Stripped of all the usual flashy distractions and gimmicks, Amnesia is everything a good survival horror game should be.

User Rating: 7.5 | Amnesia: The Dark Descent PC
I'm often sceptical of games that are marketed as 'survival horror'. These days, 'survival horror' has come to mean 'big guy with big gun waltzes through level after level mowing down hoards of unnamed mutants'. There's no denying that there is fun to be had in games like that, but the 'horror' aspect tends to get diluted when your unlikely arsenal of heavy duty weaponry ensures than any actual fear factor is kept at bay. Amnesia does away with everything we've come to expect from survival horror games, and the result is truly terrifying.

Amnesia isn't flashy, nor is it in any way a spectacular looking game. The graphics are humble, and the actual game play is relatively simplistic. These factors don't detract from the experience at all, however. In fact, they make the game infinitely more unsettling. You begin by taking control of Daniel, an Englishman who has just awoken in a dark, damp castle with no recollection of who he is or why he's there. The story is compelling, and is told mostly through letters Daniel wrote to himself before losing his memory. The gist is that there is a very bad man doing very bad things somewhere within the castle walls, and Daniel is the only one who can stop him.

From there, you simply have to keep moving forward, which sounds easy enough. Rest assured, it isn't that simple. First of all, you have no weapons and no way of defending yourself at all. All that stands between you and the enemy are a few well-placed doors and a short supply of tinderboxes. The controls are easy enough to get the hang of. Clicking on an object and dragging it in the direction you want it to go will lead Daniel to pick it up and set it down. Right clicking while the object is still in your hand will cause Daniel to fling it across the room. Door work the same way. Holding down the left mouse button and either pushing or pulling a door will open and close it. Right clicking the mouse button will cause the door to slam shut quickly. That's really all there is to interacting with your environment.

The atmosphere of the game is constantly reminding you that this is no ordinary castle. As you progress, doors will open and close on their own, draughts will blow out the candles that provide you with light and creaking, groaning, moaning noises will follow you through the darkened hallways. Often, it isn't what is actually there that is most scary, it's what you imagine is there.

There are monsters. They're terrifying, but they're few and far between. The pacing is very interesting, as it starts you off assuming there's something lurking around every corner, then lulls you into a false sense of security by making you believe there's nothing to the game at all beyond racing to keep the lamps lit and gathering the various clues that piece together the story. Your first encounter with an enemy is so unexpected that you can't help but panic, especially considering there's absolutely nothing you can do but turn and run and hope it doesn't follow.

The monsters aren't your only enemy, however. The longer you stay in the dark, the more your sanity suffers, until truly upsetting effects start to take place. With every hit your mind takes, the symptoms of madness worsen. Eventually, if you allow it to get bad enough, you'll see bugs crawling across the screen and hear sounds that send you reeling in all directions to discover their source. It's easy enough to avoid going insane by simply keeping the lights on, but the only way to truly escape a lurking monster is to stay in the shadows until it decides to leave, so it becomes a choice between losing your mind and losing your head.

Amnesia isn't complex. It doesn't have flashy graphics or an intricate interface. It's just you, Daniel, his tinderboxes and your imagination, which really can be the scariest thing of all.