When the subject of horror games comes up, it’s not long before you’ll hear about Amnesia: The Dark Descent from Frictional Games. This classic still holds up years later, but the developer is back with the official sequel in the form of Amnesia: Rebirth (A separate title called A Machine For Pigs was released, but is not a direct sequel to the first game like this one.)
Now that Frictional has more experience, does this result in a pitch-perfect sequel, or does Amnesia: Rebirth fail to make lightning strike twice? Let’s find out.
A Captivating Story, but The Horror Offers Diminishing Returns
Amnesia: Rebirth places you in the shoes of Tasi Trianon, a woman who wakes up in the wreckage of a plane crash in the middle of the desert with little to no memory of what has happened since.
As a direct sequel to The Dark Descent, there are plenty of connections between the first game and this sequel that fans will enjoy. That being said, this also works fairly well as a standlone game for those looking to jump into the series. As someone who loves a good horror story, I would recommend playing through the original and its DLC: Justine, to really appreciate the connections, but a lack of knowledge won’t significantly hurt your experience.
As the title suggests, Tasi’s memories are fragmented and she begins the game simply stumbling through the desert as bits and pieces start to come back to her. There’s most certainly more of a focus on the narrative in Amnesia: Rebirth as the story and characters take center stage. Even the loading screens offer small snippets of Tasi’s memories for you to consider.
Many of the documents you find are also voiced now, which is a nice touch. As the game goes on, I found that less of them were voiced, but the option to display clear and fairly large text allows you to digest them quickly, and as usual with this type of horror game, reading everything does add a fair amount of context to the story.
While there is some character development across the cast, this is very much Tasi’s story, and the pain of her past combined with the horror of her present predicament helped me really root for her and push forward, even when I was paralyzed with fear.
The narrative here also feels a lot more forthcoming than the first game, which I personally liked. While the original title played its cards very close to the chest and offered little answers by the end, Amnesia: Rebirth answers a lot of the questions about the original game and the mysteries it presents in the sequel. Some will say that this is the wrong direction, and while I do agree that things lost their intrigue by the end, the general mystery and fear of the unknown carries throughout the story for the most part.
As someone who doesn’t actively try to predict future events in stories, Amnesia: Rebirth does tend to telegraph its revelations a little too much for my liking, but taken as a whole, I thought it was quite an engaging tale, even if it didn’t totally stick the landing for me. The themes of sacrifice, of love, of family, and the connections to the original game’s story all worked really well.
Ironically enough, though, it’s the fear aspect of the game that didn’t quite pan out for me. Gameplay in the Amnesia series is structured around staying in the light and avoiding the dark or stressful situations. In the first game, this would directly affect your sanity, which would eventually result in your death.
In Amnesia: Rebirth, Tasi’s fear levels have a deeper tie to the narrative beyond simply losing sanity. I won’t go too far into details here or anywhere else in the review as I think it’s best to experience this title with as little background knowledge as possible, but suffice to say, the game implies that letting you fear get out of hand could negatively affect the outcome of the story.
Coverage prior to launch also seemed to indicate that your fear levels would have a narrative impact. This assumption led me to be terrified of mistakes during the first chunk of my playthrough. It was a harrowing feeling that went beyond a simple game over.
Unfortunately, despite having multiple endings, I didn’t see any real consequences of letting my fear get out of hand. Even getting caught by enemies offers you a chance to escape, or at the worst puts you back by a room or two. A subsequent try at the area usually results in the monster being absent as well.
I had mixed feelings when I made this revelation about three-quarters of the way through the game.
I still actively avoided situations like that because the game’s effects when Tasi’s fear rises are both stressful and unsettling, but I found myself panicking less and less when things went south as I didn’t really have anything to fear due to the lack of narrative impact or a real game over screen.
On the one hand, this approach ensures that more people can finish the game, and the fact that you never have to reload a save means that the pacing remains intact no matter how badly you screw up. That alone takes out a lot of the frustration these horror games tend to have when you are constantly failing at a stealth section and become more angry than scared. That doesn’t happen in Amnesia: Rebirth and theoretically it can’t happen either since enemies will make themselves scarce if you mess up to the point where you are moved back a room or two.
It’s difficult to decide if this boost in playability is worth the fact that it takes a lot of the teeth out of the horror itself. It also doesn’t help that there’s very little variety in the creatures, and the majority of them (named Ghuls and pronounced like “Ghoul”), aren’t incredibly unique in their design and become less terrifying the more you see them. A late-game shake up does offer a much more interesting creature design, but at that point it was too little too late.
Perhaps a difficulty that does affect the story, or provides more consequences for failing could give players the option, much like how SOMA received a safe mode after launch, but in reverse here. This could be helpful, but at the end of the day I’m happy that Amnesia: Rebirth is focused on ensuring more people make it to the end.
Outside of this aspect, the gameplay plays very well for the most part. The addition of matches as a way to create instant, but short-lived light helps you better manage dark areas when your lantern is out of oil. The way the flames slowly consume the match also looks fantastic while delivering an idea of how much time you have left. Once the match is lit, you can also light as many other light sources in the area as you’d like before it burns out, greatly improving on the mechanic of the first game.
One thing that did carry over from the first game that I could without is the need to open doors and turn wheels or switches with the right analog stick. Even if I was using a mouse and keyboard, this unwieldy method of interacting with the environment often adds more frustration than tension. I would have preferred the need to mash a button or something over using the right stick. It’s just not responsive enough, especially during chase sequences when you’d like to close doors behind you, but know that the clunky method of swinging it shut with the right stick will cost you precious time.
While I am pointing out a few flaws in the gameplay and story, I must take a moment to say that, overall, Amnesia: Rebirth is a very good horror game. I hold it in high regard because of Frictional’s amazing reputation, and therefore I am extra critical for a game like this as a result. Putting aside the qualms I have, the actual experience is rife with tension and atmosphere. I loved the variety in the environments, the wonderfully Lovecraftian nature of the world, and the puzzles that cleverly tied narrative into the actions you’re taking.
The chase sequences were also just prevalent enough to keep me on my toes, but not so often that they became exhausting. I also actually preferred the more linear nature of the game, despite a more open area in a fort early on. While some would say this is better for organic horror, I found myself getting more lost than anything and welcomed the more focused approach to the rest of the game.
Unique and Captivating Presentation Kept me Enthralled
The presentation in Amnesia: Rebirth is miles ahead of what was possible in the time the original game came out. The voice acting is excellent, the sheer variety in the environments is refreshing, and while the creatures could have been more varied and shocking in their design, the animation does a very good job of making them feel inhuman and terrifying.
It’s a very stylish game, and while some of the more mystical elements may turn off certain players, I loved the Lovecraftian feel of it all and found myself quite immersed as a result. It also helps that I recently upgraded my sound system, and Amnesia: Rebirth has some truly unsettling ambient audio. Don’t even get me started on the sound it plays when Tasi’s fear is rising. I’ll be hearing that sound in my nightmares for weeks.
I think Amnesia: Rebirth can be summarized as something that is incredibly ambitious in a lot of its ideas, but ultimately struggles to fulfill them. The fear mechanic could have been more closely tied to the narrative, and the story could have been better about leaving some things to the imagination. The gameplay expands on the light and dark concepts, but fails to truly capitalize on some of the more ingenious puzzles and the potential to tie a certain calming mechanic (not going to spoil it) even deeper ties to the story.
It’s a game that shoots for the moon and manages to land amongst the stars. You can’t help but think about what could have been, and while it doesn’t dethrone SOMA as my favorite Frictional Games title, it’s a worthy sequel to the original Amnesia and a damn fine horror experience for your Halloween proceedings.
Final Score: 8.5/10
A copy of Amnesia: Rebirth was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 10/26/2020