I was sort of impressed by it. It was a very atmospheric game with some simple but effective puzzling and a nicely put together back-story that never got too boring. It also managed to be surprisingly scary with very little of the silly “Boo!” sort of scares.
Well, the same publisher has just put out a demo for their new game, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It comes out on Wednesday for only $20 ($15 if you pre-order), which if the previous games are any indication is a pretty excellent deal.
It’s probably best to play the demo if you want to get a feel for the game, but because you’re so completely awful and won’t bother I will lay down the basics for you:
Amnesia is a game about Amnesia, obviously. You wake to find yourself in a totally creepy old castle not knowing who you are. Cleverly, though, you pretty quickly find out that you purposefully made yourself an amnesiac. Apparently you did something so horrifying that the only way you could think of to fix it was to wipe your mind to keep from going mad, and set your newly blank slate self on the trail. Though the amnesiac hero is a trope so old it’s actually not that common any more, the presentation here is interesting, and it does the job of setting you up to become increasingly horrified as your prior actions become apparent.
Amnesia shares the cleverly engrossing interaction system that the Penumbra games had. In order to move objects, open and close doors, and solve most of the puzzles, you simply click on an object and move it as though you were grabbing onto it. So click on a door and pull back to open, click on a wheel and make circles with the mouse and so on. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s also at the heart of what makes this game interesting. It keeps puzzles flowing smoothly because very rarely do they rely on anything but a grasp of simple physics and a keen eye for improvising. It also makes the horror more gripping, as you feel more closely tied to the world that’s trying to kill you when you have to actually bar the door with your hastily shoved together barricade. You never get that comfortable intermediary of a weapon to keep yourself distanced from the shambling horrors that lurk in the dark.
Speaking of dark, that’s a device I loved in Penumbra: darkness felt realistically pervasive and claustrophobic… at first. See, in Penumbra you could hide, and you hid better in the dark. That makes sense, really. But the thing is, that makes darkness into something of an ally. If all it does is hide you from view, you can just camp out in a dark corner any time something terrifying is going down. Amnesia inverts this by making your character teeter on the edge of insanity. Spend too long in the darkness and he tips off the edge and starts seeing and hearing things that aren’t there, and in general not being quite fit to deal with the dangers around him. So instead of being a welcome respite, darkness is a hard choice between staying safe physically by hiding or staying safe mentally by lighting a candle and possibly alerting something lurking in the darkness.
Also welcome in Amnesia are the spectacularly improved graphics. It’s rare that I even notice them in a modern game, but when I do it’s usually an indie developer that just isn’t quite up to snuff. Frictional games more than avoids that with this outing. Textures can be turned up high enough that it seems like some kind of prank, and the full suite of modern graphical doohickeys that I have never cared about in other games are noticeably present and accounted for, adding some much needed modernity to the freaky atmosphere and making it a much more frightening experience.
Another lovely part of the higher budget is that the voice actors in Amnesia seem very much improved. It never really hurt Penumbra, but it is a welcome aspect of the new game.
So try out the demo, you lazy bums. It won’t take much time, and if you play it late at night with the lights off I can guarantee you’ll come away feeling more freaked out than you ever expected a game could make you.