It’s a good thing you’ve probably got a spare pair of pants under the Christmas tree this year, because the Amnesia Collection has been released just in time to ruin them all.
When Amnesia: The Dark Descent first hit PC markets in 2010 it made headlines with its label as the scariest game in living memory. It’s taken 6 years for console-ers to get in on the action, but with Amnesia: Collection, PS4 players are able to not only experience the blood thinning terror of the original title, but also its Juliet add-on, and its sequel-of-sorts A Machine For Pigs. We sat down with the full collection with no experience of the PC version, we quickly learned.
Dark Descent manages to creep into your blood and terrify without relying on jump scares and cheap tricks. As Daniel, you’ve been dropped in a strange castle with no memory of how you got there. With helpful notes that you yourself seem to have written guiding you through the labyrinth, your task is to work out just what happened at this nightmarish location. What truly set this apart in its 2010 beginnings however, is the fact that you have nothing at your disposal to fend off the grotesque creatures you encounter.
Your hands are only occupied by a single lamp and a dwindling supply of matches. It’s a sense of helplessness that’s been forgotten in today’s action-esque survival horror evolutions (just this week we were discussing how Resident Evil VII looks set to revive such simplistic mechanics).
You might not recognise it at first, but this lantern plays a major gameplay role. In fact, it may even be central. Working out when it’s safe to keep your path illuminated and when the darkness is crucial to survival is the biggest trade off you’ll meet all game. Darkness doesn’t mean safety however. In possibly the biggest stroke of gameplay genius of the 21st century, spending too much time pondering an enemy or camping in the dark will cause your sanity to slip.
Hallucinations and visual distortions await once you’re lost, as the majesty of the sound design cranks up the volume on those pervading whispers that have been creeping up on you throughout the experience.
It’s not all awesome gameplay and spine chilling atmosphere. Dark Descent’s graphics haven’t stood the test of time, and neither has its physics engine. The problem with including these annoyances in this review is that, while they are often disappointing enough to mention, they rarely detract from the gameplay experience as a whole. Physics problems can sometimes be frustrating when they don’t work in terms of picking up small objects, but the control system feels nicely mapped to PS4.
Similarly, the graphics haven’t been updated to PS4 expectations and yet they don’t really need to be in a game primarily focussed on your mind playing the tricks, and ultimately darkness. I do, however, have a personal gripe with the ending. I won’t say much, but it’s safe to say that a narrative built on so much complexity, depth, and tension requires a more dramatic finale than the fizzle i saw through my fingers at the end.
A lot of these graphics problems remain in the DLC-type expansion included in the package. Justine is an hour long experience designed to be played in one sitting. Though not strictly adhering to the traditional structure of Dark Descent, it packs a punch in its lack of save points.
With the ever potent fear of dying and losing all your progress, Justine does away with the supernatural proceedings of the earlier game. Instead you’re placed in a dungeon setting, choosing to either complete puzzles and save prisoners or simply run away. A psychological boost accompanies Justine which though short and carrying significantly less impact, holds the fort down for fans awaiting the sequel.
Once The Chinese Room took the helm on A Machine For Pigs things got really psychological. New characters and locations await in this Chinese Room-esque walking simulator style adventure. Left alone in a Victorian London home, players are searching for the sources of a gang of creepy child voices, all the while being pursued by bizarre pig men.
It’s frustrating that A Machine For Pigs takes such a diversion from the original mechanics that made Dark Descent so tantalising. With no inventory system, no sanity mechanic, and some seriously toned down enemies, the games feel incredibly distanced.
Possibly the most frustrating element of the game comes when you actually confront your followers. A few simple swipes from the masked pursuers takes you back a few minutes to your last checkpoint. That’s it. Once you’ve done it there’s no fear. No distortions. Nothing to set the blood pumping.
In taking a more psychological approach, choosing instead to explore the inner workings of the player’s mind, A Machine For Pigs has had the gameplay ripped right from its soul. It has however placed a greater focus on storyline, and this attention doesn’t go unappreciated. The Chinese Room are renowned for their narrative prowess, and they’ve applied this to Frictional Games’ dark universe to create a thrillingly realised narrative that stays with you long after you leave. It understands that the mind can produce terrors far beyond anything they can get away with putting on screen, but plays to that to the point of becoming beige.
Overall, Amnesia: Collection provides a great excuse for newcomers to approach the series – we certainly learnt a thing or two. For the many of us who have already experienced the series, the collation is more of a port than a remaster and so will likely offer very little in the way of an expanded experience. Nevertheless for the low price of £23.99 for all three titles, it’s a steal either way. The collection takes survival horror back to its roots. The same roots that Resident Evil has strayed so far from in recent years.