The original Amnesia game, subtitled The Dark Descent, is a monumentally important game. I think it might have been one of the games that made the “Let’s Play” genre such a prominent one on YouTube, demonstrating the power of what an immersive horror experience can do not only for the player but for an entire audience.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which is over a decade old now, was a low-budget and rather limited in scope game but made up for it with a claustrophobic and immersive setting that many people fell in love with because the horror game scene was in its death throes back then.
In a world where indie horror games are becoming more prevalent, what space is left for Amnesia in a genre that has experienced a resurrection? That’s the point that Amnesia: Rebirth is trying to make as it serves as a direct sequel to the original game (that Machine for Pigs experiment wasn’t really what people wanted).
While it might not have the charm and consistently tense atmosphere of Dark Descent, Rebirth manages to do the Amnesia name proud with some great scares and a compelling story even if none of it is especially original. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I remember the plot of Dark Descent, and neither is Rebirth because while developer Frictional Games has been very open about the continuity, the links are loose and subtle.
Playing as Anastasie “Tasi” Trianon, you’re involved in a plane crash in the Algerian desert. Your only goal is to find your surviving friends and (hopefully) figure out what’s up with all the weird paranormal stuff going on around you. It’s a basic narrative but horror stories tend to be, banking on compelling characters to drive audience investment.
Something which Amnesia: Rebirth does excellently.
Tasi is a wonderfully realised, vulnerable character who is fleshed out beautifully in flashback cutscenes and loading screen “cinematics”. She’s doing her best to survive in an uncanny situation while trying to protect those around her. The rest of the cast can be a touch forgettable but they serve more as a goal for Tasi, whose relationship with her husband, Salim, and their child serve to elevate the stakes of the narrative of traumatic survival. A special shout-out must be made to Leon De Vries, the South African character that actually doesn’t have a completely rubbish and cliched accent. Good job, Frictional Games!
In terms of gameplay, if you enjoyed The Dark Descent you’ll enjoy Rebirth. It’s largely the same kind of gameplay loop, one that involves the player going through a series of linear and sometimes more open area levels, occasionally avoiding a monster on the prowl or simply running away from it. While many games have done this kind of horror to death, Amnesia: Rebirth avoids being a game where everything simply happens around the player (rather than the player actually having meaningful interactions with the world) by inserting actual puzzles into the mix.
Some of these puzzles are profoundly simple, merely requiring some quick thinking with the physics-based objects around the room, while others might require some actual thought. Taking in clues from the environment, paying attention to notes strewn about the place, and using your own sense of logic to figure them out. It’s encouraging seeing Frictional Games continue to include aspects like this in their games when so many developers would settle for simply offering a spooky corridor and calling it a day.
Don’t get me wrong, Amnesia: Rebirth does maybe go a little hard on the “spooky corridor” trope but for a while you barely notice it. I think the setting of the Algerian desert, a place that’s barren and devoid of all life bar some signs of a horrific war that occured, is a genuinely fresh and unique setting for a horror game. There is another location the player will travel to but without getting into spoilers, when I was whisked away from Algeria I was instantly less engaged. The game’s secondary location feels generic and boring compared to Algeria and while it’s at least somewhat restrained with its use, it was still a touch too frequent for my tastes.
My other complaint, and I acknowledge this might seem like a nitpick to some, is that Amnesia: Rebirth is far too dark. Not in terms of themes or storytelling, the game is just visually dark to an almost painful extent. I get it, darkness is meant to be this oppressive force within the game’s world but there were several occasions where I was simply trying to figure out a puzzle, under no threat of discovery from a monster, and I could barely make out what I was looking at. Sure, I could use my lantern or matches but when those ran out, well then the game began to draw too much inspiration from Alone in the Dark. When I’m battling to figure out the solution to a puzzle or where I’m meant to go because I can’t make out anything in the level, that very quickly changes from scary to frustrating.
Aside from those gripes, Amnesia: Rebirth is a stellar horror game and one that’s certainly deserving of its place in the beloved franchise. While never really bringing anything new to the table, what is dished up is a tight, terrifying adventure that explores some painfully difficult themes through the lens of some interesting characters. Essentially, it’s what all horror games try to do.
Amnesia: Rebirth just sticks the landing better than most thanks to a team that very clearly knows how to make a solid horror game.
Last Updated: October 26, 2020