This compilation brings together all three Amnesia titles into one terrifying package. Is it worth your time and sanity, or should you hide in a cupboard and wait for it to move on?
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Originally released on PC in 2010, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is regarded as one of the most important and influential horror games of recent years, as well as one of the scariest. It helped popularise the idea of "combatless" horror games in which players are unable to fight enemies and must instead run or hide to stay alive. Though such aspects are common staples of survival horror nowadays (in part thanks to Amnesia), The Dark Descent doesn't feel hackneyed or outdated and still manages to pack a punch six years on. You control Daniel, a young man living in the 19th century who wakes up in an old spooky castle with (as the title suggests) no memory of how he got there. To escape, he must delve deeper into the castle's labyrinthine hallways and mysteries, all while avoiding a stalking "shadow" monster.
Like Frictional Games' other console release, Soma, The Dark Descent spends a lot of time building atmosphere before the scares come. The sound design is excellent from its spooky environmental effects to its skin-crawling music. Before encountering any monsters, players will learn that Daniel can also be hurt by losing sanity either by seeing disturbing phenomena or by staying in the dark too long. Sanity can be restored by lighting torches with tinderboxes found throughout the castle or by solving puzzles. You also have a lamp to help light dark areas though you must pick up oil to fuel it and it runs out fast. While in shadow, you have a sense of urgency because you lose sanity and will eventually die so you're forced to run through certain areas while micro-managing your oil and tinderbox supplies.
When the shadow monster finally shows up, it's suitably unnerving. You lose sanity when you look at it so you're usually forced to hide in a corner, looking away and hoping it doesn't see you. It's probably scariest when it's chasing you and you have to shut doors behind you to keep it from catching up; a process that's made all the more heart-racing by the slightly finicky controls. Overall, The Dark Descent doesn't lay the scares on too thick. Instead, you're more often listening to Daniel's back-story via voiceover flashbacks or trying to solve puzzles rather than avoiding enemies. This means the experience isn't very frightening for extended periods but it does help make you feel more involved in the world and it's admirable that it doesn't rely solely on jump scares (though there are a few).
Another way The Dark Descent succeeds in immersing you is through its controls. Rather than simply pressing a button to open a door or pull a lever, you instead have to hold the R2 button and pull or push the door or lever in the desired direction, allowing you to dictate the speed and extent of the opening or closing (which is important when you're trying not to alert nearby monstrosities). There are also a lot of physics-based puzzles to solve such as stacking objects on top of one another to reach a higher area. This type of gameplay gives the world a more tactile feel and helps draw you into it further. Some of the solutions are very unclear, however, leading to a lot of running around the same locations, trying to interact with things until something works (or you look it up in a guide). This is the only real downside in a game that still engrosses and scares even though it's been imitated so many times since its release.
Justine is a short expansion for The Dark Descent that was released as free DLC in 2011. Here, you play as an unnamed female character who must traverse several Saw-inspired challenge rooms through which you can progress either by killing someone or by solving a puzzle to free them. As in The Dark Descent, the puzzles can be rather abstruse to figure out which can lead you to killing the NPCs in order to keep moving. Other than that, the only thing to say about it is that it has permadeath which is rather frustrating as, even though the DLC is pretty short, it's still aggravating to have to repeat early levels if you die near the end.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
This collection's final entry is Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs which was released in 2013 and developed by The Chinese Room (of Dear Esther and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture fame). It centres on a new protagonist named Oswald Mandus. He awakens dazed and confused in a large mansion and is informed that his two sons are trapped underneath it in a vast network of machines. Unfortunately, there are some creatures down there that don't want Mandus interfering...
A Machine for Pigs is a big change from The Dark Descent. The inventory and sanity meter are gone and, disappointingly, there are fewer objects to interact with. This immediately renders it less immersive than its predecessor. There are still lots of notes to read although most of them are very uninteresting or just full of pretentious gibberish. This makes it tempting to just skip them which means that you'll know even less as to what's going on. Matters are made worse by the choice of font which is borderline painful to read.
Like The Dark Descent, A Machine for Pigs takes a long time to get to any proper scares, several of which are scripted and pose no actual danger to the player. In fact, there are only a few occasions in the whole game in which there's any kind of real threat. The rest of the time is spent wandering around the mansion, trying to open up new areas while reading notes and being subjected to flashback voiceover sequences that slow your movement to an excruciating crawl. When the scares come, they can be quite effective, but they're not up to The Dark Descent's level of panic-inducing fear. Further, A Machine for Pigs is damaged by an absolutely horrific frame rate on PlayStation 4 which is worse in its larger environments. Additionally, it suffers from long loading times and the audio occasionally cuts out for a second or two. The lighting is also extremely dark and washed out which, rather than adding to any sense of terror, just makes it a strain to see what you're doing a lot of the time. Basically, it's far inferior to The Dark Descent in every way.
The Amnesia Collection is a mixed bag. The Dark Descent's puzzles can be frustrating but overall, it's an excellent and engrossing horror experience. Justine is very short and rather throwaway while A Machine for Pigs is a big step down in quality from the original. If you get it when it's on sale for The Dark Descent alone then you can't really go wrong.
- + Good to finally play Amnesia on console
- + Still atmospheric and scary six years later
- + Physics-based interaction gives The Dark Descent a tactile and immersive feel
- - Some puzzles can be very unclear
- - Justine is too short and rather throwaway
- - A Machine for Pigs is a bore and has a terrible frame rate and technical issues