Iím going to be honest with you. I wrote a preview Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs in June last year. In it, I said I would finally get round to playing the original, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, in time for release. Well, I played itÖ maybe for an hour or so, and then I watched the rest on YouTube. It wasnít long after the water monster bit that I decided to turn it off, and the game has sat untouched in my Steam library ever since. I felt like I had not only let you down, I had let myself down. So, when a code for the sequel landed in my email inbox, I gritted my teeth, and told myself I was going to play and finish this one. Iím glad I did, because I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed it.
Old style horror
I wasnít expecting to actually have fun playing it. I prepared myself for several hours of wincing and constantly checking over my shoulder. Although the game is utterly terrifying, the story it tells is compelling, and that was what kept me going forward. You play as Oswald Mandus, a wealthy industrialist, who awakens in his creepy old house in 1899 to find his children missing. There is a familiar sounding man on the phone saying they are in danger, and the very ground shakes beneath him, the effect of a nightmarish machine that he has fever dreams about. You take Mandus on a quest above and below turn of the century London, and down into the very bowels of the machine itself, where you will discover spine chilling secrets about his past and what is to come.
Not only is the story right up my street in terms of old style horror with multiple twists and turns, the attention to detail is quite remarkable. Countless examples of symbolism and subtle references litter the environments, all of which look superb. You will occasionally explore outside environments, a fairly novel concept for the series which was generally confined to underground corridors previously. The streets you walk will be recognisable to anyone familiar with the Whitechapel murders of the late 19th century. Even the main characterís name appears to bear a wonderfully relevant resemblance to Ozymandias, the subject of Shelleyís most famous short poem.
Masters of atmosphere
Frictional Games, and now with The Chinese Room, developers of the marvellous Dear Esther, on board, prove once again that they are masters of atmosphere. Amnesia isnít about scaring the player directly. It plays upon the playerís fear of the unknown, allowing simple audio cues and shapes and shadows to force you to be constantly on edge. Every door you push gently open is a terrifying experience, as you peek both ways to make sure nothing awaits on the other side. More often than not, there is nothing there, which makes it all the more harrowing when there is something that needs to be avoided.
There is still no combat in the game, itís about hiding out of line of sight and in the shadows, or simply throwing caution to the wind and running for your life. The game was advertised as having better AI, but for me that still remains the weakest part of the game.
Atmosphere is just as chilling as ever. One of the strongest stories of the year.
The enemy AI remains the weakest part of the game.