Another year and I’m here again, stuck in a dingy and damp storage room. For the past decade, it’s just been me, some storage boxes, and a horrific monster patrolling the corridors outside. Every year around Halloween, I launch Amnesia: The Dark Descent and prepare for my big escape.
I’m curled up in the corner of the room, wedged between two storage shelves. I am safe here because it’s the only place where the monster can’t see me. But there is just one problem with this ingenious plan. There is only one exit to the room, and the monster is waiting for me just outside.
Every year I am forced back into my corner through fear of the monster catching me. Not this time; this time, I’m getting out. I take a deep breath and brace myself. As soon as the monster’s footsteps disappear, I make my move. Slowly approaching the door, I anxiously poke my head around the corner. Nothing there. As I look down the dark corridor, my only chance at freedom, it seems to keep stretching onwards. I just need to get down the corridor and at the T-junction make a left.
I start crawling along the dark and eerie path, knowing that at any moment, I could face the grotesque monster that haunts these walkways. I move past the portrait of an old and snotty-looking woman; this is the furthest I’ve been in years. And then I hear it. Thuds come from down the hall, slowly at first and then terrifyingly quickly.
Before I know it, I’m back in my corner as the monster sniffs around the storage room, trying to pick up a scent. He doesn’t find me and begrudgingly leaves the room. Well, that’s all I can take for one year. Maybe next Halloween I’ll have better luck.
I love playing horror games; I grew up on Outlast, Silent Hill, and Amnesia. But there is a big divide between what I can and cannot handle. After some self-reflection, while stuck in the corner of that depressing storage room, I pinned down just what makes this game so scary. Trust me; ten years is plenty of thinking time.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent isn’t just a horror game. It’s a survival game. Meaning the goal isn’t to kill all the horrific mold-filled mutations like in Resident Evil Biohazard or even outrun and cull all the zombies in Dying Light. In Amnesia, all you can do is try and make your way around the castle with nothing but your wits, which are slowly running out along with your sanity.
The fact that you have nothing to defend yourself with in Amnesia gave me a tremendous sense of anxiety. Give me a W870 TAC shotgun – or even a Lemi pistol – and I have the self-confidence of a SAS veteran. But leave me with nothing but the ability to slowly run from horrific situations, and all I’m left with is a sleepless night.
Frictional Games work anxiety into Amnesia with such ease that you’re left wondering whether these are fears that you have always had. The sound design nailed it for me. Amnesia is quiet enough that you can hear the heartbreaking sound of the monster coming for you but busy enough that every single creak or crack makes me jump out of my chair.
But the sound effects are only so gutwrenching because you know what lies at the end of them: the monsters of Amnesia. Twisted and moaning, these horrific entities strike fear into my heart even now. But when I really think about it, I hardly ever saw these monsters. I know what they look like, I get a pretty good view from my corner office, but I couldn’t describe them all from memory.
That’s because you were never meant to see them. The fear in Amnesia is a mental one. The images you construct from the shuffling footsteps and dark shadows are infinitely more terrifying than anything a game developer could come up with.
This is one of the reasons why despite Amnesia’s age, the monsters scale remarkably well. The graphics aren’t noticeably dated because you can’t see much while desperately running away through the dark hallways. Anyway, Amnesia was never about visual horror. It was always a psychological battle.
Is it actually scary?
I’ve heard people brag that they didn’t find Amnesia scary compared to other horror games. The monster’s footsteps are too loud, they say, or the muddy graphics break the immersion, but whatever the reason is, I think they’re missing the point.
If you go into Amnesia: The Dark Descent expecting to be shocked, you will be disappointed. Amnesia doesn’t rely on horrific scenes, bloody monsters, jumpscares, or set pieces to scare you: Frictional Games eeks the anxiety out in a painfully slow process.
The main reason I can’t get out of that room is I’ve been drawn in so deeply that I feel like I am actually there. Every year when I load up my old save, I am immediately drowned in the creeping threat stalking the corridor outside the storage room. Amnesia: The Dark Descent pulled me under with its story, and I may never be able to escape to the surface.
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Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.