Amnesia Collection Review: Are You Afraid of the Dark?

As a primarily console-centric gamer, I rarely use my PC to play games. But don’t get me wrong… I know it’s a great platform to play games on. I did download Undertale, and I do intend to play it, but quite frankly, my rig isn’t powerful enough to handle some of the best titles that PC gaming has to offer. This is a bit of a bummer for me, as I know I am missing out on a lot of quality games that are exclusive to the platform, one of which is Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

My interest was piqued in the horror game when I first heard about how terrifying it is, and I started looking into it. Coincidentally, that’s right around the time that “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube began to rise in popularity. There was nothing more fun than seeing someone play a horror game and watching their reactions to the jump-scare moments. And as a fan of all things horror, I was immediately hooked. But unfortunately, I was never able to play Amnesia… that is, until now.

Platforms: PC, PS4 (Version Played)
Publisher: Frictional Games
Developer: Frictional Games and The Chinese Room
Genre: Straight-Up “Don’t Go in There” Survival Horror
Release Date: September 10, 2013 (PC), November 22, 2016 (PS4)
iTunes App Rating: Mature

Amnesia Collection contains all three games in the franchise: the original Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dark Descent’s add-on chapter Justine, and the 2013 sequel Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. The first Amnesia was programmed by Frictional Games, and Machine for Pigs was handled by Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture developer The Chinese Room. It’s a lot of content for one downloadable title, and the $30 price point is very reasonable for what you are getting – especially since the PlayStation 4 is the only place outside of PC that you’ll be able to find these games.

Unfortunately, The Amnesia Collection is a straight port. You’ll be getting the same graphics as when the game first released in 2010. I would have loved to see Amnesia take the full HD remake path that so many other games have tread in this generation, but I’m still happy with what we have. It may turn off some aesthetic-obsessed gamers, but being an indie title, Amnesia was never about the graphics. It was about the scares. And brother, does it deliver in that department.

Amnesia can be credited as one of the first modern game to truly embrace the moniker “survival horror.” By 2010, that genre had transmuted into more of an “action horror” style, where you fight the creatures of the dark, but don’t have a hard time with the “survival” aspect.” Amnesia bucked that trend, and delivered a game where you can’t fight back. The only way to survive was to run and hide. This made for a much more terrifying experience, and became the inspiration for subsequent survival horror games like Outlast and Alien Isolation.

The first game in the series, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, is undoubtedly the most horrifying title in the set. Your character, Daniel, wakes up in a creepy castle, unsure of who he is and what he is doing there. Eventually, he finds a note from himself telling him to kill an evil man who resides in the castle. You’ll traverse the castle, solving puzzles to earn access to new areas, and reading notes to help move the narrative forward. Normally this would be pretty straightforward, except that there’s hideous creatures roaming about and you have no way to stop them. To make matters worse, your character has a tendency to go slowly insane if you stand in the dark too long, or make eye contact with some of the creatures. If you stay too long in the dark, you die. Not to worry, though – there’s plenty of ways to keep yourself in the light. Strewn throughout the castle are tinderboxes, which you can use to light candles. Eventually you will also come across a lantern, which quickly becomes your best friend. But make sure you shut if off when you see one of the game’s monsters, as having a lit lantern makes you much easier to spot.

When you are spotted – and it will happen – it’s best to immediately turn around and get the hell out of dodge. There’s no sense in trying to stand up to the demons, as it will quickly mean “Game Over.” Luckily, Amnesia: The Dark Descent features many ways to avoid these hellions. Daniel can hide in closets or behind large pieces of furniture in an effort to avoid his pursuers. He can also hide in a dark corner and crouch down as a form of evasion. This works really well, and I’ve found myself staying hidden in the closet even though I knew it was clear, because I was still too afraid to get out. That’s what makes Amnesia so effective: it’s not as much the scares, but the suspense you feel knowing that something is waiting for you just around the corner.

My biggest bit of advice when playing Amnesia is to make sure to avoid eye contact, as any interaction with the monsters drains your Sanity Meter. The Sanity Meter works surprisingly well. Your vision blurs and objects become muddled. You start to hallucinate things that aren’t there, and it’s scary as hell. Not only does it mess with Daniel’s head, but it messes with your head as well. I actually had to take a short break while playing the game because my Sanity Meter got too high, and the effects gave me a slight feeling of motion sickness. I never had a game physically affect me in that way, so the fact that it can do that is testament to how well the Sanity Meter works.

The game also features several audio clues to indicate when you are in danger. The Gatherers will let out a deep growl to alert you to their presence. When they notice you and start to give chase, the game’s music ups the tempo to get your heart racing. After you’ve found a safe place to hide, and they give up the search and turn away, the music subsides and you’ll know it’s safe to continue on.

And the audio department is where Amnesia: The Dark Descent truly shines. I cannot emphasize enough that you should wear headphones when playing this game. Even if you have a really swank surround sound system, headphones are definitely the way to go. The developers even tell you this when you start playing. Hearing the Gatherers growl and the music ramp up is just so terrifying when it’s coming straight into your ears, and adds to the overall experience. So whether you have the official gold PlayStation wireless headset, or just the earbuds that came with your phone, your enjoyment (and terror) will improve tenfold if you pop those on.

Although much shorter, Dark Descent’s Justine expansion is still an enjoyable affair. It won’t take you as much time to complete (around an hour or so compared to the first game’s 5-7 hours), but I’m glad it was included. It features a completely different story and protagonist, but still is enjoyable enough to keep you engrossed throughout its campaign.

The next entry in the Amnesia Collection is A Machine for Pigs, the sequel to Dark Descent. A Machine for Pigs takes place in the same universe as Dark Descent, but but happens sixty years later, and features a completely different cast of characters. Frictional Games also farmed this one out to developer The Chinese Room, and it shows. Not to say that’s a bad thing, but the developer stripped away a lot of the elements that made the first title such a horrifying experience. Gone is the inventory system, ability to combine items, health level, and most importantly, Sanity Meter. The Sanity Meter was a big part of Dark Descent, and it is odd that it was removed for this title.

Additionally, the pacing of the game differs from the first title. A Machine for Pigs definitely has its scares, but they are fewer and farther between. You’ll still use stealth to avoid enemies, and do your best to stay in the dark, but depending on how you felt in the first game, these updated mechanics are either a good thing or a bad thing. I must say that I loved the story – especially since, like the first one, it’s exploration driven and not spoon-fed to you via cutscenes. I was also very pleased to see the game take on new environments – especially the outdoor ones. All in all, it played just like the first title, with less focus on gameplay and more on taking in the story and environments. If I were to brand A Machine for Pigs with a genre, it would probably fall somewhere in between survival horror and walking simulator. Still a fun game, mind you, but strays away from the original just enough to raise an eyebrow.

The survival horror genre has changed a lot over the years. There’s a big difference between the first Resident Evil and Resident Evil 6, and now an even bigger difference between the sixth game and Resident Evil 7. Looking at the first Dead Space side-by-side with Dead Space 3 almost makes you wonder if they’re part of the same series. Thankfully, the pendulum has swung back to what makes this genre so popular, and we have the Amnesia games to thank for that. It’s great to have the games finally on the PlayStation 4, as console gamers such as myself finally have the opportunity to enjoy such a fantastic series. It does show its age, and there are some graphical glitches here and there, but overall it’s a quality experience for the price.

Amnesia Collection is definitely a purchase for fans of the genre. So if you love getting the crap scared out of you, then turn off the lights, put on your headphones, grab your security blanket, and get ready for a crazy ride.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Amnesia Collection was provided by Frictional Games for the purposes of this review.

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Mike Ryan is a Staff Writer who has been playing video games ever since the Atari 2600. He loves fighting games, survival horror, and he sure plays a mean pinball.

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