At some point, everyone has seen a scary movie and wondered “what if that were me?” Not one of those “Underworld”- or “Resident Evil”-style flicks, in which you would be a leather-bound badass armed to the teeth against an onslaught of hapless zombies, but something more along the lines of “Cabin Fever,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “Hostel.” One in which you’re the helpless one, trapped in an unfamiliar place with no means of fighting back against an onslaught of faceless, sadistic psychos whose goal in life is to destroy you in the most painful way possible.
Intentionally putting yourself in that situation would be crazy, right? On a scale of terrible things that could possibly happen, from losing your pencil to finding out you made out with your sister, waking up somewhere unfamiliar and knowing you’re being hunted would undeniably reside close to the worst. That’s where playing “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” fits in.
Frictional Games is a studio known for making scary games. The creators don’t make and-then-a-skeleton-jumped-out games or bash-zombie-faces-in-until-you-win games, but instead survive-in-the-most-creative-way-possible productions — such as the “Penumbra” series — in which “creative” means “passive, and while crying.”
“Amnesia: The Dark Descent” is notorious in certain circles for basically being one of the most terrifying games on the planet. You can’t fight. You don’t get a map. You don’t have the luxury of being heavily armed, being an Olympic sprinter or having night vision — in fact, staying in the dark too long makes you start hallucinating, because being stalked by deformed servants of a quasi-immortal extraterrestrial in a crumbling castle isn’t terrifying enough. You need to learn how to hide, and fast — “Amnesia” is nothing if not unforgiving and relentless in its psychological assault.
In case you haven’t heard of it, or you’re considering giving “Amnesia” a serious run, the game follows Daniel, our protagonist, after he intentionally imbibes an Amnesia elixir. Daniel embarks on an enjoyable romp through a castle — avoiding deformed monsters and an interplanetary facewrecker known as the Shadow — in an attempt to destroy the aforementioned semi-unkillable alien-Baron before he turns everyone’s lives into some mind-numbingly horrifying mix of “Silent Hill” and Black Death-era Europe. Got it? Good.
Baron Alexander von Brennenburg’s chateau is artfully decorated with torture rooms that would make Jigsaw blush, and upkeep has been relegated, pretty unsuccessfully, to a group of Servants — Gatherers and Grunts, mostly — who seem more preoccupied with unceremoniously brutalizing any living creature they can get their hands on (hence the name Gatherer) than making sure the entire place doesn’t fall to pieces.
It takes a special kind of person (read: someone who is heavily intoxicated and/or a masochist) to sit down in front of “Amnesia” with a serious intention of making any kind of significant progress. As a general rule, as much time is spent at the pause screen catching your breath, crying, or both, as is spent trekking through poorly lit hallways and solving puzzles. It’s a game best enjoyed in the dark, wearing headphones, with a full box of tissues and a camera so that all of your friends and the entire Internet can laugh at you, if the hundreds of videos on YouTube are to be taken seriously.
“Amnesia” garnered a decent amount of recognition on Reddit and other Internet gaming sources in the year following its release, due in equal parts to its flawless writing and atmosphere, and that getting other people to play the game is as entertaining as jamming a tablespoon full of cinnamon into their mouths. Because gameplay is relatively simple and the game is well-optimized to run on systems not built for high performance, non-gamers and hardcore players alike can experience every second of Daniel’s waking nightmare and the joys of therapy necessary for dealing with the immense psychological strain “Amnesia” induces.
None of this is to say that “Amnesia” is a bad game, or that you shouldn’t play it under any circumstances. It’s awesome. The scare factor is second-to-none, and even though it’s a year-and-a-half-old, the graphics look pretty good for a small developer such as Frictional. Playing “Amnesia” is an experience literally unlike any other, and causes an adrenaline rush that I’m pretty sure you’d only feel when actually running for your life.
Casual gamers and thrill-seeking hardcore players alike can take advantage of its intense atmosphere and simple gameplay if they have the right mindset, and anyone with even a passing interest in gaming or a profound disregard for the sanctity of their undergarments should give it a shot. Just make sure to have a good therapist on speed dial and a good bit of caffeine on hand to make up for the sleep you’re guaranteed to lose.