dark place while being hunted by a nebulous creature of some sort is not exactly an incredible example of originality. They do a fairly good job of making it obvious without shoving it in your face, though. As the title suggests, you suffer from amnesia and generally experience flashbacks at convenient moments. I didn't get too much time to play the game, but I really wish that there were more cryptic flashbacks, perhaps foreshadowing things a bit.

Final Thoughts

At the beginning of the game, you're asked to try and immerse yourself in the world and try to treat it less like a game. I can see where they're coming from, but immersion isn't really something that can control. For whatever reason, the game's world never really clicked for me, and I didn't find it to be scary in the slightest. It's possible that people only give it so much praise because of the  alternatives, but I think this game could be quite tense if you can get into it. In the end, it probably boils down to what you're like. I have a tendency to metagame, and it probably served as a real detracting factor here. I suppose it can't be helped.

You can buy the game here.
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