You Can Never Forget the Horror
An unspeakable evil has lain dormant for many years now, appearing only in the fevered nightmares of gamers throughout the world. It’s name: Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Released way back in 2010, the original Amnesia ironically became fondly remembered for its perfectly executed psychological horror. Though it was followed up promptly by Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs and the mini-game Amnesia: Justine, fans have been waiting a very long time for a true sequel. With such a prestigious pedigree, can Amnesia: Rebirth be an unholy spawning of a terrible new evil worthy of its fearsome parent?
Set 100 years after Dark Descent, Rebirth lets the player take control of Tasi Trianon, a young woman taking a plane trip with her husband Salim. Alas, their plane crashes rather unfortunately into the sweltering deserts of Algeria. When Tasi wakes up, she finds the passengers and crew of the crashed plane gone and must search through the dark caves beneath the desert to find Salim. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Amnesia game if not for the fact Tasi has a swiss cheese memory, and she frequently has flashes of deja vu as if she’s journeyed through this daunting desert before.
Right from the start, the basic mechanics will be immediately familiar to Amnesia fans. Tasi will find matches lying around the scenery which will allow her precious light to illuminate the darkness. Spending too long in the gloom will cause Tasi’s fear to rise; tendrils of darkness creeping around the corners of her sight. Of course, a lit match quickly dwindles to nothing so I found myself dashing nervously around, desperately looking for a candle or torch, trying to light them and provide me with a lasting beacon of light. It creates a sense of powerful tension, even while just getting from A to B.
Early on, Tasi finds a lantern, which gives her a more sustained and powerful source of light, but it requires oil, which can be just as scarce to find as matches. Handily, Tasi discovers a mysterious artefact with the power to open up rifts in the fabric of spacetime. The artefact lights up and its gears start turning, making nearby pebbles levitate as it detects a rift to open. Stepping through this rift provides access to the next part of the story or smaller hidden areas where more supplies can be found.
When comparing Amnesia: Rebirth to Amnesia: Dark Descent, the biggest difference I noticed was the more funnelled and focused nature of my progression through the game. In Dark Descent, I’d find myself very frequently backtracking through different wings of a spooky mansion to find hidden keys and other required items. Rebirth is a lot more direct, and I felt much more like I was on a forward-facing journey, only occasionally having to backtrack.
Likewise, though Rebirth has physics puzzles, they are much more straightforward than in Dark Descent. Tasi is able to pick up items, rotate them, throw them and manipulate them in a variety of ways. An early puzzle was quite clever for how it combined a bit of scavenger hunting with some more freeform building. I had to find a winch to operate a broken elevator, which was easy enough.
However, with the rickety elevator having its floor smashed from some prior accident, this left me with nothing to stand on while operating the winch. I ended up carefully laying a discarded wooden board along the iron railings to provide a rudimentary floor for the elevator.
Puzzles like this were quite satisfying to solve but they never left me scratching my head so long it slowed down the story or reduced the tension. Though some hardcore players might be disappointed at the lowered complexity of the puzzles and exploration, I found that the increased focus on storytelling and atmosphere-building makes up for it.
Amnesia: Rebirth looks incredible, managing to integrate a rich palette of colours into its landscape from the muted greens of the netherworld to the rich orange hue of the sun-blasted desert. From richly detailed French Legion forts to arcane statues from a lost civilization, it all looks bloody brilliant.
The story is told mostly through Tasi’s scattered memories or premonitions, but it’s often unclear which is which, and this continual ambiguity made me feel compelled to press on and unravel the mystery behind her predicament (even when I was scared).
It’s not only Tasi’s narrative that’s intriguing either. There’s high-quality voice acting to narrate the detailed written accounts found in scattered notes and journals of the crash survivors and the various Algerian desert dwellers. Even the most incidental of characters all have fully fleshed out lives. I felt genuinely sad when I found a hopeful note from one of the crash survivors talking about their hopes, dreams and family only to so often find a desiccated corpse not far away.
Amnesia: Rebirth is significant for a genuinely unique concept it introduces to the horror formula. As if being trapped in a barren desert and surrounded by ghouls and ghosts wasn’t stressful enough, Tasi also discovers that she’s pregnant. Not only is this a source of tension in the story, as Tasi worries about protecting her unborn child, it’s also a gameplay mechanic.
Whereas the original Amnesia: Dark Descent relied on the protagonist swigging some ladanum to buoy his dwindling mental state, Tasi can caress her belly when she feels her baby kick, making her feel less alone and reducing her fear level. This is a great way of immersing the player into the role of the protagonist as I found myself worriedly checking on the baby, making sure it was still alive and kicking after each time Tasi took a tumble. I don’t think it’s terribly likely I’ll ever experience pregnancy, but it’s a testament to Amnesia: Rebirth how well it communicates the comforts and anxieties of it in an interactive medium.
I feel like I’ve spent much of the last decade complaining about how so many mediocre horror games present their beasties in a less than terrifying light by showing them too clearly or having them pop up too often, making them lose some of their lustre. Luckily though, Amnesia is back to show lesser frightfests how it’s done. Monsters pop up at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected places, inducing an overwhelming sense of raw panic when they appear.
The player is actively discouraged from looking at the monster because doing so rapidly increases Tasi’s fear level to the point she even begins to hallucinate, with flashes of arcane depravity clouding her vision. Monster encounters are also masterfully designed so that when they begin you’ll need to immediately run or hide as soon as possible, meaning you’re acting on your raw instincts. This is what makes the scares in Amnesia: Rebirth so intense: most of the time you can’t see the monster, only hear it near you as you feel a gut-wrenching anticipation of being caught.
Sometimes your only clear option is to run, but it’s seldom that simple as obstacles appear in your path as you try to escape. The physics engine is used to make evading the monster even more terrifyingly immersive, and I found myself trembling as I frantically tried to move debris away from a blocked door as I heard the twisted roars of an abomination gaining ground on me.
At other times, the area is open enough that hiding becomes the best option. Much like I’d probably do encountering a monster in real life, I just immediately crept to a dark spot behind a large object and cowered. When holding down the crouch button, Tasi can hunker down and hide, reducing her visibility, but preventing her from moving. The way Tasi’s breathing becomes more rapid and her flashes of fear become more intense as I heard the monster get closer to my hiding spot really reinforced my own frightened indecision of whether to stay hidden or run away in a blind panic.
Amnesia: Rebirth is a worthy addition to a classic series. It buries the player deep in an oppressive atmosphere of fear like a gravedigger spading dirt onto a coffin. If the state of the world today isn’t terrifying enough for you, picking up Amnesia: Rebirth will certainly sate your lust for scares.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One; Publisher: Frictional Games; Developer: Frictional Games; Players: 1; Released: October 20th, 2020;
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Amnesia: Rebirth given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.