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Amnesia: Rebirth

by Hunter Wilson 2 years ago in horror
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I'm Ready to be Scared Again

Back in 2010, Amnesia: The Dark Descent was released to immense acclaim. Before Amnesia, the survival horror genre seemed to be in a bit of a slump, with some... divisive Silent Hill games since 3, and Resident Evil moving more and more towards action shooter than survival horror. Amnesia: The Dark Descent's effect on the genre and the industry was incredible. It took a neglected, some might even say dying, genre and injected it with new life. Amnesia: The Dark Descent revitalized survival horror with its tight writing, effective creature design, and creative use of lighting. After its release, it seemed we were flooded with new survival horror games every other week! Games like Outlast, Slender: The Arrival, and Five Nights At Freddy's followed in Amnesia's footsteps, presenting games that cultivate a sense of dread by combining limited resources and management with an inability to fight back against the monsters. In short, the first Amnesia game sparked a wave of imitators and successors both good and bad, and its influence on the genre is still felt today.

I was surprised when Amnesia: Rebirth was announced. I hadn't heard much of anything from its developer, Frictional Games, since SOMA in 2015. And before that, Amnesia's direct sequel, A Machine For Pigs, was generally thought not to be as good as its predecessor partly due to its being developed by The Chinese Room, who previously made the walking simulator, Dear Esther. But now, oh my god, a brand new Amnesia game from the original developers, in the year of our lord 2020. I cannot wait to play.

THE GAME

The game is the story of Tasi, a french woman who has survived a violent plane crash in Algeria. I woke up in the wreckage with very little memory, though I seem to remember my husband, Salim, and our daughter back in Paris.

As I explored my surroundings several things became a little more clear. My husband and I were on the flight as part of an "expedition", there were several other survivors of the crash at first, and the crash was probably several days to a few weeks ago. I will try not to spoil anything past about two hours of playtime.

This game presents atmosphere extremely well. In the three environments I explored(desert, caves, and the Nameless City from HP Lovecraft's "The Nameless City"), I was impressed by how tense and creepy the world was. Even before any hint of anything overtly supernatural, the first threat is the desert sun, and if you stay out in it too long, it will kill you. As I followed the tracks left by the other expedition members, I found several notes and little bits of information to pick up, which established a few characters and their relationships to me and to each other. I'll be honest: there are better ways to do this than through what I assume to be post-mortem apocalyptic logs, but considering the first Amnesia game had exactly three named characters, I was very happy to find these. And more, occasionally finding a memento would trigger a voiced memory for me. Usually it was between me and Salim, giving me more information about our relationship, daughter, and life in Paris, but there were several voiced snippets of our comrades as well. I don't think any of them are alive, but it's still nice to get to find out some of what happened between the plane crash and my waking up.

My favorite member of the expedition is probably Jonathan Webber. I thought he was just some asshole from London after I heard his first sound byte, but then I found his letter to his family back home. So I guess my point is, the writing is awkward at times due to the demands of the story, but still manages to present realistically rounded characters.

After I got out of the desert sun, I found myself in a cave system, which is where I found the bulk of the memory items and notes and mementos. Obviously, being a cave, it was very dark, but I managed to find the first "lighting item" of the game: Matches! They suck. But unlike other reviews I've seen, I didn't find that it detracts from the game. You see, I've actually used matches in real life, and I think they are represented very well in-game, both in terms of illumination and length of use. Actually, due to the way the lighting in this game works, I found it almost easier to see without the matches than with them. But if I went too long without real light, I'd be overcome with Fear, which is this games version of a sanity meter. So I viewed the matches as more of a healing item than a visibility item. However, they had some utility beyond repairing my sanity; namely, lighting torches, lamps, and candles to provide better lighting to a particular area.

On my way through the caves I noticed I was wearing a pretty nifty bracelet, like a cross between a sundial watch and a compass. I honestly didn't think anything of it until it started to glow, at which point the game points it out and I had to use it as a compass to find my way through the area, to an opening in the cave wall surrounded by floating rubble. Side note, you can pick up the floating rocks out of the air, I just thought that was neat.

Eventually, my compass took me to the next area of the game, which was by far the creepiest. I emerged from the cave and found myself in what looked like an ancient, culturally indistinct city shrouded in ash and fog. In the distance I saw a ruined statue of a woman with her arm outstretched, and further back, a gigantic tower on the horizon. This world was the most interesting to me so far, and also the scariest. Back in the caves, I saw a zombie thing stand up and screech before blacking out, which was a very effective scare, but here the atmosphere was pure dread.

As I walked through the ruined city, I could hear all around me unearthly screams or calls, and shifting stones as if something were following me just out of sight. The fog, the ash in the air obscured my vision so that at best I might see a silhouette in the distance, but nothing more. The occasional flash of lightning would illuminate my surroundings, but did not bring any comfort whatsoever. And when I found the first inhabitant, I could not approach for fear of what might happen if I did.

As it turned out, the silhouette I saw in the distance was a corpse, frozen in time in a similar way to the victims of Mount Vesuvius, or the shadows on a wall after a nuclear detonation. I thought it was a monster until I got close enough to see the truth.

Later on, I found the body of a nineteenth century explorer from Britain, whose notes revealed he had followed Brennenburg's advice to get to this world, but could not leave because the Orb was gone and he did not have a navigator. I thought it was a cool callback to the first game's Alexander of Brennenburg and the mention of the Orb caught my attention because I dimly remembered in the first game that it was found originally in a desert somewhere. But more than that, it was a natural and missable explanation of what the thing on my wrist was, and what its function is in the world of the story. The explorer also mentioned creatures that hunt in the fog, which only made me notice the screeching and ambient noise even more.

But I'd like to pause for a moment and talk about something else briefly. I do not believe that there were any enemies roaming this area of the game. I think I could have stayed put, or wandered around, or sprinted or thrown rocks or do whatever the game might allow me to do to draw attention to myself, and nothing would ever happen. But that's fine, and I cannot stress enough how little I care if there is a physical monster sprite in the level. It was still a very effective and scary level, because of the atmosphere of the environment. I felt fear and wariness the entire time I was in that other world. And while there being no monster might hurt the replay value, that doesn't mean it's a bad decision. A big part of making horror media is atmosphere, and making a place feel oppressive and scary without actually having any real danger there is a big accomplishment. But on the subject of replay value, horror games have always suffered from this. Once you know when the scares are, it's hard to enjoy it the second time because it becomes a game of anticipation rather than exploration. I think that to truly enjoy a horror game on a second or third playthrough, a game has to be immersive. You have to be able to sink yourself into the world of the game so that you can experience the story and events as someone these things are happening to, not an audience member watching it. So far, Amnesia Rebirth is very, very good at this.

After a long time spent creeping around the ruins of this mysterious city, I finally found the exit and upon leaving, found myself four months pregnant. A new mechanic to lessen your fear in this game is focusing on your baby, which is honestly something of a relief compared to previous games' scarce health resources. As I wandered the mountainous region of Algeria I found myself in, I finally came upon an old foreign legion fortress where my other comrades had boarded themselves up. I walked in and found nobody, and that's where I stopped for session one.

This game has a solid atmosphere, great sound design, and doesn't look too pretty. That last one might seem out of place, but I'll defend it. Amnesia Rebirth's graphics are not incredible. Some might even say they're subpar for today's standards. I would argue that, since it's a horror game that puts an extreme focus on lighting and the lack of it, it doesn't need to look as shiny and polished as, for example, Final Fantasy VII Remake. Horror games don't need to look that good to be effective. There's a reason Silent Hill 2 is scarier than Resident Evil 7, and it's not the graphics. Much like in horror film, in horror games less is more and over-reliance on highly detailed CGI renders of monsters tend to bring them down.

And speaking of the monsters, I really like their design in Rebirth. There are two different types, one you encounter early on called a Harvester, roughly equivalent to the first monster encounter in The Dark Descent, and another later on called a Searcher. The Harvesters are thin, gaunt, and evocative of Until Dawn's Wendigo creatures. The Searchers are more eldritch, and float and hunt in the other world using light.

The only complaint I have regarding monster gameplay in Rebirth is barely even a complaint, but it bears saying. There's no game over screen. If a monster "kills" you, Tasi blacks out, and goes through flashes of different images and scenes similar to the beginning of the game after your amnesia first takes hold, before reappearing at a checkpoint earlier in the level. I won't lie, this can take some tension out of the game. But there's a good reason for this. Constantly getting game overs and having to restart the level breaks immersion, and as I said earlier, immersion is one of the most important parts of horror. In addition to this, choosing to forego a lose condition makes it significantly less annoying to be caught by a monster. It allows you to experience the horror while not sacrificing the flow of the story. Is it a perfect solution? Absolutely not, but it is a nice start.

TO SUM UP

Amnesia Rebirth is a fantastic return to the series that revitalized the survival horror genre. It focuses on psychological horror more than "monster-chasing-you" horror, but that only helps it in an over-saturated market and the scariest moments I experienced were ones in which I'm not even certain there were monsters chasing me. But for anyone who likes being chased by monsters, don't worry; there's still plenty of that to satisfy you. The narrative is strong enough to stand on its own while also picking up and elaborating on a few threads from the first game. The gameplay has not evolved much from The Dark Descent, but that is easily forgivable. After all, if it's not broken...

Overall, I highly recommend Amnesia Rebirth to anyone who loves survival horror. This game is great, scary fun and I cannot wait to see what Frictional does next.

horror

About the author

Hunter Wilson

Actor, writer, occasional dumbass.

Twitter: @melhwarin

Instagram: @myslyvi

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