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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Consensus is in - Getting Amnesia is Frightening.

I know we covered Frictional's latest release, Amnesia - The Dark Descent on an earlier blog but I cheated on the review and asked you to click on another article to read the excellent one they published.

Oh, you think I'm gonna review this game now...?

No.

It takes me much too long to get through a game of this nature.  Instead, we asked our friend Jaco to play the game and give us his thoughts. 

Just let it suffice to say that this game is freakin' great. And without hype or hyperbole, if you are easily upset or frightened, this is not the game for you.

Trust me.

So Jaco, what do you think of Amnesia, The Dark Descent?

If you are someone who watches a horror movie, and you try your darndest to get the soon-to-be victims on screen to not die of pure stupidity by giving them handy advice like "Don't go into the attic!", "Turn on the light, fool!", "Run AWAY from the guy with the chainsaw!", then this might be the game for you. Time to be the hapless victim.

From Frictional Games, the studio that brought you the Penumbra series, comes a new game in the survival horror/adventure genre. The Penumbra games were quite well received, but they did have a definite "indy" feel to them. With Amnesia, all the lessons learned from their previous titles seem to be bearing fruit. The end result is a slick and well polished title that looks and plays every bit as well as any big studio game.

The story is of a fairly standard "we unleashed something bad and now it's chasing us" variety, but the real genius here is the implementation of it. The game manages to place you on edge and unnerve you in ways that few other games do. From the start, two things are made clear to you. Firstly, play the game to immerse yourself in the experience, not to blast through it as fast as you can. Secondly, the importance of light. More about this later.

You play a character named Daniel, who wakes up in a dark Prussian castle with no recollection of who he is, and from here the story gets revealed to you through various clues and notes that you left to yourself prior to inflicting this amnesia upon yourself, for reasons unknown at the beginning.

You learn that something dark is following you, and that you must head down into the "Inner Sanctum" to kill someone, as this is your only hope of escaping the horror. So you plod hopelessly into the darkness, blindly trusting that completing this disturbing task will achieve this. 

Normally, with horror survival type games, you are always scrambling around for limited resources like ammunition for your shotgun, minigun, flame thrower, or plasma cutter. Not here. In Amnesia: The Dark Descent you are completely defenseless. And what's worse, the castle is unnervingly dark. Your best friend is a lantern, with a pitifully limited amount of oil, and you are always on the lookout for tinderboxes with which to light lamps and candles.

Light is an integral part of the experience. If you are in the dark too long, you start losing your sanity. If you lose your sanity, you start hearing things. And the last thing you need is to be hearing things that aren't there, when there ARE things there lurking in the dark. Things that you cannot defend against. No, your best defense will be a tactical retreat.  Run, don't look back, close doors behind you, barricade them with furniture if you can. You will spend a fair amount of time hiding in dark corners, wondering if the horrid thing chasing you is gone. While hiding in the dark you will hear footsteps, wondering if you are imagining them or if there is still something around the corner.

The end result is consistently creepy. It plays on the trope Nothing Is Scarier (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NothingIsScarier). You are not under constant assault by monsters like with zombie type games, but there's is always a real and dangerous lurking threat and you always need to be on your toes.

Layered underneath this well-crafted visceral experience is an adventure game. You will need to solve some puzzles to progress through the game. Nothing here is particularly innovative, as it mostly just features straight forward "use object on object" and environment/physics type puzzles, but having to do these tasks while constantly on edge is something else.

I am reminded of the tire-changing scene from 28 Days Later. Same here. Imagine having to escape through a door that opens slowly by turning a crank. You physically have to turn the crank, and you know the creature is behind you - on its way towards you - because you can hear it coming. But you don't know how far it is because looking back means you have to stop cranking. So you crank faster.

We mentioned the game on our Wordpress blog host, and someone from there bought the game shortly after. In fact he went from "frankly it looks like a game that I will be too afraid to play" to buying it, then posting a day later with "I've purchased it and started to play. I’m not sure but I think my hair turned gray…. o.O" and a few days later told us that he has to keep a sitcom playing next to the computer to prevent him from having a heart attack.

The graphics and sound get top marks. Even with the limited light, the castle is beautifully rendered, and it makes good use of graphical effects like distortions to depict your fluctuating sanity. The handling of light is also realistic in that if you stand in a well lit room, you can't see out into the dark exterior at all, but if you are completely in the dark, your eyes will slowly adjust.

If your heart can stand this sort of thing, then I fully reccommend this game. However, I have read some comments on discussion forums of people that chickened out partway through. The constant tension is a tad much for some people, and quite understandably so. Amnesia: The Dark Descent does what it does well. 

I tested on a 64-bit Linux Mint, and am impressed that it includes 64-bit binaries. Frame rate was smooth and flawless on my 3 year old Nvidia Geforce 8800GTS with all the settings turned up.

Overall I give it two shivering thumbs up.

- - Jaco Gerber

All-Righty Then...

2 comments:

SVartalf said...

Heh... You DID say it rocked this last Saturday when I came by to help sift through the e-waste. (Sigh...now I've got another time sink to deal with... :-D)

As an aside...I agree with the sentiment on 64-bit support. It, and ARM support should be a studio's priority as much as the 32-bit X86 stuff. To that end, I'll be doing anything I can with the ports I'm responsible for to provide a 64-bit native and an ARM one where practical.

Alex said...

By the way, there's a review of Amnesia over at Zero Punctuation, too: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/2092-Amnesia-The-Dark-Descent

Entertaining as always. It's nice to see a game like Amnesia getting some attention from a relatively mainstream reviewer.