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Halloween Countdown Day II – Amnesia The Dark Descent and A Machine For Pigs

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Day Two – Amnesia

Half a decade ago a generation of teenagers raised on the budding edge of an ever-developing medium had never seen survival-horror in its glorious essence. Amnesia came at the perfect opportunity, and I’m obliged to believe that Frictional didn’t realize its inevitable success in the following years. Penumbra flew under my radar in the aughts, much like many of my other Steam compatriots, and I could only revel in what appeared to be a groundbreaking advancement in the survival-horror genre with the unspoiled viewpoint of a newborn.

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I didn’t get into Amnesia until well after release, letting the trailer and unrevealing gameplay footage burn into my retinas while I waited for twenty, uninflated dollars to drift through the window and into my Steam wallet. Okay, I wasn’t that hyped for the game, and I think the media surrounding it did it a service to keep my expectations neutral. Perhaps it wasn’t the scariest game (it totally is), but all you had to say to someone was “Oh god, the dungeon scene” and you instantly connected.

Amnesia exposed a vessel in the video game market that had existed from nearly the beginning and we embraced it as a whole. In my SOMA coverage I talked about how we shouldn’t focus on art being scary as the core value but instead the core values being enhanced by an eerie atmosphere, and in this case I stand by my resolution.

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There was an expansion released for Amnesia called A Machine For Pigs (MFP) that sort of illustrates this point better than SOMA, so let’s dive into these installments and see what we can unearth.

Amnesia and MFP are gloriously gothic, treading on pre-industrial tales of malice, unsavory gains, and eldritch ceremony at the expense of others. In their own right, they would make an excellent novel as they play on conventional storytelling reminiscing turn-of-the-century horror. I didn’t see this until later, and given the context, I can only appreciate the molding that two centuries of influence have provided.

Various props, conversations, and settings in the games reflect this in building an immersive environment that captures you from the beginning. Perhaps the rosy allure of nostalgia is clouding my vision, but I distinctly remember the wafty and dismal catacombs, the shadowed hallways with too many doors, and the primal cries from vapid killers all congealing into a series of seamless events like a horrifying layer cake. It was, however, the time in between these events that made Amnesia stand out from its peers.

Fear is a distinct emotion to instill and it takes a measured approach to execute viable and long lasting horror. It’s the anticipation and the cooldown that reflects your surroundings, that hints at the fetid sarcophagus of your surroundings. A horror game might look inside and show you your fate, but a great horror game keeps you guessing.

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The creatures of Amnesia, how few and far in between they may be, were never crowded or outside of their element. Frictional took a reasonable approach to modeling their antagonists and offered the veil of darkness and fear to perpetuate the idea that this is something larger than life, something contrived of unnatural elements, and is but a rung away away from you on the genealogical ladder. I felt connected, in a way, to the enemies of Amnesia, boarding them off with the impenetrable bedframe fortress, using planks to block them from touching me, and generally being a uninitiated nuisance.

The level of commitment to antagonizing the player is underwhelming in MFP, but like I mentioned before, MFP stands apart as a residual branch, an extension of Amnesia’s cacophonic world. I relished the experience while feeling a bit more adventurous in my pursuits rather than being violently pursued through an adventure.

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Among the aforementioned, we can’t forget impeccable sound design to accentuate moments of fleeting, eerie moments of passing, and the the dismal, somber tracks that plague our sanctity. Above all other things, I believe sound design to be the most glossed-over, especially when other more apparent elements take the forefront.

That being said, I do have some qualms regarding both games. We won’t be getting too spoiler-ey, but you can feel free to skip this part regardless.

Like I mentioned before, fear’s strongest weapon is the unknown and Frictional’s strongest weapon is fear. That being said, for those in the know, I really didn’t feel the fear I should have regarding the water monster in Descent. It was more of a Pavlovian shoulder into using certain mechanics and could have been done so much more affluently (see: darker/thicker water). The ending’s thematics also could have been orchestrated better as it appears rushed and quite amateur.

MFP is another story and, while I was satisfied with the story and presentation, it it lacked the immediacy of Descent with too few moments of what felt like inflated attempts at shock and terror.

Regardless of my qualms and the rapid increase in technology I hope that in five years I can look back at this coupling as a relic of innovation and the jumpstart that flooded the mainstream in a major way. Or, you know, bring us Amnesia III: We Forgot the Sequel.

About Samuel Collet

Sam is a writer for the internet, an awful graphic designer, and will work for coffee. If you wish to hire this destroyer of languages, send him an e-mail at samuelsharpe001@yahoo.com

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