Offcuts: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

17 Jan

A.K.A. My PC Is Undergoing Repairs So I’m Busting Out Some Quick Blog Posts To Pass The Time, Episode 1

A.K.A. “Hey, You Can’t Just Review A Game After Only Playing Two And A Half Hours!” Fucking Watch Me, Episode 1

Generally, I’ve considered people who greatly enjoy the horror genre (in its many forms) to have something fundamentally wrong with them. Like, did you not evolve correctly, man? Humans aren’t meant to enjoy being scared! It’s scary! Toddlers don’t crawl across their bedrooms floors to gleefully yank their soothing nightlight from its socket, quietly muttering “Hee hee, this is gonna be sick”!

Nevertheless, I had to at least try Amnesia. There were two main justifications for this foray into the incredibly brown unknown: first was the marvellous Nightmare House 2, which boasted not just a compelling urgency (and a surprising amount of polish for a mod), but just enough glimpses of hope amongst the bleakness to make me doubt my own blanket dismissal of horror as a miserable, anti-fun category. Second was…well, it was a gift from my housemates. Two of them are on Steam. If I couldn’t even try to stomach it, they’d know. Plus, I’d be tossing aside a gift. Even history’s worst murderers, despots and dictators probably wouldn’t do that. Even if most of them had Steam accounts.

After consulting a wiki or two, I’d say I’m about a quarter to a third in, and finding things to love has been…difficult. It repeatedly uses a level design structure I’ve hated for years – a ‘hub’ area, with little to interact with except the door to the next area, which in turn can only be opened by venturing into four or five neighbouring doors to pull a distant lever or collect some mundane, inanimate object. Said objects can then be combined, with a series of highly tense and not at all tedious mouse clicks and turns, to create that particular area’s McGuffin Key. Guys, this isn’t puzzle solving, this is making pancakes on a larger scale.

Still, the atmosphere is undeniably top-notch, with musical cues playing a big part. There’s a gorgeous moment where you ascend a mouldy staircase into the relatively serene atrium above, while twinkling piano notes seem to echo off the lofty walls. Conversely, the brutal orchestral screeches that accompany an alerted mutant-servant manage to be far more unsettling than the terminally astigmatic, absurdly warped creatures themselves.

In terms of scares, the trippy screen blur that signifies a nasty bout of temporary (as in, lasting under a minute) insanity is more irritating than terrifying, but the potential is there. I’d happily never have to deal with the invisible water-dwelling demon that kills in two hits, can sprint like the wind and boasts the loudest, most maniacal audio theme in the game thus far again, but it’s clear Amnesia doesn’t have nearly enough concern for my mental well-being for that to be the case. So, yeah, Frictional Games, you can have this one.

I’m hoping that, once the story picks up and starts being about more than scribbles on paper scraps, the inane item-gathering will make way for some more meaningful exploration. Frankly, there’s still little fun to be had sobbing inside a cupboard, but it would be nice – if nothing else – to be proved wrong about the wider entertainment value of horror for the second time running.


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