I’ll begin with the disclosure that I haven’t played most of the popular horror games out there — Outlast, Anna, Dear Esther, Penumbra, etc. I own many of these (thanks to Steam sales), but haven’t played them. One exception is very popular Amnesia: The Dark Descent (ATDD) that I had heard so much about. I finally started playing through it about two weeks ago, and indeed it was one of the most stressful gaming experiences I have had, and I mean that in a good way.
With the success of ATDD, a sequel was inevitable. Rather than develop it themselves this time, Frictional Games handed that torch to The Chinese Room, makers of Dear Esther and the Penumbra series, both successful. The result, though, is a game that shares the Amnesia name, but varies significantly from its predecessor. If you can look past the name, and try to treat this as a standalone and fresh experience, you’re likely to appreciate it more than if you compare it apples to apples with ATDD.
But, AMFP is the sequel to ATDD; comparing and contrasting it to the original is natural. First, the menu and graphics engine are practically identical. The controls are essentially the same too. Both games put players in a first person view, controlling a desperate character in a large building. The story is told in bits in pieces. Most of the story is disclosed in notes scattered about, or audio recordings. For AMFP, we learn that Oswald Mundus is missing his two young daughters. He’s a butcher, or formerly one, and he’s developed some kind of machine, but what’s it’s purpose? Any why was it created? As with ATDD, there are many questions, and through reading and puzzle solving, things begin to become clear.
Exploration and puzzle-solving are still a major portion of the gameplay in AMFP, but it’s a step back from what ATDD offered. With no inventory whatsoever, you know that the solutions to the puzzle are right there in front of you. Level design remains largely hallways and corridors, but I was disappointed with how many potential paths are locked up tight. There are times when multiple, ultimately interconnecting paths are available, however, and that’s a plus. On the other hand, there isn’t as much interactivity with objects as with ATDD. You can (should? nah) still pick up every freakin chair and toss it around, but suffice it to say that there is far less to interact with than before. This promotes a quicker pace, less exploration, simpler puzzles, which in turn negatively effect the sense of immersion.
Within a half hour, players also acquire an electric, infinite supply lantern that is a stark contrast to the oil-based one from the original game that required regular attention to keep it going. ATDD also preyed on player’s minds with its insanity mechanic. You may recall it — stay in the dark too long or look at enemies, and your heart would begin to race, your teeth eventually chatter, and your mind slips away. I was disappointed to discover that all of these great gameplay mechanics are absent in AMFP (although, I don’t miss collecting tinderboxes). I missed the added layer of stress that the sanity system introduced. The lantern is simply to help you see in the dark and it helps you detect when enemies are near, as it flickers. Even the health system is on auto-pilot, unlike the original which tasked the player with tending to their physical wounds as well as their mental ones. So, in several important ways, AMFP is, to be blunt, a stripped down version of ATDD. The game is also shorter, although exactly how short will vary on your play style, but for me it was about two hours less.
This detractions are regrettable, but AMFP still offers a compelling experience, even if not as impactful as the original. From the moment you start, the sound design starts to engrain itself in you and, because of the plentiful light and lack of a sanity system, the sound presentation is a huge part of the immersion that AMFP is able to achieve. The song from the main menu oozes with dread and this is a trend that permeates the entire game. Ticking clocks, creaking floors, loud screeches and growls from the enemies, it’s a very active soundscape that deserves a good pair of headphones. The visual presentation is very good, but its value to the experience falls somewhere in between the sounds (including the soundtrack) and the story itself. The greatly simplified gameplay of AMFP puts more pressure on the narrative, and while I never quite became invested in the lead role, I did find the story interesting to thought-provoking.
With that, let’s get to the summary…