What is fear? Is it jump scares, things leaping out at you around every turn? Is it that prickling feeling on the back of your neck? Or maybe it’s something deeper. Something in the mind. Something psychological. Fear is so much more than just hulking creatures and things that go bump in the night. Fear is the unknown and the unexpected. Horror games have long tried to capture exactly what scares players. Scary beings, creepy environments, and even deep seated psychological horror have made there way into many titles. Amnesia: The Dark Descent landed on PC in 2010, heavily leaning on the psychological scares and largely being considered one of the scariest games released at the time.
More than six years later Amnesia is finally getting a long awaited console release, and its bringing some friends along for the ride. Included in the Amnesia Collection are Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Amnesia: Justine, and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, each bringing a unique piece of the Amnesia pie to the table, while all relying on the unknown and decidedly dark narratives to brew a deep sense of fear, but there’s been a lot of console competition in the six years since Amnesia gained its title as scariest game ever.
Descend Into Madness
Imagine waking up and not remembering anything. Things come in bits and pieces. Just a name at first. Daniel. Then your history starts to come together, and the more you learn, the darker your psychological state. The Dark Descent’s sanity system actually creates more scares the worse you do. Stay in darkness or look at a monster too long and your mental state degrades, creating visual and auditory illusions to mess with your mind. Bodies can either be present or absent, whispers permeate the darkness, and one moment made me extremely squeamish as my deteriorating mind made a number of cockroach shadows move across the screen, almost as if they were right on my TV.
Amnesia Collection is not a remaster though, so aside from this satisfying bit of visual trickery, the graphics on The Dark Descent do look quite a bit more dated than most PS4 games, with unimpressively flat textures and unnatural volume effects — not to mention the obviously PC menus and inventory. Fortunately the scares here aren’t fully reliant on a graphical acuity. Sound design is crucial to the scares, and the whistling of the wind over your shoulder and the hissing and skittering of the cockroaches all around your feet meld well with the stretching walls as you lose your sanity. That’s all while dealing with a limited supply of tinderboxes and lamp oil to stave off the darkness.
At the end of the day, while Amnesia does offer some deep subjective fears, it has been outmaneuvered by many games that were inspired by it. Some of the more supernatural elements that provide its scares also prove to be its undoing, with a story that becomes less and less relatable the further it goes on, as the amnesia begins to clear. Ironically, being relatable is exactly what a horror game needs to be to really get under the player’s skin, and while The Dark Descent starts off with a clean slate, it got to a point that was no longer under my skin by the end.
She’s Testing You
Justine is a smaller game, originally an add on to The Dark Descent as part of a promotion for Portal 2. There are no saves in Justine and the entire game must be played in one sitting, but given that it can be completed in under 10 minutes if you speed run the whole thing, that’s not a bad thing. It actually lends a deeper sense of fear to the whole thing, with every turn and possibility of death risking a complete reset of the game.
Justine does away with the more supernatural elements found in The Dark Descent. Waking up with no recollection of who you are, the player must undergo a series of Saw-like trials, with the easy route leading to the deaths of those you find trapped along the way, and the hard way requiring solving a series of puzzles while avoiding being killed by creatures that want nothing more than to do just that. It presents a sense of terror by putting impending doom on top of puzzle solving. Much like The Dark Descent, you learn more about yourself throughout the campaign, and despite its brief nature, I felt it a much more engaging narrative than the original game, though it does lack some of the same sanity bending moments of the original.
Here Piggy, Piggy
Amnesia takes a left turn with A Machine for Pigs, ditching the inventory based puzzle solving, sanity degradation, and limited lamp oil in favor of a much larger horror narrative, a journey through a dark machine that presents a sick kind of mirror onto humanity. A Machine for Pigs is definitely the least scary of the three in the traditional sense, but it has a delightfully dark narrative that keeps the cogs of the mind turning long after the last anthropomorphic pig man has stalked you through the noisy halls of the machine.
This Amnesia game plays with your mental state in a much different way, presenting the world almost as a journey through the machinations of the mind. The loud trilling and clanking of the machine is as ever present as the squeals of the pig men, that are actually not that terrifying once you come into direct contact with them, with a couple simple swipes of their little piggy arms sending you back a couple of minutes at most to retry the checkpoint again. Almost like any horror media, once the monster has been revealed in full as more than just an impending threat or shadow in the dark, there’s not much there to be afraid of anymore. The atmosphere of the machine is an exponentially more powerful tool of fear.
Despite some of its flaws and showing of age, Amnesia Collection is a great compilation of titles from a horror series that many newer horror games owe their own scares to. Though many of those games may be considered subjectively scarier than Amnesia, there’s a certain special spark that each Amnesia game ignites, unique as every one may be. The Dark Descent plays with the player psychologically, Justine gives a gauntlet of brutal trials that are rapidly repeatable, and A Machine for Pigs has a seductively sinister narrative that twists and turns, leaving many facets up for interpretation, demanding multiple playthroughs to fathom the workings of the machine. In many ways, Amnesia Collection is a time capsule of horror that will prey on your mind, a fine collection for anyone who missed it on PC, or those who simply may have…
Amnesia Collection review copy provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.