Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the first game on which I’m using my 1 hour rule and pulling out early with. This is because it is able to evoke such an excellently disturbing atmosphere. If I was to continue to play through Amnesia alone, at night, in a dodgy neighbourhood, approaching winter as my go-to game, then I’d end up a gibbering mess on the floor.
The Dark Descent is a first person horror game, where the player assumes the role of Daniel, trapped within a foreboding Prussian castle. Where this game really succeeds is in evoking an atmosphere. The soundtrack mixes just the right amount of repetition within a haunting score, setting the tone perfectly. The sound design is on point, with squeaky doors, approaching footsteps and various spooky sounds hinting at greater horrors. Heartbeats and sharp intakes of breath on the part of Daniel also helped me empathise with his position and helped bring the atmosphere to life. The Dark Descent is a great example of how powerfully sound can impact on a game.
Lighting sources are rare and scattered throughout the castle, so the darkness can hide a multitude of horrors, both real and imagined. There is no special effect more scary than the human imagination, and The Dark Descent has learned this lesson well. This also has the added effect of hiding the graphics, which I suspect would have looked outdated even when this was released in 2010. The light also plays an important mechanical role, with my sanity being lost when in the dark and recovering in the light. In a game where I was without weapons, this played off really well against the typical stealth dynamic of hiding in the shadows. The dis-coordination which the sanity mechanic brought into play also worked to help build the anxious, disquieting atmosphere. My view drifted and shook when struggling with my sanity, which really helped put me into Daniel’s groggy shoes. Really, everything within The Dark Descent was designed with this atmosphere at its forefront, from the lack of any head up information to the way that enemies are often hinted rather than shown.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is really good at what it does, and that’s exactly why I’m dropping it early. My mental state doesn’t need this game at the moment. That in and of itself says a lot for how well it creates this disquieting atmosphere. I may come back and play it interspersed with other lighter games, but I’ve had enough Amnesia.
Next up are a series of classic Namco arcade games to lighten the mood, starting with Dig Dug.