Amnesia: Collection is simply unforgettable.
When it comes to horror games, few developed in the last decade are as fondly remembered as Frictional Games’ Amnesia series. Originally released in 2010, at a time when the genre had begun to gravitate towards games with a greater focus on action than careful resource management and suffocating tension that popularized the genre, Amnesia went in the opposite direction by disarming the player and leaving them to survive a nightmare world with no way to defend themselves. It was a breakaway hit for the Helsingborg, Sweden based studio, going on to spawn a spin-off title and a sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Despite its popularity, it wasn’t until now that console players got to experience what the series is all about with Amnesia: Collection. Despite its name, this terrifying threesome is anything but forgettable.
One area where the Amnesia games really shine is in terms of atmosphere. The Victorian villages and crumbling castles you’ll explore are breathtaking in their ambiance. Each area is dark and foreboding, and every ruined corridor or dimly-lit den you’ll explore is choked in oppressive shadows. You can hear the wind howling through the trees outside and embers burn in abandoned stoves, leaving you to wonder what horrible creatures huddled around their glow just moments before you wandered into their lair. This constant sense of dread is further enhanced by the fact that the shadows themselves can eventually kill you, as staying in darkened areas will rob you of your sanity, causing you to see things that aren’t there – not unlike Silicon Knights’ Gamecube classic, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.
Horror You Won’t Soon Forget
This pervasive sense of dread is also conveyed through the dozens of notes you’ll uncover that piece each story together. While the storytelling is largely confined to these scraps of paper and occasional monologues, the writing is oppressively dark and uncomfortable. That said, if you enjoyed the way the plot was handled in Bloober Team’s equally disturbing horror title Layers of Fear, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect here, as Frictional Games never strays from touching on the kinds of topics that will turn the faint of heart’s stomachs inside out.
Of the three games featured in Amnesia: Collection, the original is probably the best of the bunch. This is mainly due to the way it the title embraces the tenets that make a great survival horror game. Players control Daniel, an amnesiac, as he explores the ruined halls of Brennenburg Castle in Prussia. As you make your way to your ultimate objective you must solve puzzles and avoid deadly monsters, all while trying to stay out of the darkness and keep your sanity. To do so, you’ll constantly need to scavenge for tinderboxes and lamp fuel in order to light candles and navigate through long stretches of sanity-stealing darkness. It’s a great mechanic, as resources are scarce, so you’ll need to play defensively and conserve your oil and matches if you hope to survive to make your way to the deepest recesses of the castle. Amnesia is tense. It’s foreboding. And all in all, it’s still one of the best horror games out there.
A Frightful Follow-up
The sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, while solid, fails to quite live up to the successes of its predecessor. That’s not to say it’s bad by any stretch. The change in scenery is probably one of its greatest strengths. A Machine For Pigs abandons the confines of the ruined castle for Victorian London as you explore sordid estates, derelict streets, and the whirring innards of an industrial death machine as three different characters. The locations, especially those set within the machine itself, are a huge improvement over the largely static environments found in the original game. However, this boost in visual fidelity does come at a price, as shining your light in areas with a lot of on-screen action can create some pretty jarring frame drops that do impact the experience. While the technical issues are disappointing, especially when taking into consideration the game’s age, the biggest problem with A Machine for Pigs is that developer The Chinese Room (Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture) have done away with almost all of the survival horror elements that Frictional included in the original game. With no more need to conserve supplies and monster attacks a rare occurrence, the end result is more moody walking simulator than real survival horror title. This feels like a big step back when considering just how much the original Amnesia did to inject some much-needed anxiety into the horror genre. Still, despite clawing back some of the mechanics that made Amnesia shine in the first place, A Machine for Pigs is still an incredibly visceral and uncomfortable experience that tells a great story as it jumps back and forth between industrialist and butcher Oswald Mandus and his children, Edwin and Enoch.
The games featured in Amnesia: Collection aren’t exactly ancient, but it’s still a bit disappointing to see that they’re essentially just direct ports of their original PC releases. Despite showing their age, at least the titles run at a steady frame rate (with the exception of the aforementioned frame dips caused by the lantern in A Machine for Pigs). Some higher resolution textures or improved lighting effects would have gone a long way towards further immersing players in Amnesia’s unsettling universe. Still, despite looking somewhat dated, the impressive atmosphere and unshakable sense of dread that each title delivers will keep you glued to your controller until the credits roll.
The Sound of Terror
While the visuals are a bit of a mixed bag, it can’t be stressed enough just how fantastic the collection’s sound direction is. Seriously, if there’s a game that shines when played with a solid pair of surround sound cans than this is it. From the sound of running water on stone to the grinding of gears and pounding of feet as you hide in a closet to shake your pursuers, the audio consistently steals the show. That said, if you want to get the full effect be sure to kill the lights and slip on a pair of headphones. Better yet, add your PSVR and play in cinematic mode for a terrifying taste of sensory deprivation that will keep digital masochists gleefully on edge.
Overall, if you’re a PlayStation 4 owner and a fan of survival horror games, you really owe it to yourself to pick up this set. While the concessions the sequel made are no doubt disappointing for those looking for a challenge, Amnesia: Collection is a nightmarish trio of games that those eager for a gripping horror experience won’t soon forget.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) ; Publisher: Frictional Games ; Developer: Frictional Games, The Chinese Room ; Players: 1 ; Released: November 22, 2016 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99
Editor’s Note: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy of Amnesia: Collection provided by the publisher