Amnesia: The Dark Descent

OK, time for more recent indie goodness. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, by the same team as Penumbra, is one of the games from the past year that garnered the most praise from people whose opinions I respect. Like the Penumbra games, it’s a first-person horror game. True to its title, and also like Penumbra, it seems to involve going downward a lot. There’s a Call of Cthulhu-style Sanity stat, which diminishes not just from witnessing horrors and being attacked by abominations, but also just from being in the dark.

Of course, progressing to deeper underground chambers has the natural result of less natural light. There are lamps and candles located in stationary holders, and a lantern you can carry with you, but these are both based on limited resources that you have to find by exploring: tinderboxes to light the fixtures, oil to keep the lamp going. It seems like the game is inevitably going to make me run out of these things at some point, because that’s how horror in games works.

I have to say that the horror stuff is a bit more on-the-nose than I was expecting from other people’s comments. When you think you’re alone and you suddenly see a humanoid form dodging around a corner ahead of you, there’s good opportunity to make the player nervous: let us catch only a glimpse, and not know what it was that we saw, and our imaginations will run wild. But no, the figure stands there for a moment, and walks around that corner fairly slowly, to make sure that the player gets a good look at it. Having the same figure suddenly turn out to be right next to you when you rotate your view is effective, but only as a cheap jump-scare. But I’m still in the early stages yet; maybe I’m not yet up to the stuff people raved about.

The better, scarier stuff I’ve seen so far is the stuff that’s hard to interpret. Sometimes, for example, the screen just warps as if breathing. Is this a sign that I’m losing Sanity? I don’t know, and because I don’t know, I have to fear that it is. The rules in Penumbra were relatively cut-and-dried: your character had several discrete and easily-identifiable states, and it was always clear what triggered a state transition. Or maybe that’s just how I remember it, and the rules were no more obvious from the beginning there as here.

Anyway, more to come.

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