Amnesia: The Dark Descent   Leave a comment

Show us yer drawers.

Edit: It’s now also cheap on Steam – £2.60! One drink in a pub! And much, much better! – until the 1st of November.

I’ve been meaning to write this post since before I even got a blog, but as Amnesia has just been reduced to £2.59 (edit: reduced to beat Steam, probably) on GamersGate (on both PC and Mac), now seems a good time.

A quick aside about GamersGate: They are a reputable company, but don’t seem to believe that an ‘s’ should ever follow “http”. So when you buy Amnesia from them, don’t use a password you use anywhere else. I’m pretty sure they use a third-party payment provider, so that’s secure, but if not use PayPal or something. Just a warning; I’ve used them in the past, they are fine otherwise.

So then, what’s Amnesia and why do you – or I – care?

Amnesia is a first-person horror game by Frictional Games, generally considered one of the scariest games ever made. As well as horror it is, in parts, quite horrible. It’s based on the same technology as the developer’s previous games, the Penumbra series, which are first-person horror-adventure games with physics (bear with me, that does matter). They are interesting and worthwhile games, but I’d suggest you play Amnesia first; it is the masterpiece. And they make one particular mistake that Amnesia does not.

To explore its game mechanics in detail would kill it, so I’m not going to. It’s a game that it’s best to go into blind. So with that in mind, I will mention a couple of things – of the very many – that it gets right that won’t hurt the experience.

First is the mistake it doesn’t make. Many horror games stop being able to scare you because you become more powerful than the things you’re supposed to fear. Penumbra eventually gave you tools to attack your enemies, but Amnesia gives you no power. Your enemies will kill you, but you can’t ever fight back. Your choices are run, or hide. You can’t even look at them for long.

Secondly is what I think is its true genius, and the main thing it shares with its predecessor: physical interactions with objects.
That sounds dry, but what it means is than when you want to open a door, you don’t just point at it, press a key, and watch it open; you grab it with your cursor, and push or pull it. You walk through, and to close it behind you you grab it and drag it shut.
If you’re looking for something in a desk, you don’t just click on it for a pop-up inventory; you slide the drawers out to look in them. You can pull them out and throw them away, or you can gently slide them back in. You open the door to the cupboards to search them.

This sounds fiddly, but it really isn’t. It quickly becomes second nature, possibly because you’ve been making very similar movements to perform very similar tasks for your entire life, in the real world. And that’s why it’s so important to the game: it makes the world feel solid and real. It makes you feel like a real entity in the game’s world. It means you have to suspend less disbelief than you would otherwise, so it’s that much easier to forget you’re playing a game.

Now imagine you’re running down a corridor. Behind you is certain, terrible, screaming death, and all you can do, if you want to live, is get away. You round a corner. There, at the end, is a door.

Does it open towards you, or away from you?

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