The lights are on
This is the second game of this type for me, and no -- I don't mean horror. This is the second game I've ever purchased hardware for. I had seen a few videos, and I just had this incredible desire. I bought it before I even had a PC that could run it. Two years later, at a pitch-black 4:30 in the morning, I have finally satiated that desire. Not exactly what I anticipated, but hey... I needed a new PC anyways.
First and foremost, this game is DARK. So dark, that it's two different types of dark: 1) you can't see, and 2) morbid and grotesque. I'll handle the lighting situation first. The main character can collect tinderboxes to use on candles, lanterns, and the like. These offer minimal light, but can offer enough to guide you. He also gets a lantern of his own, which requires oil to be collected. These items are said to be used sparingly, but I finished the game with 15-20 of each item left. I always suffer through games to preserve for some epic final battle or something. I blame the original Resident Evil. Because I played the way I did, which the game recommended, I had an extremely hard time with navigation. There's an effect to mimic eyes adjusting to darkness (I think that's what they were going for) and this meant I was hugging walls a lot, trying to get as close as possible to see stuff. It was impossible to play during the day, because even the amount of light that creeps through my blinds was more than enough to make the screen just appear blank.
The second type of darkness gets its own paragraph. Dark Descent is gross. Sidenote: first game I've ever seen a *** in. It's the first game I've taken a bunch of assorted items from my inventory and used them to get blood...I'll shut up so you can experience that one. All of these things may disturb some, and I always made sure to save and exit when my girlfriend came over, so she didn't think I was more messed up than she already imagined. That being said, it's all very fitting. The atmosphere is easily the best part of Amnesia. The story is bleh. The controls are bleeehh. But, the architecture, imagery, sounds, and situations are all worthwhile.
Like what you say -- How often, in a horror game, have you crouched in the corner of a room to avoid something that's chasing you? You haven't even seen this "thing," and it may not even be there. You've just been made to believe something is around the corner, and that was enough to send you sprinting in the other direction. That's what Amnesia is about. I rarely knew whether or not to take the foreshadowing seriously. Unpredictable encounters, monsters that pursue aggressively, and just a general fear of being chased and not being able to escape. The monsters are pretty slow, although sometimes surprising, but they have zero intelligence. Outside of busting down a door, they're pretty likely to leave you alone if you just crouch and don't look. This was a sad discovery that allowed me to continue the game with very little suspense. It still got me once or twice, but it lost the "it" factor it had in the beginning hours.
General gameplay and puzzle solving are interesting enough, and clever at times, but it all boils down to common sense. You can't fight, so run and hide or just run until you aren't being chased anymore. That's that. On the puzzle end, everything is either fit the thing in the thing, or physics based. Some puzzles require more patience that I would prefer, because often proper directions are not given on what needs to happen, but generally speaking... it's good fun and rewarding. I was frustrated with the insanity mechanics, because really that's the health. Health exists as well, but monsters kill you instantly. The only things that "damage" are falls, sharp or hot objects, and this AWFUL red tissue that appears on floors and walls. That stuff should not be in the game. So annoying. The sanity (and lack thereof) of the main character works fine until he begins to panic. These moments are scripted, and it makes the controls near impossible. Combine that with darkness and you get me. The only way to calm him down is to complete an objective, or be in the light (apparently). Sometimes this lasted an obnoxiously long time.
I'd say overall, I enjoyed my experience. I haven't played a game like this before (closest comparisons I can think of are Eternal Darkness, Clock Tower and Call of Cthulhu), and I felt like it did what it set out to do. It wasn't quite what I had imagined it was going to be, and there are some poor design choices that kind of tug it down a few notches. The goal was to be scared, and at first I was. It just became to rinse and repeat by the halfway mark. Regardless, it was inspiring to play something that was true horror.
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