Another Hour with Amnesia

You sadists. One hour of me creeping through Amnesia: The Dark Descent wasn’t enough for you, was it? Okay, so I only played about an eighth of Frictional Games’ horror masterwork. Fair point. I am, as I stated, a huge wuss, but even I knew I wasn’t going to get off so easily.

I was going to have to spend another hour with Amnesia.

Before the Fall

After ending my first session with the game, an answer still eluded me: What exactly was the Amnesia experience? And how much of my time and patience was I willing to stake to get it? I thought about this relentlessly in the two weeks since first playing it. I knew I’d have to confront my fear and dive into the game again, not only for Jordan’s sake, who recommended the game to me, but for my own damn curiosity. I had already seen, and more specifically heard, plenty in my first hour that was worthy of naming Amnesia the Scariest Game I’ve Ever Played. But I couldn’t help but feel like I was lacking a more complete view of it. For the sake of a good article, I needed to be thorough.

Make no mistake – Amnesia is not a game I am going to master; at the end of the day, I am still very likely going to be its bitch. However, I needed to know that it wasn’t a fluke. I needed to know that I was going to find it every bit as scary as the first time I’d played it.

The Second Descent

Watching the loading bar fill up, I wonder if taking a break in between sessions would kill the momentum of fear that was built over that first hour. The instant the game loaded dispelled such notions, as I was immediately thrown back into Amnesia’s flesh-crawling atmosphere. Time has done little to dilute my unease over this game, and the surrounding soundscape crafted by Frictional Games seems more antagonizing than ever. The startling hiss of insects mixes with far-off groaning wind, creaking wood, and unnatural moans, reminding me that nothing but bad times are ahead. Already I’m beginning to regret ever having a positive outlook on coming back to this game.

A surprisingly well-lit hallway in Amnesia. Yellow light reflects off the ceiling; a dresser is tipped over on the floor. Rubble can be seen in the background.
My playground for the next twenty minutes.

I’m a few areas back from when I’d last quit, and I see the source of the cave-in noise that I had wrongfully attributed to having already happened. My way back is blocked; the only place to go is forward. I know that Bad Things happen if I sit still long enough (I’m not eager to meet “the Shadow” that the game tells me is following me), so I grudgingly oblige, choosing to retrace my steps back to where Daniel had his last flashback, in a room marked “Floor Plans.” I start bouncing back and forth between this room and the caved-in “Maps” room, trying to regain my bearings. I keep flitting my lantern in and out like I have a nervous tic, positive that at any moment something would come to claim the trapped prey I had become. But nothing did. Clearly, I’m missing something, a key item perhaps, as up until this point the game has done a wonderful job of making me flee like a sissy from room to room.

I begin scouring the Maps room, the Floor Plans room, and the hallway. My initial fear begins to subside as I focus on the very gamerly task of “Figuring Out What to Do,” and I find some lantern oil and two tinderboxes in a chest I had overlooked earlier. I start searching other furniture, finding some useless maps within a dresser’s drawers, as well as a desk cabinet that creaks open with almost hilarious graveness. (To be fair, leave it to Amnesia to make this the scariest-sounding cabinet I’ve ever encountered.) I check my inventory journal, which helpfully tells me that I “must find a way out of this area.”

“No shit,” I say to myself, which suddenly makes me self-conscious of my sanity. I visit the maggots at the end of the hall again, but they aren’t any help.

As I begin bunny-hopping around the Maps room, the immersive nature of the game starts breaking down faster than my mental faculties. I start to notice things about the game itself that I hadn’t had time to earlier. The light from my lantern saturates my surroundings, giving everything from the decaying wood of the bookshelves to the crumbling castle walls a sickly yellow pallor. Putting my light source away plunges the room into darkness for a moment before my vision adjusts. There’s a piano near the maggots I can interact with, and I close the keys cover. I immediately turn around, and smile derisively; the game has taught me to be wary of any interaction, no matter how small. I admit it’s nice to be able to think about this kind of stuff now that I’m not caught in the moment, and not under any immediate duress. It’s the equivalent of stopping to smell the flowers, although I’m sure once Frictional gets their hands on those they’ll find a way to make them properly terrifying.

On my circuit of the rooms I finally discover a crack in the wall at the far end of the hallway, just outside the Floor Plans room. I can make out a partially lit room on the other side, but when I try to interact with the crack I get the message, “Fragile, not breakable by hand.” I figure I need something else to break it then, which strikes me as strange as there hasn’t been much environmental item manipulation yet. There’s a time and place for everything, I suppose. I left-click to pick up a chair I find next to the piano, drag it to the other side, and start swinging it against the wall using twitches of my mouse, where it gets stuck in the wall. I peel it off with a click of my mouse and try again. This time, something bugs out with the item-environment collision, and my chair simply disappears without even a final scrape. I have to laugh – for a game that is engineered for scares, the bug is a reminder that this is still a game.

A chair is stuck to a crumbling wall.
This stuff is probably nightmare fuel for developers.

I try a few more chairs for novelty’s sake, making at least two more disappear. While holding one chair out before me like a lion tamer, I accidentally right-click the mouse. The chair hurtles away from me, crashing into the wall and revealing the next room. Success! I’ve solved the riddle of the unbreakable wall!

It’s a hollow victory, as it means playtime in my little sandbox world is over. The fear begins to sink in.

Welcome to Hell

Stepping gingerly through the hole in the wall rewards me with another flashback. It explains some sort of puzzle mechanic that involves using the sound of a dragging chain to indicate a timer window. I find that the flashbacks are so sudden and jarring that I tune out most of what’s being said, so I only have a faint idea of what to do next. It doesn’t help matters that the flashback ends with a wet sound, like saliva dripping from a monster’s yawning mouth. I’m reminded of how much I don’t want to play this game.

The current room is large and lined with bookshelves. Two stacks stand in the middle, making me incredibly paranoid that I can’t see both sides at the same time. There is a bookcase with suspicious light glowing behind it at one end, and three glass cases at the opposite end. A locked door is across the room; I doubt a chair will help me get through that one. I use a box to crush the glass in the middlemost case and read the note within. It’s about local superstition and the gruesome monsters surrounding them, and I have no doubt that at some point I’ll encounter one of these, which I’m not looking forward to at all.

Amnesia's inventory screen. A window marked "Sanity" states that the player has "A slight headache."
An understatement if I’ve ever seen one.

Half-expecting some beastie to come crawling through the hole I’d made in the previous room, my eye catches a book on one of the shelves. It’s colored differently than the rest of the books – kind of like the difference between the background and foreground of a Hanna Barbera cartoon. I wonder how Scooby-Doo and Co. would have handled the mystery at Brennenburg Castle, as I pull the book from its shelf. Instead of going into my inventory, the book stays put, and I hear the chain-dragging sound from the flashback reverberating in my headphones. Something about “three” surfaces to my memory, and a swift search throughout the room locates two other books, which I pull. The bookcase nearest the hole in the wall slides open to reveal a lit room. It looks like sanctuary, but I’ve been burned by that notion before, so I approach with caution.

Nothing happens as I enter the room – no windstorm, no flashback – but I notice a wardrobe sitting in the corner. Shit – it’s the first wardrobe I’ve seen in a long time, and knowing that in Amnesia that wardrobes are used for hiding and avoidance more than clothes-hanging purposes, I’m not thrilled. But I also know that nothing in the game happens without me doing something first. I get inside the wardrobe anyway, just to see how I fit. I’m still fumbling with the game’s “opening stuff” mechanic. It requires you to hold down the left-mouse button and drag in a direction toward or away from you. I find it kind of clunky, since you can pretty much approach a drawer or door or whatever from a variety of angles, so “toward” and “away” are kind of nebulous. I pray that if and when it comes to using one of these wardrobes under pressure, I’ll be able to pull the mechanic off.

I spy a large key on the desk in the middle of the room, and thinking it to be my ticket through the locked door I foolishly grab it. Discordant music barks into my ears, accompanied by an ugly monster cry, and I dash back inside my wardrobe, fumbling with the door in a frenzy. You see what happens when you do something in this game? Amnesia is constantly playing with and against the player’s expectations, bending and breaking the rules it’s defined from the very beginning. By constantly keeping me on my toes, I can’t develop a comfortable rhythm. It’s a game that refuses to “played” in every sense of the word.

The Downward Spiral

Since I know the game devotes so much of its inherent spookiness through noise, I take the absence of any more monster gurgles or plodding footsteps as a sign of relative safety. I creep out of my wardrobe and see that the locked door from the previous room is now wide open. That’s right – without the aid of the key I picked up. Stepping through that door leads me to a dark hallway. My skin becomes flushed with chills at the sight of it, and I can honestly say I’ve never come across something, in a game or otherwise, that felt so immediately wrong. My fight-or-flight response is bouncing off the walls, and it sure doesn’t feel like I’m in a game anymore. I refill my lantern with more oil, just to be sure, and enter a room called “Old Tomes.”

There’s nothing here – nothing to interact with at all. Stacks of set dressing line the walls, and an empty chest sits in the center. The room feels like the wrong place to be in, and I get the sinking feeling I’ve been here before. Not like Daniel has been here – me, the player. The locked door must have linked an old part of the mansion I’d already traversed. I’m stricken with fear of the idea that I’m not just moving forward anymore, putting ground behind me, but am circling in and over myself. I don’t trust my instincts to get me through this game, and now that I’m threatened with the idea of backtracking I’m terrified. My suspicions are confirmed as I go through the only other door – it’s the grand, empty hallway from before.

I turn to view the length of the hall I see it: a pudgy, gray man-shaped figure. It growls and trudges into the next room, out of sight. I now know that I am 100 percent, absolutely not alone. And what’s worse – I am following it.

See how Eric’s final hour with Amnesia ends on the next page…

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Eric Seal

Eric Seal is a writer, drummer, gamer, husband, son, and father, and he can't decide which of these he likes best. Also writes fatherly musings at mostlymetaldad.com.

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