Amnesia: The Dark Descent undeniably changed the horror genre forever. From the way that players interacted with doors, to the presentation of its insanity mechanic, every element within the title was fresh. It all lent to the high dosage of fear that the game provided at its launch; struggling to swing open a heavy door while being chased only to barely graze it and close it once more right in your own face, cowering in a corner and being afraid to peak at what monstrous enemy is breathing their wet breath in the next hallway, and uncertainty of where the plot would even land you in the end. In the years since its release, the Amnesia series has spawned countless knockoffs, none of which have truly captured the sheer terror that the original was able to traumatize players with. The franchise eventually lost its way with A Machine for Pigs, which was a simple walking simulator that had almost an on-rails, carnival of frights demeanor to its gameplay. Now, with the aptly titled Amnesia: Rebirth, one question begs to be answered: is this the true return to form for Frictional Games’ horror monolith?
The year is 1937, your name is Tasi, and you’re on a plane destined for Algeria. Accompanied by many other expeditioners and your husband, Salim, you’re setting off to uncover ancient ruins that lay in caves beneath the sands. The plane ends up abruptly crashing, and the amount of time that you’ve been knocked out is unknown. Your expedition crew is gone, and you’re left to pick up their trail to find them and figure out what’s going on and how much time has passed. Along the way to the first cave, you soon stumble across a compass, a Traveler’s Amulet; an alien device that can let you see portals between Earth and dead alien civilizations. It doesn’t take long for things to start getting weird, especially when you feel a kick in your belly… and a heartbeat… of all the things that you’ve forgotten, how could you forget that you were pregnant?
First and foremost, we need to stop right here and give some love to the fact that this is a high-profile horror game that isn’t set in a creepy mansion, spooky asylum, or whatever other cliche and nauseatingly overdone setting you want to throw in here. Wandering the vast and endless desert, sticking to the shade so you don’t get broiled alive under the unrepressed sun, and feeling hopelessly lost and alone is a very unique concept for this genre. As is crawling through crumbling ruins that seem to house timeworn artefacts from both the Egyptian and Mayan cultures. The setting shifts between the desert and an ancient, sinister alien civilization, whose evil has been disturbed by the expeditioners. Tasi is able to see portals into the advanced city with a compass she found near the plane’s crash site, and with it she finds herself hopping through the fabric of space and time itself.
All of the usual Amnesia mechanics are back this time, but time manipulation is new territory for Frictional Games and it’s not exactly an unwelcomed incorporation. It’s a little out of place at first, until the story starts to unfold. The new mechanics lend to fairly complex puzzles as well, given that the extraterrestrial city is full of unfamiliar symbols, strange objects that open doors in different ways, and portals that can be created. Once you get used to the almost H.R. Giger design of this alien world, you’ll find yourself back in the barren desert. There are an abundance of puzzles to solve in Amnesia: Rebirth, and many of them do require complex problem solving skills in order to overcome. None of these enigmas feel out of place, and they all tie in one way or another to appropriate story-driven progression. In other words they all have a purpose, they do not exist just because they can, unlike in a lot of other horror games that’ve come about in the last few years.
Both the alien world and desert with its ruins look good, but the Amnesia engine (HPL) is showing its age; as are the developer’s assets. The textures are… old. Visually, this title looks like it could’ve been released at any point in the last four years. There’s also a distinct lack of atmospheric details as well. There’s no dust, no fog, no particles in the alien world. The lighting is also quite bland in comparison to most modern releases. If you play games for their visual prowess, this is not going to be one that your eyeballs will thank you for. Though what is forgotten visually is somewhat made up for audibly, as there is an amazing musical score that encompasses the entire 9-12 hours of playtime that you’ll get out of the campaign.
There is one huge problem with Amnesia: Rebirth, however, and that’s the fact that enemies despawn. You could, and should, play the game normally; cowering in corners to avoid terrifying deformed humanoid creatures bent on your destruction. But you could also just run straight into them and die, and respawn. If you do, they’re almost always nowhere to be found, and if they are around they’re placed very, very far away. If this was intentional on the part of Frictional Games, perhaps it would be best to make it an option or to have more than one difficulty. If you decide to cheese it through, you’re removing a lot of the scare factors and simply cheating your own self out of a good time.
It’s unfortunate that so many fans and reviewers alike are holding Amnesia: Rebirth to the bar that its grandfather set ten years ago, instead of regarding it as its own entity. Too often do we look back at games through nostalgic lenses, only to revisit them and be disappointed. That’s not to say that The Dark Descent cannot still hold its own today, but it’s certainly not as frightening upon a revisit. Humbly, I do declare that Amnesia: Rebirth is a true return to form for the franchise as a whole, after Frictional Games lost their way with the walking simulator nature, boring puzzles, and cliche story of A Machine for Pigs. Many frights await in this release, with most of them being spontaneous and unforeseeable.
Score – 9/10