Having originally been developed and released on Steam in 2010, Frictional Games’ first person horror puzzler Amnesia: The Dark Descent has had plenty of time to earn its reputation for being one of the most frightening horror games to ever see the light of day. Amnesia: The Dark Descent was later expanded with “Justine” DLC, and in 2013 it was followed up with an official sequel, Machine for Pigs, developed by The Chinese Room (the studio behind Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture). The two games and DLC would eventually be bundled together and released on Playstation 4 in 2016, and now in 2018 it finally arrives on Xbox One.
The first thing to point out is that Amnesia: Collection is merely what it says, a collection of the Amnesia titles and DLC. This is not a remastered version of the game, and so the graphics are very much what you would expect for a game originally developed eight years ago. That said, Amnesia’s setting is notoriously dark, grimy, and unsettling so the graphics do not feel nearly as outdated as they actually are. The game’s physics, too, suffer slightly from being outdated. Even with increased controller sensitivity settings interacting with items in the world quickly comes off as feeling clunky. This is particularly noticeable when you’re playing frantically, such as chase sequences with the ghastly monsters sulking around the castle.
Players take control of Daniel, who awakens to find himself in a decrepit castle with no memory of how or why he’s come to be there. Shortly after you begin to explore the castle, you’ll come across a letter that Daniel has apparently written to himself. This letter sets up the premise of the game, in that Daniel’s goal is to find and kill a specific person in the castle. Fear not, though, you’re not slaughtering an innocent bystander. The letter insists that there’s a good explanation for all of this, but you’re going to have to figure it out for yourself. Its that psychological aspect that makes Amnesia shine. There’s very little in the way of gore or jump scares as Amnesia prefers to let you terrify yourself by creating an unsettling atmosphere. As previously mentioned, the castle is excessively dark and decrepit, with creaking doors and other garish groans from the lurking monstrosities in the shadows.
All of these things can be detrimental to a person’s sanity, and Frictional Games uses that to their advantage, making sanity a core gameplay mechanic. Those monsters that are lurking about are less likely to spot Daniel if he is crouched and hiding in a dark corner or tucked up inside of a closet, but staying in the dark for prolonged periods will cause Daniel’s sanity to slip away. This causes Daniel to panic, limiting the player’s vision and even triggering hallucinations. The only cure for this is it find a source of light, either by using one of the tinderboxes you can find to light candles and torches or using Daniel’s lantern. Just as the dark can cause issues, though, so too can the light. Brightly lit rooms provide little in the way of hiding spots when the monsters come for you. This is especially problematic as there is nothing in the way of combat, though Daniel does have the ability to pick up some items in the world such as books and even chairs in order to throw them at enemies. This stuns the enemies for a brief moment, giving the player a chance to run and hide safely.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is not only utterly terrifying, but also clever with the puzzles it uses to push forward the narrative, and these creative puzzles carry over into the Justine expansion. They give the player a reason to explore, a motivation for taking the risk to go into one room or another as opposed to simply hiding in a closet and calling it a day. Players may find themselves shocked, however, at the lack of puzzles in the included sequel, Machine for Pigs. Having been developed by a different studio, Machine for Pigs strips away the puzzle mechanics that kept The Dark Descent and Justine so interesting. The Chinese Room opted instead to make Machine for Pigs more of a narrative driven experience, reducing it to essentially being a ‘walking simulator’. Nonetheless, Amnesia: Collection remains every bit as bone chilling today as it was upon its original release eight years ago.