By now, you would have read our countdown of the Top 30 Games of the Generation (the final 6, with links to the rest, are here if you haven’t). While the Top 30 is undoubtedly strong, the team all have their personal favourites. With this is mind, join us as the team go into depth on some of them – telling you why they made the list. First up is Doug “Dougernaught” McCormack with the seminal, and terrifying, Amnesia: The Dark Descent…
“At the Desktop of Madness”
To enter any “best of” list a game has to leave a mark with players. Invariably such a game would have to have a memorable narrative or strong game-play, probably both. Amnesia: The Dark Descent undoubtedly has these. However its main reason for leaving a lasting impression with the player is its ability to instill that most primal of emotions. Fear. Few games (or indeed media of any kind) in this generation, or any other for that matter has the ability to render a person into a quivering craven quite the way Amnesia does.
The game begins with the protagonist awakening within the walls of an overbearing eldritch Prussian castle with no memory of his past, save his name, Daniel. During his early exploration Daniel chances upon a note written to himself, warning him of a formless presence hunting him, and urges him to murder the castle’s owner Alexander.
With this directive in mind Daniel sets off to find the castle’s inner sanctum and slay the Baron.
Admittedly Amnesia as a plot device is a hoary old trope, however it does serve to drive the narrative forward. Daniel comes across many journal entries written by himself. Other notes by one time inhabitants of the castle outline macabre goings-on, help to embellish the plot. In addition to this he often hears disembodied voices and conversations which further illuminate the story for those looking to delve deeper. However, while the plot is memorable in its own right, the reason why Amnesia leaves such an indelible mark is down to its unparalleled atmosphere and overwhelming sense of dread.
As you progress through the game you discover you have not assumed the role of a capable protagonist. Combat is a non starter as Daniel can’t defend himself, the only remaining option is to run, hide and pray. Staying in the dark too long causes Daniel’s vision to blur and pulse to race, his teeth grind in a truly unnerving manner and eventually, he passes out. Venturing into the light has its own perils, especially if Daniel encounters one of the game’s shambling flesh monstrosities; the mere sight of which causes his sanity to drain until he averts his gaze and the creature shuffles off.
Such encounters are few and far between, and it’s a credit to the game for this.
Other titles rely on jump scares and a regular array of foes to deal with in order to engage with the player. Amnesia gives you the unnerving sounds of what you can only assume are the bellows of gigantic Lovecraftian horrors shambling around above, below, all around you. After hearing one such instance I was terrified to leave the room I just entered for at least five minutes, convinced my doom awaited outside. After I worked up the courage to leave I was dismayed to discover there was nothing there; I just convinced myself there was!
Another celebrated encounter sees you having to contend with a savage invisible creature in a flooded cellar. While you can’t be harmed while you are out of the water, you have to dive into the dark waters in order to progress. Suddenly you are in a foot race for your life trying to find a desk, chair, overturned bookcase, anything which will allow a temporary reprieve from the onslaught. From your temporary safe haven, you can observe the beast’s wake in the water as it follows you round the room. This serves to bind the player and the protagonist together with one common trait; sheer unrelenting terror.
It’s astonishing to learn Amnesia’s developer, Frictional Games had fewer than 10 people working on the game during its development, and crafted their own engine to boot. This is a testament to what a small, focused group of people with a singular clarity of vision can achieve, and as such Amnesia rightfully takes its place as one LFG’s Games of the Generation.
– Doug McCormack. Give him the fear on Twitter @Doug_McCormack