Friday, 10 February 2012

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

   Amnesia: The Dark Descent (previously known as Lux Tenebras or Unknown) is a survival horror video game by Frictional Games, who previously developed the Penumbra series. Released for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux platforms, the game features a protagonist named Daniel exploring a dark and foreboding castle, while avoiding monsters and other obstructions as well as solving puzzles. The game was critically well received, earning two awards from the Independent Games Festival and numerous positive reviews. Due to its atmosphere and gameplay, it is often cited as one of the scariest video games of all time.

   Originally released independently as a download, the game has since been published in retail by 1C Company in Russia and Eastern Europe as well as THQ in North America. A collection of five short stories set in the world of Amnesia, written by Mikael Hedberg and illustrated by the game's concept artists, was also made available. In addition, the game's soundtrack is available for purchase and a free content expansion called "Justine" has been released as well as many fan made expansions and stories.


   In a similar vein to the developer's previous games, Amnesia is an exploration-based adventure game played from a first-person perspective. The game retains the physical object interaction used in the Penumbra series, allowing for physics-based puzzles and interactions such as opening doors and fixing machinery.

   In addition to a health indicator, Daniel's sanity must be managed. Being in darkness too long, witnessing unsettling events, or staring at monsters for too long will reduce the character's sanity. As the sanity level decreases, visual and auditory hallucinations occur and the player more easily draws the attention of monsters. Light sources help restore sanity, and in the bowels of the castle the player character may use tinderboxes to light wall-mounted candles, or deploy an oil-burning lantern found near the beginning of the game. However, the number of tinderboxes and the amount of oil in the game are both limited. Standing in a light source also makes the player more easily noticed by monsters. The player must find a balance between the amount of time they spend in light and shadow. Sanity is fully restored once Daniel completes an objective or progresses the game's story. It may also be restored by staying in the shadows until Daniel passes out, but this leaves him extremely vulnerable to any nearby monsters.

   If a monster spots Daniel, it will chase him until he's out of sight. Daniel's only option at this point is to flee, as Amnesia does not give the player access to weapons. Players must find hiding places or barricade doors with rocks, chairs and other obstacles; unfortunately, monsters are very capable of tearing down doors in their path and kicking obstacles out of the way, and move extremely fast once they have spotted their prey. Players can also choose to hide Daniel in the shadows, at cost to sanity. Monsters who lose sight of Daniel will search for him for a time, but will eventually leave and vanish. At several points in the game, they are required to advance, as they will tear down a problematic obstacle in their path.


   In the year 1839, Daniel, a young man from London, awakens in the dark halls of the Prussian Brennenburg Castle with little to no memory about himself or his past. All he can remember is his name, that he lives in Mayfair and that something is hunting him. Shortly after awakening, Daniel discovers a note written to himself, from which he learns that he has deliberately erased his own memory, and that he needs to descend into the Inner Sanctum of the castle to kill the Baron Alexander.

   Daniel's exploration of the dark depths of the castle is also a journey into his own erased past, as he discovers not only notes and his own journal entries, but experiences visions of past events that took place within the castle's countless chambers (including memories that are not his own). While he unravels the mysteries of Brennenburg Castle, he also finds himself hunted by a dangerous evil presence that manifests itself as a corruption that is slowly covering the castle in fleshy, acidic growths, and bizarre monsters against which his only defense is to flee. These events are linked, and pertain to why Daniel came to Brennenburg.

   Daniel was once part of an archaeological expedition to Africa. He came across a mystical orb buried within the ruins of an ancient temple, and brought its broken pieces back to England where he successfully assembled them. However, he began to be plagued by nightmares, and several people who came across his path, and that of the Orb, died horribly at the hands of the "Shadow" that appears to dog his footsteps. Desperate and despairing, he received a strange letter from a Prussian baron named Alexander, who promised protection if Daniel would sojourn to his castle.

   However, Alexander's promise of salvation was a lie. He is actually an otherworldly lifeform who has spent centuries in Brennenburg, attempting to open a "gate" back to his own world. To do this, he needs a substance called "vitae" which can only be harvested from the blood of agonized humans. He also needs a usable Orb. As such, Daniel is a boon to his efforts: Alexander employs him as his personal torturer, replacing his former servants who become the monsters Daniel flees from, and claiming the vitae will fuel a ritual to banish the Shadow from Daniel's presence forever. Daniel initially embraces this role, particularly when Alexander tells him that the humans he is seizing are vile criminals. But as the experiments continue, Daniel's faith in Alexander is shaken, and finally shattered when he murders a little girl in cold blood following her escape from a prison cell. Despondent over how far he has come, and furious at Alexander's trickery, Daniel chooses to erase his own memory so that he can atone for his sins without the burden of crippling emotional trauma.

   Daniel eventually manages to find the Inner Sanctum buried deep below Castle Brennenburg. He breaches its defences with a newly assembled Orb and the help of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, an alchemist that Alexander has kept imprisoned in Brennenburg for centuries with the use of strange alchemy. Agrippa, who once studied Orbs with his student Johann Weyer, explains the purpose of the Shadow: it protects the Orbs, slaying anyone who threatens to abuse their power. He mentions also that Weyer managed to travel to Alexander's world using the power of the Orb, and begs a favor: that Daniel separate Agrippa's head from his body and take it with him. There are several possible outcomes to the confrontation with Alexander, depending on Daniel's actions at the Inner Sanctum: he can fail to prevent Alexander from returning to his home world, though Alexander thanks him for his sacrifice; he can destroy the device creating the Gate, managing to escape with his life; or he can follow Agrippa's advice and toss his head through the portal. If he does, Agrippa calls upon Weyer to help him save Daniel, promising him that "everything will be all right."


  • Daniel - The main protagonist of the game. Apart from his British nationality, not much is known of him except for the diary pages that suggest that he is an archaeologist, his sister Hazel had a sickness growing up, and his father was an artisan who beat him. Daniel was, according to in-game text, bullied during primary school by a boy named Henry Bedloe. In the African desert on an expedition with his friend Herbert, Daniel discovered a tomb containing the mysterious Orb. From then on, a "shadow" had been hunting him, killing almost everyone he had contact with. Because of his panic, Daniel failed to realize that the Shadow had only killed those who had examined the Orb, and had done so almost instantly, whereas he had survived for 27 days before seeking help. Daniel had not attempted to examine or tamper with the Orb, but because of his panic, he sought the help and refuge of Alexander of Brennenburg. Alexander told Daniel that he could ward off the Shadow only with the use of mystical vitae extracted from tortured prisoners. Desperate to escape the Shadow, Daniel complied, convincing himself that his victims were worthless criminals who deserved no better. After Alexander abandons him, Daniel swears revenge and, suddenly filled with remorse over his deeds, drinks the Amnesia mixture at the start of the game to purge his horrible memories and seek redemption.
  • Alexander of Brennenburg - The main antagonist of the game. Alexander is a being who has been masquerading as a succession of Prussian barons during his centuries-long life. He gathered as many of the Orbs as he could find in hopes of opening a portal, possibly to reunite with his long dead wife or to his original homeland/world. He tortured captured victims to extract a mystical "vitae" from them, with which to perform mystical rituals in order to achieve this goal. Alexander displays a sociopathic level of cruelty and manipulation. He manipulated Daniel into helping him with his horrific experiments, promising him protection from the Shadow in return. However, as soon as Daniel's work was complete, Alexander sealed himself in his Inner Sanctum and abandoned Daniel. It is worth noting that he is not a completely evil character; in his notes he expresses some remorse for Daniel's corruption and of the things he has done.
  • Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa - The infamous German occult writer and supposed magician. Not much is known about his relationship with Alexander, aside from the fact that they were working together and researching the Orbs. Alexander keeps him imprisoned in a dead husk of a body so that he could use his knowledge to perform rituals involving the Orbs. He also known to have a pupil named Johann Weyer, who also helped him about the research of the Orb.
  • The Shadow - An unseen force that is hunting Daniel. Its sole purpose is to guard the Orb that Daniel took from the burial chamber and has killed numerous people to achieve that end. While it is not seen as a physical being, it is described as a huge sluggish mass of darkness and leaves behind a fleshy damaging substance over anything it touches. One note hypothesizes that it is the will of the universe seeking to catch up with and contain the unnatural force of the Orb itself, but this might only have been colorful speculation. It can be assumed that The Shadow is a gigantic being, causing the castle to fall into ruin and making tall trees fall whenever it moves around the castle. Another speculation says that The Shadow is producing no harm to Daniel. However, as Daniel making contacts with other people about the Orb and cause The Shadow to attack them, it is speculated that any attempt to use the Orb, including simply studying it, is enough to provoke The Shadow's wrath.
  • The Gatherers - The main enemies of the game. They are Alexander's servants who were deformed when they drank wine poisoned by Alexander, and are seen as monstrous humanoids with deformed facial and bodily features. These enemies come in two variations, Grunts and Brutes, and patrol parts of Brennenburg Castle, attacking Daniel if sighted. Since Daniel is weaponless, they cannot be killed and have to be avoided. Grunts are horrifyingly disfigured monstrosities which have had their left hands cut off and replaced with iron claws. Their offset eyes resemble those of a reptile. They appear to have had their lower jaw severed, and it now flops out over their chest. Brutes are malformed humanoids wearing a metallic tunic and with frankenstein-esque bolts and nails jutting out of their flesh. They attack with a blade on an iron pole sticking out of their arm. An interesting note on the possible origin of the Gatherers can be found in the Wine Cellar, where a flashback Daniel has depicts a group of Alexander's men having horrific bodily reactions to wine they consumed, saying things such as "I feel like my chest is going to burst!". One particular note, however, states that they are deserters of the Thirty Years' War, who got lost in the forests around Brennenburg, forced to forever haunt it, dragging with them anyone unlucky enough to venture in. These creatures cannot be killed by Daniel; however if an object such as a rock or barrel is thrown at one, it will become momentarily immobilized, leaving the player a small window to escape. However, if the player holds an item large enough in front of a Gatherer, the monster will pass by as if Daniel is not there, thus questioning their intelligence (though this could also be attributed to an AI glitch).
  • The Kaernk (Water Lurker) - An invisible, outer-worldly creature known as the Kaernk (anagram of Kraken), brought to Brennenburg by Alexander to extract their saliva, which is an ingredient in a potion. It dwells in the water, and hunts Daniel if he steps into the water where it lurks. The only sign of it is the splashing water it causes as it moves. Daniel must use the boxes scattered throughout the water in the level in order to avoid the creature. There is also the option to use body parts scattered on the boxes to distract the monster and let Daniel move through the water in relative safety. There are six encounters, four of which are purely hallucinations, while the other two are very dangerously real. Daniel may hallucinate/catch a glimpse of the Kaernk in the Laboratory (under a grate), Cistern (in low sanity, sometimes appear if player stayed too long), Sewer (in a cave-in room), and two wells in the Nave (needed in order to collect its saliva). The Kaernk's true form is sometimes questioned, as the water lurker itself is never be seen to have physical form in the game.
  • Justine Florbelle - Justine is a sociopath who lured and trapped six people underneath her estate. Her sociopathic behavior most likely emanates from being experimented on by her father when he was studying the development of the human psyche. She shows the basic characteristics of being a narcissist. Another possibility is she may have been born with a mental illness which led her father, a psychotherapist, to study her. Her mother died when she was very young and she doesn't remember what her mother looked like, though her father says "her beauty was blinding". Justine's father also told her not to be "ashamed" as she was only "filling the void left by mother" (which suggests that her father may have molested her, perhaps multiple times). As an adult she develops an inferiority complex for wanting to be as attractive as her mother. These feelings intensify to where she blinds the Suitors because she has begun to believe her beauty is literally "blinding." Justine is voiced by Emily Corkery.
  • The Suitors - Justine had three suitors, all of whom she locked away underneath her estate and tortured or had them torture themselves. It is implied that all three men were romantically involved with Justine, and she used this to her advantage when she drugged them with absinthe, abacinated them, and made them part of her Cabinet of Perturbation.
   Suitors are roaming around the castle due to Justine putting them there in the first place (revealed in a loading screen message), to make them a part of the very "psyche testing" she set up for herself. When idle, they make rasping or wheezing sounds, and are the only enemies that speak.
  • Aloïs Racine - Aloïs has a self-destructive fixation with Justine and was voluntarily cutting and self-mutilating in order to prove his mad love for her. From his talking, it is obvious he is still in love with Justine, will speak in a mild-mannered tone even when attacking her. It is implied that Aloïs was a racquet sport player, as Justine can find a racquet in the same room where Aloïs left his blood-written "forgive me" message, and flashback-esque racquet-hitting sounds upon entering the room coupled with grunts that sound like Aloïs's voice. Aloïs is voiced by Scotty Campbell.
  • Basile Giroux - Basile Giroux is the angry one of the three suitors and the second to appear. His rage is justified however and thus Basile appears to be have retained the most sanity of the three suitors, and simply wants to exact retribution upon the woman who ruined him. In the phonograph recording the player hears an exchange between him and Justine. Basile regains consciousness after being drugged and finds himself restrained in some strange device. He's clearly not in the mood for Justine's "games" but nevertheless is forced to read from a script she prepared for him which states "her beauty is blinding". At that moment an uncredited weapon or method damages his eyes and he screams(Possibly the hot poker in the near by fire). Justine laughs at him and Basile curses her for blinding him and threatens to kill her. He appears in the basement area after completing the library section, whispering threats as he hunts for Justine. When he appears, all the lights in the basement will be blown out, and the door will lock behind you. Basile is voiced by Jon St. John.
  • Malo de Vigny - Malo de Vigny appears to be the insane one of the three Suitors. He is the prisoner of the cell to the right of the first cell block. It was mentioned in notes that Malo was once very talented. He was a violin virtuoso. Before his downward spiral into a mutilated monster, Malo got drunk before an evening concert. It was to be a grand premiere of several new arrangements of songs, but Malo was so drunk he couldn't play properly and eventually the audience heckled and booed at him. The stress was too much for young musician, he threw his bow into the audience in frustration and collapsed. He had to be escorted away from the stage by the other suitors, Basile and Aloïs, and got replaced by other violinists. All the while Justine was sitting among the audience seeming very amused by the event. It is believed from rumours in the conservatory his apparent intoxication was entirely her doing. Malo is voiced by Jeff Buchanan.


   Work began on the game while Penumbra: Requiem was still being developed, with the company working on both projects at the same time. The game was first known under two working titles: Unknown and Lux Tenebras. It was not until November 13, 2009 that it was announced as its current title, Amnesia, with the release of the game's website and a game trailer. Initial designs of the game varied considerably from the final game, with the developers interested in reintroducing more combat elements similar to those utilized in their first commercial title Penumbra: Overture. The developers soon discovered that they encountered many of the same problems and difficulties that plagued the combat in that game however, and the design was further changed to be more similar to the style set out by Overture's sequel Penumbra: Black Plague.

   On February 5, 2010 it was announced that the game had reached the alpha stage of development on all platforms. Two weeks later the developers released a new Teaser trailer that showed actual game-play footage, and the developers began accepting pre-orders for the game through their website. Also revealed was that the game was at that point being tested on all three intended platforms. It was also announced that the game would be released simultaneously for all of them in August 2010. This was later rescheduled, and the game was then expected to have a September 8, 2010 release. It was then later announced on August 27, 2010 that the game had officially gone Gold and would soon be ready to sold. On September 3, the games demo was released containing selected parts of the gameplay and story. It was then successfully released on September 8, 2010.

   If the game reached 2000 pre-orders by May 31, 2010, Frictional promised it would release extra content for the game. The goal was finally met in early May, after the pre-orders were offered at a discount made available until May 31. This was done due to the success of Penumbra: Overture as a part of the first Humble Indie Bundle. The extra content was revealed to be commentary, and they explained in the comments section of the same page that its intended function was similar to that of Valve Software's commentary system that began in the Half-Life 2 series. The authors cite "Soul Made Flesh" by Carl Zimmer and older horror movies such as The Haunting as being inspirations for the mood and style of the game.

   Thomas Grip, one of the games main developers, would later write up a post-mortem of the game titled "The Terrifying Tale of Amnesia" for The Escapist, where he outlined in detail the process of the games development, mostly focusing on its ever changing design and the financial problems that plagued the developers for most of the game's development.

Downloadable content:

   On April 12, 2011 Frictional Games released an extra free level for owners of the Steam version of Amnesia. This additional campaign is set apart from Brennenburg Castle. "Justine" was released on Steam as a way to promote the upcoming release of Portal 2, as getting 100% on the campaign (all of the collectables, all of the analysis and making correct choices) unlocks a message from fictional company Aperture Science. The content was made available for all of the games supported platforms and versions as part of the Amnesia v1.2 update on May 17, 2011.

Custom stories:

   It is possible to create custom stories for Amnesia that can then be loaded in the game. Various tools for the HPL2 Engine have been released that allow the creation of own levels, models, particle effects and materials, using an interface similar to Valve's Hammer Editing Software. Game logic can be implemented using the AngelScript scripting language. Several such stories have been developed, some likened to the standard of an official expansion.

IMDbL: Rated this game with an 8.9/10.0.
According to IGN: "True survival horror games are a rarity these days", rated "Great" with a 8.5/10.0 and ranked #186 out of 16787 PC rated games.

IGN Ratings for Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC):

  • 9.0 "Presentation"
An entertaining, Lovecraftian tale of terror, and a deeply affecting mood throughout.
  • 8.5 "Graphics"
Somber, empty halls of rock give way to putrid dungeons later on. They're not the highest quality visuals, but all objects and scenes serve their purpose well.
  • 9.0 "Sound"
Strings, voices, and a wealth of haunting effects play a significant role in making this such a frightening game.
  • 7.5 "Gameplay"
The puzzles are pretty straightforward, the upside being that you'll rarely get stuck, letting you focus on the setting, exploration, and story.
  • 5.0 "Lasting Appeal"
Not much of a reason to play through again, though you can turn on developer commentary to see what the small team at Frictional Games was thinking when constructing the experience.


   True survival horror games are rare these days. Games like Dead Space and the most recent Resident Evil titles can be scary but tend to be just as focused on action as they are on atmosphere. In Frictional Games' Amnesia: The Dark Descent, you get no gun. When a gruesome shambling creature rounds a corner on wobbly knees and its yawning rictus comes into focus, you can only succumb to its onslaught or flee in terror, hoping the shadows will provide safe haven. It plays more like a first-person adventure game than anything else, and borrows many of the environmental manipulation mechanics of Frictional's previous Penumbra series. It's a fairly short game, but one that's near impossible to forget.

    If you've ever read an H.P. Lovecraft story before you'll find a lot that's familiar here. Much of the horror and structure of the plot is inspired by the 20th century author, as sanity is eroded the closer you draw to the sinister heart of the tale. You play as Daniel, who awakens clueless on the floor of the huge and hauntingly empty Castle Brennenburg. Soon after coming to, you discover a note written by your past self, instructing you to find and kill Alexander, the master of house. Unraveling the history of the place is part of what lures you forward, discovering how exactly you got to this point, what Alexander did to deserve an early death, and who is responsible for the grisly acts committed in the castle's depths.

   Puzzle solving is the heart of the gameplay, and like in Frictional's Penumbra games, manipulation of objects is handled in a way that gives you a greater sense of connection to the character. To open a door, you must click and hold the object with the left mouse button, then draw the mouse back or push it forward depending on which way the door swings. To open a drawer it's the same mechanic, requiring you to pull back on the mouse once the handle is grabbed to open it. Occasionally you'll need to toss items around rooms to break down fragile walls and shatter chains, but for the most part this kind of manipulation is used to keep you more firmly rooted within the game world and add a touch of realism, strengthening the horror aspect.

   Actually solving the puzzles shouldn't be too difficult for anyone who's played adventure games before. Despite the bizarre and often disturbing states of the sewers, morgues, and downright revolting torture chambers later on, the solutions often require you to collect a few objects and combine and apply them in simple ways. The game makes this easily manageable by confining solutions to set areas, meaning you don't need to worry about backtracking all the way to the start of the game if near the end you worry that a particular puzzle might require an overlooked item. Frictional's done a good job of pacing the game as well, gradually expanding the area and complexity of the puzzles and mixing in jaw-clenching pursuit sequences as you plunge deeper into the mystery. All the while you watch as bare stone walls are overtaken with pulsating masses of organic material and as hints of malevolence are made manifest and stumble after you through the dark and mists, establishing an inescapable mood that sticks with you long after the adventure is complete.

   This is one of the scariest games in recent memory. The loading screen recommends you turn the lights off and play with headphones, something I'll strongly echo. Amnesia: The Dark Descent's puzzles aren't especially impressive and the voice acting can range from convincing to goofy, but the atmosphere Frictional has infused into the experience is as powerful as they come. It's a tale of terror that's menacing and disturbing from the very first moments, and only amplifies the further you progress. Any fan of horror, every Lovecraft fan, and any with even a hint of curiosity should give Amnesia a shot. Few games are able to conjure up an atmosphere this genuinely frightening.

Published by: Frictional Games
Developed by: Frictional Games
Genre: Adventure
Number of Players: 1
Release Date:
Europe: September 8, 2010
Also Available On: Linux, Macintosh
Also known as: Amnesia

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