Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Indie Horror: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 21, 2014

Amnesia3Probably the most famous / popular of the horror-themed indie games (and a strong contender for the scariest) is Amnesia: The Dark Descent. If you haven’t heard of it, you probably don’t follow indie games, or at least you hadn’t until recently. If that’s the case, Welcome! I’m happy you dropped by!

Three years ago, my eldest daughter wanted to have a Halloween party. She made it an “Amnesia” party. The primary entertainment consisted of Amnesia: The Dark Descent on a laptop plugged into our HD TV, played in the dark. With refreshments, etc. One person played (I don’t remember if they alternated players), and the rest sat in the dark, sometimes talking, and regularly being scared out of their wits. They seemed to all have a good time, so I guess it was successful. If you want scares, and that feeling of all the blood in your body rushing out of your extremities to protect your vital organs, Amnesia delivers.

Whether it’s the scariest video game of all time is subject to personal taste, I think. But there’s little doubt it’s one of the scariest. Having learned how to scare people with Penumbra, developer Frictional Games set out to hone Amnesia into a straight-up disturbing and downright terrifying experience. They did an excellent job. While it retains some of the adventure game elements of its predecessor series, those aspects are simpler with a greater focus on physics-based interactions with the environment. Hardcore adventure-game fans may lament this sacrifice to the action-gaming gods, but

You play a man named Daniel, suffering from self-induced amnesia via a potion. Why did you make yourself forget? You find notes to yourself, and hear conversations play out from buried memories as you traverse the ruins of a castle towards a goal deep below in an “inner sanctum.” As you play, you discover that the events – which I originally took for being much older events, when the castle was new(er). But as you discover, the secrets are far more recent, and the castle is falling into greater ruin by the hour – as something darker and sinister consumes it.
Amnesia2As in Penumbra, as your character stresses out, bad things happen. His sanity decreases in the dark, or in response to supernatural events, or looking at a horror (which once again means – don’t try and get a really good look at the bad guys even if you feel safe!). It recovers somewhat when standing in the light, and when completing certain objectives. The twist in Amnesia is that this increased stress will cause the character to hallucinate (which is bad in a place where some things that look like hallucinations can kill you), and will actually draw monsters to your presence.

The game feels far less “on the rails” than Outlast, and the horrors seem to play with a somewhat more logical set of rules than in Slender: The Arrival. The result is a game that feels more fair and like you are more in control. The real trick – and the credit I want to give Frictional Games – is that the game manages to terrify without resorting too much on yanking that control from the player (as terror often derives from a feeling of helplessness). Yes, your character is defenseless against the horrors that stalk the halls of the castle and dungeons, aside from running and hiding.

An interesting side-effect of the physics-based interaction is that you have to open and close doors manually, by “grabbing” them with the mouse button and¬†physically moving the mouse to move the object. This gives you greater control, on the plus side. But on the downside – when you are running for your life from something terrible, it’s easy to fumble the door you are trying to open. Just like the movies!

If you are looking for a game to really give you the Halloween scares, this is the one I’d recommend first. It’s not for the very young or faint-of-heart. But it is quality supernatural horror.


aamfpLast year, a sequel finally emerged – Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. ¬†It’s not really a direct sequel – in fact, it’s suggested that it takes place in an alternate timeline, in 1899. With a smidgeon of Steampunk blended into its horror, it was originally intended as more of an experimental title by developer Chinese Room of Dear Esther fame.

Once again, amnesia and rediscovering one’s identity – and past actions (and that you are partly responsible for the horrors you must now face) form a central theme to the story, which I guess ties the two games together. Well, that, and the need to hide from horrible monsters.

The consensus seems to be it is not as high quality (or as scary) as the original game, and it does away with a lot of the mechanics of the first game (including the sanity mechanic!). But it still serves up some great disturbing / creepy ambiance and its share of scares.

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