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Amnesia: The Dark Descent Hands On

The death knell for PC gaming has been sounding for a while now, but it’s still a fertile ground for interesting and unusual titles. Horror fans seem to be doing pretty well out of the arrangement, with titles like Cryostasis, Necrovision, and Penumbra offering platform-exclusive scares. The latest is Amnesia: The Dark Descent, from Penumbra developers Frictional.

Billed as a first-person survival horror, it aims to immerse the player with a physics-enabled world with no HUD or cut-scenes to break the mood. Protagonist Daniel wakes up in a seemingly abandoned castle, finding a note from his former self asking him to kill a man residing deep below the castle.

Amnesia seems very much in the vein of the Penumbra games, with an emphasis on storytelling and atmosphere over action. There’s a demo available on Steam, which gives a good idea of what to expect. It’s an intense experience, a sense of dread interspersed with moments of blind panic. There’s a well-implemented sanity system, too – Daniel’s vision blurs and his breathing quickens when he’s threatened, making him harder to control. To manage it, he has to stay in the light – which has the side-effect of making him easier  for creatures to find – or make progress through the castle, which only takes him into worse situations. The intro explicitly warns players not to fight; indeed, there are literally no weapons in the game, which adds to the terror.

It can be a frustrating experience, however. Much like XBLA hit Limbo, the puzzles often require quite a few deaths to solve. Prompts on the ‘Game Over’ screen give pretty heavy-handed tips on how to progress, which robs the game of the ‘Ahhhhhh…’ moments that made Limbo so satisfying, and the player sometimes has to battle the (admittedly quite intuitive) controls to put a plan into practice.

As an experience in straight-up terror, though it’s well worth a shot, offering about ten hours of play for a very reasonable price. Even better, the three Penumbra titles are available for 70% off from Frictional’s own store, with a demo for those who haven’t tried it yet – that’s a whole lot of being powerless and lost in dark places for your money…

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