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Amnesia: The Dark Descent

It's crunch time.

I think a mark of quality in a game is whether you can return to a room you've previously been in, and know you were there earlier by the destruction you wrought. Amnesia, the new first-person adventure from Penumbra developers Frictional, does not paint rooms in the blood of your enemies, but rather in strewn desk drawers, boxes and broken glass.

And light.

Amnesia is looking to be an extremely dark game, but rather than offering you the opportunity to sneak silently in the welcoming shadows, here darkness is your enemy. It is the path to insanity.

Your character, Daniel, is fighting to maintain the few memories he has left. Trapped in a mysterious, massive building, he is slowly slipping into madness. So is the building. As Daniel's memories swarm in and out, his vision throbbing, twisting and distorting, walls grow fleshy, pulsating membranes. They sweat grotesquely along the floor, walls and ceilings. Everything seems to be crunching. Chomp chomp.

This is probably the lightest room in the first third of the game.

If you're familiar with the Penumbra series you'll understand immediately how Amnesia works. It's first-person, but at walking speed. There's no weapon bobbing at the bottom of the screen, but most objects in the world can be picked up, thrown or piled into maniac sculptures in the middle of rooms. Most crucially of all, you interact with the world in a remarkably tangible way.

To open a draw you don't click on it and wait for the animation. You aim your reticule at it, and click the left mouse, then deliberately pull it in the correct direction. The same for doors, cupboards and anything else manipulated. It's a tactile, powerful form of interaction, and it's mystifying that every other developer hasn't copied it. Running and hiding from an enemy is so much more evocative if you have to slam the wardrobe doors shut by hand so you're not spotted.

Oh Lord, oh come on. That's just hideous.

Amnesia is designed to frighten you not just with wobbly camera work, but with some remarkably ghoulish enemies. However, there are no weapons at all. Penumbra's great weakness was its terrible combat, and Frictional has been very open to accept that. So Amnesia intends to contain no combat at all. You see something bad? You run.

But the far more common enemy looks to be the darkness. Each room, corridor or chamber contains scant few sources of light, most of them not illuminated. There's tinder boxes, but not an enormous amount. And you have a lamp, but oil burns quickly, and is extremely scarce. In other words, light is a resource to be managed throughout. Without it, you go slowly insane, but how little can you cope with?

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John Walker


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