Have You Played… Amnesia: The Dark Descent?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives and PC miscellany. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

I have a limited patience for scary games. I enjoy a surprise jump-scare here and there, but I struggle to enjoy an incessant barrage of them making every step an anxiety-inducing moment. And yet, wow, I love Amnesia.

I also really enjoyed the Penumbra series that came before it, but Amnesia felt like such a big step forward, such an improvement in overall quality. And bloody hell, it’s so frightening.

Paint the man, cut the lines. Paint the man, cut the lines. Paint the man, cut the lines.

What makes it so damned effective is the character’s fear, palpable and infectious, his increasing heart rate and panicked breathing inducing a physical sympathetic response. It’s so much more than just shouting “BOO!” at you every fifteen seconds – Amnesia offers a connection between player and character like few other games have ever achieved. Oh, and the splashing water. The splashing!

53 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    The water section was super good.

    The castle didn’t really fit together cohesively to me, I had a sensation of going through Mario-like videogame stages instead of exploring an actual, sensible place.

    But it was still spooky and fun without being just jumpscares, so A+.

  2. Sorbicol says:

    I have managed to play 30 minutes of this game. That was all I could cope with before turning the lights back on, and reminding myself I’m not afraid of the dark……..

    • shrieki says:

      for me Amnesia was like a totally new experience kind of game- i loved it so much but i was also sooo scared ! i thought it was utterly brilliant and interesting even when the scare factor diminished. such a great work of art overall. very scary yes

  3. Halk says:

    Among my top 5 of most overrated games ever.

    Not scary, retarded plot, bad level design, annoying sanity meter, no gameplay beyond “walk to X, click on Y, repeat ad nauseam”.

    Just bad. AAMFP is so much better.

    • Jalan says:

      Intended to write similar to this, suppose I don’t need to now.

      That said, A Machine for Pigs is much better in almost every respect. The only complaints I tended to have were the (now a somewhat traditional stamp of The Chinese Room) prose Mandus writes to himself and the tendency of the game to try and halt the player in order for it to get them to notice things but somehow missing the mark by quite a distance much of the time.

      Everything else though – atmosphere, sound design, Jessica Curry’s absolutely fantastic score, the voice acting, etc. was a cut above The Dark Descent.

      • Halk says:

        The soundtrack of AAMFP is amazing indeed. Still listen to it regularly.

        The last section of the game where you walk towards the final location, and then the music comes on… just so great.

        • Jalan says:

          There are so many of those moments like that. Going inside St. Dunstan’s and hearing the organ fire up – unbelievably chilling, every time.

          Even though there will always be the numerous people who will deride the game for dropping “every mechanic that made The Dark Descent terrifying”, there are some things they can’t besmirch and Jessica’s music is one of them. It blows Mikko Tarmia’s work out of the water.

    • Synesthesia says:

      I wish I knew. A machine for pigs was too much for my feeble courage. I still remember what got me! I was going down some stairs, into a dark area with metal pig pens or something of the sort.

      And then my lamp flickered.
      And then something blurry zoomed past.

      I immediately alt-f4’d, and proceeded to uninstall. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to play it again.

      • shrieki says:

        oh man machine for the pigs was really so awesome and amazing for me-one of the games i never forget.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I like scary games, but I don’t like where you’re completely defenseless. If you so much as look at the monster you’re done for (or you’ll shit bricks). I’m not fundamentally against being unable to fight back, but you should be able to get through by other means than hiding in a cupboard. Dying Light has parkour as a means to get away and it’d be great if you could e.g. turn over furniture to block the monster from getting to you or set traps for it.

      Clive Barker’s Undying is my golden standard for scary games, haven’t quite found another game like it. Great atmopshere, fun gameplay, feeling vulnerable but not defenseless.

      • Halk says:

        Exactly. The problem is not that there are no guns to shoot at enemies. The problem is that there is nothing at all you can do about enemies.

        You cannot avoid them due to tree-like level structure and no secret passages or alternative routes. You cannot outrun them. You cannot trick them (as with a noise arrow in Thief). You cannot distract them. You cannot lure them into a trap. You cannot do anything.

        The game actually knows this and simply deletes enemies if the same enemy has killed you too many times, as otherwise it would be gamebreaking. I had this problem with an enemy that simply would not move away from a corridor that he was blocking no matter how long I waited and hid; so I had to try to run past him; did not work, but after some attempts the game took the enemy away.

        It’s as if the designers simply couldn’t be bothered to design any gameplay mechanics.

    • Imaginary Llamas says:

      I have to ask… you say the gameplay of A:TDD is poor, but say A:AMFP is much better? Was it mainly the atmosphere etc you felt was improved, because IIRC AMFP definitely veered towards more “walking simulator” (for want of a better description) as far as gameplay went. Fair enough if you think the non-gameplay horror elements were more important, just didn’t quite make sense to me the way you phrased it.

      • Halk says:

        Pretty much what you wrote.

        They were basically both walking simulators, because there was no actual gameplay in either of them.

        But AAMFP knew what it was good at, namely the Lovecraftian atmosphere, and delivered that perfectly. ATDD was all over the place.

        Also: no idiotic sanity meter in AAMFP. I hate it when a game tells me that I am currently scared. Especially when I am not.

    • shrieki says:

      you just did not like it yourself- that does not mean that others “over-rated” it! come off of your high horse.

    • dskzero says:

      They are pretty different though. I loved both, but the first is a first person puzzle game while the second is a walking simulator.

  4. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    Yes, and I’m one of the five people who thought it was rubbish. Predictable, based on very tired clichés, mechanically primitive and honestly not scary at all, since for the vast majority of the gameplay time, there are no threats whatsoever to be scared of, and when they are there, they’re pretty bad and extremely unconvincing. So all that’s left are a bunch of mostly awful physics puzzles.

    And then at the end the floating naked old man happened and I found myself genuinely wondering if the adoration the game received from everywhere was some kind of joke I’m not getting.

    • Halk says:

      The entire thing was “extremely unconvincing”.

      That’s why it failed to be scary. It was so cheaply put together that I could simply never forget I was playing a game. Or some kind of fan-made mod, because it felt more like that than like a professionally made game.

      Like you I have always struggled to understand the hype. Maybe that’s what mass hysteria in the modern age looks like. Everbody convincing each other of how scared they are.

      • GameCat says:

        My fauvorite part is when your character can throw heavy barrels like he’s a Donkey Kong, yet he can’t use it to fight back, even to knock down enemies for a while like in Forbidden Siren.

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about (in my comment above). There are far too few games that treat characters as other than immovable objects. I’d love to be tackle a problem by actually tackling the problem, i.e. an enemy or throw stuff to knock it off balance. That and more movement options besides run or jump or crouch walk would be great.

  5. Pilgore says:

    This game is straight up torturous to play for me. I think the ambient sound and music is what tops it, it’s such a hellish maddening game. In a good way…I guess? I made it 4 hours in before I had to go play Mario Kart and never think about it again. Brrrr….

  6. Sardonic says:

    Alien: Isolation could have learned a lot from Amnesia’s approach to progression, where if you’re killed you just respawn somewhere else with all the same items. Having to redo the same section in Isolation over and over is not fun or scary, it’s just tedious.

  7. GameCat says:

    Amnesia almost killed horror genre for me. It turned most of horror games into lifeless, boring slogs that you can’t even distinguish from each other. I can’t stress enough how I hate this game.

    Even Resident Evil 7 had to fall for this trap. (yeah, I know there are shooty bits later, but it’s fucking lame FPS that doesn’t even hold a candle to a masterpiece of RE6 combat system), Jesus Christ.

    Give me horror games focused on actual characters I would want to care for, not some player avatars.
    At least there’s Until Dawn on PS4…

  8. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Good god, no.

  9. Naramzu says:

    Literally gave me nightmares.

  10. Zorgulon says:

    As a horror game, the ambience, the fear – Amnesia was great.

    As a game, I found it a little hard work (and not just because it gave me the heebie-jeebies). While they made a great job of making the shambling monsters genuinely dangerous, if you died to one, I think it ws no longer there the next time you played. Which lessened the impact a little, I think.

    Also the fetching was pretty tedious. At one stage I found I’d forgotten to collect a particular item and had to wander through several now fairly empty rooms to find it before it would let me finish.

  11. Kefren says:

    I find it funny to read people’s comments saying it was rubbish or over-rated, as if there is an objective truth to any game. We all like different things. I have hated many highly-popular games. But I loved Penumbra, Amnesia (both games), and Soma. They rate amongst my favourite games ever, just slightly above STALKER, and I’d hate not to have them in my collection. I think it is because I become immersed in them and forget I am playing a game.

    • 80-watt Hamster says:

      I can’t help but feel some sympathy for the naysayers. Bioshock: Infinite left me in a similar position. Everyone who was not I seemed to love it.

      • Kefren says:

        I’d heard so much about BSI, and was then mostly bored for the whole playtime. I much preferred Bioshock 1 and 2 (and Minerva’s Den), even though they weren’t as good as I’d hoped.

      • Chitzkoi says:

        I liked BS:I the first time round because the story/weirdness grabbed hold of me. It has zero replay value though, due to the tedious set piece battles.

      • allthingslive says:

        Hey I was disappointed by BSI too. I loved the setting, going to the air instead of underwater, perfect. But as far as how far they tried exploring the politics of the world, and how they sort of tried to top that psychedelic, self determination type of ending to Bioshock 1, it just didn’t do it for me. It felt way too forced, like one of the writers had an acid trip and thought going even more meta than the BS1 ending would bring more impact…. overall felt like they were trying for that Bioshock formula and did so well at it that it became as cliche and predictable as BS2. I definitely thought BSI was a step back in the right direction from 2 though

      • allthingslive says:

        I still have this in my steam library with only 1 hour on it, I’m surprised by the people saying it’s not scary. I’m no horror fan, maybe I’m just a bitch, but were you guys playing with headphones? Especially with directional audio, the sound design is maddening. I can understand issues with the game mechanically though, that is fair. The idea you can’t fight back against the monster AT ALL? Really? When I can push heavy things and make acids? Fuck off. Other than that I still owe it a revisitation.

        • Daymare says:

          When people tell me a game wasn’t scary I have this handy list of questions to determine whether their opinion re: the scariness has any merit:

          – Did you use headphones?
          – Did you darken your room?
          – Did you play alone?
          – or did you just watch a Let’s Play on Youtube?

          • Premium User Badge

            basilisk says:

            Yes, yes, yes and no. And it definitely was a lot more obnoxious than scary.

          • Viral Frog says:

            I consider myself to be highly resistant to horror in games. That said, the first time I play a horror game, I do so alone, with headphones in, and the lights off. Even though I’m pretty resistant to fear in these types of games, I am able to get into the atmosphere and still feel those scared feelings that the developers intended (although most likely to a much lesser extent than others experience).

            Considering the fact that I’m incredibly resistant to horror in games, I am always extremely skeptical of people when they tell me something I found to be “scary” isn’t. This list of questions is the first thing that pops in my mind when I hear people downplay the horror of whatever game they’re discussing that I found to be scary.

          • poliovaccine says:

            I think what you’re getting at with those questions is, “Did you really try to get into it?” Because of course it’s just a game, just like it’s just a movie or just a book. But getting into a story is sort of like hypnosis, in that you do have to be at least somewhat *willing.* Different media have different ways of encouraging suspension of disbelief, but at the end of the day, it does fall upon the audience/players/readers to actually meet it halfway.

            I can play Amnesia in a bored and cynical mindset and see all the criticisms for myself. I can play it with a more charitable, or hell, even just enthusiastic mindset, and I see where all the hype came from. By the same token, books that scared me shitless in the wee hours of the morning dont have nearly the same effect when I read em on my lunch break.

            I feel that way about so many things – I can see what people like, and what they hate, and it’s basically my choice what group I want to belong to. And very often I’d rather stand aside and *not* join in the fun, cus I think ____ could/should be better. But even then, it feels like it’s up to me, and it’s more about the interior standard I’m (admittedly arbitrarily) upholding for my own experiences rather than something innate to to the game/book/movie/etc. I mean, if I watch Friday the 13th with the eyes of the generation I was born into, it looks dated and silly and it’s hard to imagine how it was ever a classic of horror. Put myself in a more receptive mindset, however, and I can suddenly see exactly what people meant.

            I’m not always aware of that process in the moment, but in retrospect I believe it’s always there. There’s very few reactions that I truly “cant help,” but it isnt just about that. All the complaints here seem to be from people wishing the game had done more here or less there or etc. Taking the game on its own, accepting its ruleset for what it is (no you cant fight back, no your player character cannot throw barrels at the enemy the way he throws them around in puzzles, yes looking at the oogey boogey monster will make your player character’s brain bleed and wrest control of his faculties from your fingers) is essential to enjoying it – if you’re annoyed that you cant fight back, you’ll be that annoyed the whole time. But the example I always come back to is my cousin who loved poking holes in the science of The Matrix. Like… yeah, you’re correct, none of this is real, it’s all just made up and fake. But letting your focus linger on that stuff is a good way to miss the movie. Up to you which experience you’d rather have in your theater seat.

            That said, I’ve sure as hell walked out on a movie before, fully content to let others enjoy their tripe. Content, maybe, but not exactly happy.

          • Daymare says:

            @ basilisk: You gave it a fair try! Have to admit, I was pretty new to horror games when Amnesia came out in 2010, and it sorta was my entry point into games like Silent Hill et al.

            @ poliovaccine: Yes, I agree. I mean that maybe horror generally needs a more specific environment and mood-set to be enjoyed compared to other genres. Perhaps because it’s more niche, maybe because horror’s a more hard-to-reach emotion than something like humour.

            Or, say, it’s easy to read a fantasy story and be in for the ride. Harder to read a scary story and be actually scared.

          • Ashabel says:

            That’s a ridiculous number of steps to take in order for the game to scare me, especially if you consider that Silent Hill 1-3 and Little Nightmares managed to unnerve me on a sunny afternoon.

      • hfm says:

        I really liked Bioshock until the end boss. Second-Rate Dr. Manhattan? Really?

  12. Freud says:

    What it did great was that it made you want to hide and not look at the monsters, which made them more scary. There was a real tension the first three-four hours if you played by the rules. It fell apart a bit after that.

    If you just run straight at the first monster you saw I guess it took some of the edge off.

    I remember slowly creeping around a sewer area avoiding a monster stalking me. Upon replaying the game I found out that there wasn’t any monster there. That’s how good the game was at messing with me.

  13. ResonanceCascade says:

    For me, Soma is far and away Frictional’s best game, but TDD is definitely their scariest.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Seconded.

      I think the terror of SOMA is less visceral and more cerebral. While the game has no shortage of shadows shuffling just out of sight and ominous noises in the dark, the real vehicle for horror is the ever increasing realization of just how fucked you are.

    • Nouser says:

      While Soma is their most complete game, the first one in which they have resources to fully realize their ideas without the obvious technical and artistic limitations of their previous works (mostly caused by budget constraints), I think Black Plague was better at playing with the player and keeping him on an edge.

  14. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    NOPE

    But I did like watching the first minute of some let’s-play where a dude opened some doors and said with a British accent of some sort, “got the tinderbox…” I don’t why I liked that so much, but I can’t hear the word “tinderbox” anymore without thinking about that video and smiling.

    • LeanRight says:

      Is it the “Holy shit, Amnesia WHAT THE FUUUCK” video on youtube? That one is a real gem.

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        *necropost*
        That’s the one! And I misremembered a lot, including the clues I gave – turns out the phrase was “picked up the tinderbox”, and that was about the only thing that had anything vaguely British/New Zealandy/etc. about it. :| Well done, and cheers!

  15. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    That’s funny, I actually found the sanity effects and *very especially* the protagonist’s gasping and moaning way too overdone and quite annoying. I don’t need the game to tell me I’m scared, I can figure that out very well myself.

    And I *was* scared, mind. Back at the time it was one of my favourite masochistic experiences of all time. Too bad the last section and the endings were so lame, but it did what it did very very well most of the time.

    Hell, it took me quite a few hours to even know what the monsters looked like, I was so genuinely freaked out every time they appeared I couldn’t even look at one directly.

  16. Viral Frog says:

    I did play Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I did not finish it. I have no qualms with horror games. I’ve enjoyed quite a few. But at the time when I had attempted to play it, I was completely turned away by the lack of a combat system. I didn’t like the feeling of being so useless.

    That said, I now have much different taste in games than I did back then. I still like all the same things I used to, but I now enjoy a lot more things that I never thought I would. I don’t think the lack of a combat system would be grating, because I no longer have to feel 100% control over everything in a game.

    I’ve been meaning to go back and try again, to see if my taste has evolved enough to allow me to see it through, but alas… the 600+ game library (and growing -_-) has prevented me from going back. Primarily because I forgot this game even existed until this post.

  17. Shinard says:

    I did, and enjoyed it immensely. My save file vanished into the ether when my computer crashed, though, and I’ve never cared quite enough to go back and finish it off, though. I really should, but my backlog’s not exactly small as is, so…

    The water level, though, is one of my favourite gaming experiences of all time. That final panicked dash, slamming doors shut behind you and just sprinting wildly, hearing the unseeable *thing* getting closer, and closer… man, I’m getting shivers just thinking about it. It’s really bloody good, and really bloody scary.

  18. buenaventura says:

    I did play it, and I kinda wish I hadn’t. It was pleasingly scary and all, but towards the end I just could not stomach the references to torture of children and so on, that stuff just makes me so sad, plus the sneaking getting kinda tedious at that point. It should have been half as long, the end was crap.

  19. dethtoll says:

    I deeply resent this game for what it did to the horror genre.

    • Kingseeker Camargo says:

      I kind of agree that it spawned a lot of more-or-less awful youtube-fodder knock-offs, to the point that now you have a whole genre about imbecile kids screaming at a monitor while recording themselves; but the horror genre was basically non-existent by the time Amnesia came out. We hadn’t had a decent horror game in almost a decade, and Amnesia was an impressive and very healthy breath of fresh air in a genre that was dead in the water.

      Whatever happened later is not Frictional’s fault, really. Plus, they kept doing a pretty decent work of their own.

      • hfm says:

        I think the advent of everyone’s a streamer/let’s player did more to the for the ENTIRE gaming industry, it’s not horror games only. Of course the “don’t talk down to me” obvious answer is don’t watch them.