Amnesia: The Dark Descent follows protagonist Daniel who, after waking up in Brennenberg Castle, finds that he is without memory and insight, and is being hunted by a mysterious force that encompasses the castle. With this, he must piece together the bigger picture by finding notes, all the while communicating with a man named Alexander, who may or may not be responsible. As soon as you begin your journey, you'll realize that developer Frictional Games has produced a quite incredible atmosphere that sucks the player into its dark, grisly world. Whether you're exploring the industrial avenue of Brennenberg's machinery operations, getting your feet wet within the flooded archives, or venturing through the chilling torture rooms of the castle dungeon, you'll be gripped every second by this tense, immersive game that stands tall as one of the best contemporary interpretations of its kind. The game's nineteenth century architecture feels eerie and believable, and while I would have loved more on the castle's history, Frictional has done a brilliant job of putting us at the centre of this mystery and keeping our attention throughout.
To maintain that attention, a great deal has been done to create a creepy soundscape. Whether its the contrast between Brennenberg's loud machinery rooms and the stillness of the Nave, the shrieking of an unknown entity amidst the silence, or even the auditory isolation of Daniel's footsteps, Amnesia has exceptional sound design. Less importantly but still great, is Mikko Tarmia's suite of foreboding music that highlights the desperation in the game's signature enemy encounters, or even ambient tracks against tense exploration.
You'll always be on your guard when it comes to the threats that lurk in the darkness of Brennenberg castle. As you wander around every corner of the world, you may come into contact with eerie monsters that search for Daniel. Hiding is the best way to discourage these creatures from continuing their pursuit, although Frictional has some tricks up their sleeve to keep the tension high. Daniel must use special tonics that heal his wounds if he is hit by an enemy, but he must also keep an eye on his sanity meter which, when bathed in darkness, looking directly at monsters or being pursued by them, will alter the game's visuals, turning the clean, crisp screen into a dark, dreamy haze. This view causes Daniel to hallucinate monsters and sounds, as well as shake and panic within his every breath.
To remedy this, light is an essential tool to maintain sanity, provided you have collected tinderboxes scattered throughout the castle, that are used to light up lanterns, torches, candles and other sources. Daniel is equipped with a lantern, too, which is a very important tool and used to create a light path and help with sanity, and this also requires maintenance through limited jars of oil.
The game also mixes in physics-based puzzles when it isn't busy unsettling. Like Frictional's Penumbra series, Amnesia contains puzzles that require you to search for items specific to a certain section of the castle, which is in turn used to interact with machinery, unlock more areas and generally progress through the story. There are a few of note, and they're fun enough to feel rewarding without being frustrating or lacking context. There are also some scripted events that ratchet up the tension considerably, and are some of the game's highlights.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent clocks in at a solid 8-10 hours, and has three endings that are worth experiencing. Taking a steady, explorative pace with the game is recommended, as it here when it has the most impact. Amnesia is a fantastic example of when atmosphere, sound and gameplay come together to form something special. One of the best entries to the genre in a long time, and genuinely scary, Amnesia is a riveting horror experience that will stick with you long after the credits roll.