When was the last time a game scared you? I mean REALLY scared you, not the cheap “thrills and chills” Resident Evil is turning out these days, but an experience that makes your heart race and your mind begin to panic. Yeah, you know you like it, and there is little to fill that void in your life. Some movies can keep you on edge for a couple of hours, maybe a few recent books, but Scary seems to be a forgotten art. I had about given up on survival horror (after the atrocity that is Resident Evil 5, who could blame me?), the games just aren’t scary, nor do I find myself fearing for my own survival. And isn’t that how I am supposed to feel when I play these games?
If you haven’t been paying attention, you probably missed out on 2007/8’s Penumbra series from Frictional Games. Amnesia: The Dark Descent carries on their legacy of quality with an all new story, running on a new version of their HPL engine (HPL2). I don’t know what abuse these guys must have suffered growing up, but they write some SICK software. Every game gets better, scarier then the last. So far, this company has done nothing but show me what was absolutely missing from the genre, Fear (Yes, I am calling it a noun).
I have played so many horror games, I just don’t find many of the repeated attempts to freak me out all that shocking anymore. If I have a gun, I just bide my time, and take skilled aim to kill….whatever may be trying to kill/slash/mame/nibble or otherwise harm me. Almost all games expect you to fight back, don’t they? I mean, aren’t we to be fearless? Just blow um all to hell, nothing can stop you!! Right?? Oh, we couldn’t be more wrong!
Amnesia is NOT one of those games. You have no weapons, no way to defend yourself, and there are some really mean mother-fornicaters that would love to rip your face off and do dirty, dirty things with it! The best you can do is run your ass off and hope for a really good hiding place! Run…yeah…..about that…. You see, there’s a few … little problems with “running” per se. Running makes noise. Running requires that you know where you are going, and you do not. Running requires that you can SEE where you are going, and you can not.
The game is dark, literally so, and your only means of lighting the environment are limited to tinder boxes, for lighting candles, torches, etc., and your lantern, which runs on oil. Oddly enough, the dark is both your needed ally and worst enemy. In the light you are visible, and if that light is your lantern, you might want to put that shit out ASAP! Now this is an odd predicament, since turning out the lights to hide causes your anxiety to rise, eventually causing hallucinations (some of which can actually harm you). So it is either leave the light on, and risk being seen, or turn the light off, and go completely insane, your choice! ^_^
The game mechanics are completely physics based, and many of the objects around you can be manipulated in some fashion. The game could really be best described as if Eternal Darkness, and Shadowgate 64 made a baby with Satan’s blessing. There is a lot of that ‘Finding, Combining, Using’ puzzle solving element, but Amnesia takes it to a whole new level. Puzzles are extremely varied, and many of them are multi-tasking events. In one case, I was desperately trying to turn a crank, while a creature I could not see was chasing me. I had to grab severed pieces of human flesh and throw them away from my location, to bait the creature distracted until the doorway was open enough to pass through! It was terrifying!
The gameplay blends those aspects of time based events and thinking puzzles, with the strategy of monitoring the sanity meter and the predicament with the lights, and the results are perfect. Atmospherically this game is a masterpiece, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Imagine, a game that forces you to think, when the pressure is very, very real. Your life is on the line, and you may have only moments to react, to save yourself. Where will you hide? How will you escape? What options do you have, and can you find them while you have every reason to piss yourself and crawl into the fetal position to die, crying like a little baby? Manage that urge to panic, be aware of your surroundings, and always be ready to run!
Now, I wish I could say everything pleased me about this game, but there are some…. imperfections, that I just couldn’t swallow. None of them prevented me from enjoying the game, but they did annoy me enough that the game would be better with improvements.
For me, I felt that the graphics felt dated, like Dreamcast or early PS2 quality. The lighting effects, which are an important aspect of the game, seemed hollow and unrealistic. Flames offered a light bulb-like evenness, and the physical nature of the light was almost non-existent. I like when a light source has a realistic fade at the edge of illumination, as well as a natural bending of actual shadows, like that of a dancing fireplace, or the flicker of a candle. This game is codependent on the nature of lighting, so I don’t understand why they wouldn’t have taken advantage of modern Direct X lighting effects, at least up to DX 9 would have really pushed the ambiance ten fold.
Along with the low lighting effects, I was not very impressed with the overall graphical rendering. Again, the graphics just seem old; objects are kind of blocky, water was minimally rendered, I mean, shit, the curtains don’t even move when wind is (audibly)blowing though an open window. I am not saying this makes the game bad, but with all the games out there pushing our GPU’s to the limit, why does this engine set the bar so low? The graphics do immerse you, so that isn’t the issue. My problem, is that the graphics COULD immerse you MORE. With the game already doing such a great job of sucking me in, I would have found it exponentially scarier had the graphics been a bit stronger. We have had ‘waving fabric’ since N64 and Playstation, soooo, what’s the deal guys?
Overall, the game is awesome, and from an indie company I really shouldn’t even bitch about the graphics. The game centers around delivering Fear, and I cannot remember the last time a game scared me this much. Frictional Games, is definitely a company to watch, they will be doing some very good things.
At $20, this game is not something you can afford to pass up. And if you want to try the Penumbra series, you can get all three games for $20! Four insane titles for the price of one game from “The Big Guys”, and the big name games are starting to smell a little ripe. Go do yourself a favor, before you buy Resident Evil 703, snag these games and turn off the lights. Just make sure you stock up on Depends, and Scotch Guard….
<Fear smells like shit!>