If you see this, you’re already dead
Survival horror games have undergone a curious metamorphosis over the years. Most notably, they’re now forgoing frugal design principals enhancing atmosphere in favour of bloody gore fests highlighting action. And while technology and gameplay certainly improve over time, cultivating scenarios of dread and terror have fallen out of fashion as fluid high resolution dismemberment began to take centre stage. Dead Space and Resident Evil are the reigning kings of survival horror, which is quite ironic considering there’s absolutely nothing scary about them.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is an independent survival horror game by Swedish developer Frictional Games, which is a rare entry in its particular genre in that it’s genuinely terrifying. Cast as the amnesic Daniel wandering the crumbling halls of the Prussian Brennenburg Castle in 1839, players must evade the malevolence hunting them as they attempt to find and kill a man named Alexander.
Whereas most survival horror games offer the player a means of defence from its threats, Amnesia is unique in that the player is afforded no means of recourse against the horrors contained within. When faced with a grotesque menace, the only way to survive is to hide and pray that it leaves you alone. There’s no means to fight back, and confrontation only ends with a blood spattered demise.
Of course effective evasion most often leads into shadowy areas, where the results of the darkness take a toll on Daniel’s sanity, distorting his vision and compromising his movement. Although this mechanic of sanity isn’t anything new or even played to its most extreme ends (2002’s Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requeim often broke the fourth wall with fake technical errors using the same technique), it’s nevertheless supremely effective in cultivating an extraordinarily tense atmosphere.
In fact it’s atmosphere where Amnesia most excels. Frictional Games understands that the best horror is often psychological and left to a person’s imagination. Horrors are merely glimpsed through the shadows and fog, and their presence is often a suggestion that never materializes among all the creaks, wails, and dreadful noises. It’s all very suspenseful and well assembled, and the optional developer commentary reveals a meticulous process behind the excellent design.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a tense and terrifying experience in the best possible way. Play this game in a darkened room with cranked headphones and fully devoted attention, and it’ll be the scariest thing you do this Halloween.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is available on PC-DVD, and through either digital distribution or cloud computing.
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-arts/the-scariest-game-youve-never-played/.