The beginning of the “Let’s Play” phenomenon on YouTube, in which the audience gets to watch somebody else play through an entire video game, is very tightly connected to the release of the genre-bending horror video game “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” in 2010. That particular game, developed by the independent studio Frictional Games, was revolutionary in its depiction of the survival horror video game genre, and it is one of the biggest reasons why that genre looks like it does today.
Since then, there has only been two other games of the same genre. Frictional Games published “Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs” in 2013, which was originally developed by The China Room and not directly connected to the original “Amnesia.” Additionally, “SOMA,” an incredible standalone Sci-Fi horror, was a Frictional Games 2015 release, however, it never directly continued the story “Amnesia.”
Now, Frictional Games developed and published “Amnesia: Rebirth” on Oct. 20. “Rebirth” is supposed to be a direct sequel to the original, even though it takes place years later and follows a completely different protagonist. Instead of a gothic castle, the players now find themselves traveling across a desert in colonial Africa, all the while controlling a pregnant woman named Tasi.
Tasi has amnesia, of course, and is unable to remember what happened to her crew after their plane crashed. Through her exploration of the world and her memories, players and Tasi will be able to find out what actually happened and why she is pregnant in the first place.
The game controls almost identically as the original, which is a plus, because the players have a lot of freedom in solving puzzles and discovering hidden parts of the narrative. The story is more developed than the original, and it subtly builds on the lore established in the first installment. This is sadly where the positives end.
The graphics are nothing to write home about, and the horror elements are mostly amateurish attempts at best. The first game gave birth to many copycats, such as “Alien: Isolation” and the “Outlast” series, all of which improved upon the formula and created a better horror atmosphere than “Amnesia: Rebirth.”
The biggest draw of the original was the paranoia of never knowing when the monster that was hunting the player in the castle was going to appear next. Would it be while solving a puzzle, or reading a note or refilling the lantern? The player never knew, and that made the whole experience horrifying at all times.
The new game has such an obvious distinction between its puzzle segments and its horror segments, which is an unforgivable fault. The player will feel very relaxed at the puzzle moments of gameplay, knowing that the only time they will be hunted or in danger is when the game very clearly lets them know that a monster is coming.
One of the core gameplay mechanics is the fear element, which makes Tasi and the player go insane if they spend too much time looking at monsters or dead bodies. That was arguably the best mechanic in the original, but this sequel manages to somehow make that worse as well. Any time Tasi’s fear reaches too high of a level, scary flashes start appearing on the screen, resembling the worst kind of jump scares. It is mind-boggling to me why the developers of a game that had minimal jump scares would now decide to have them be a constant.
Even though the horror element is of questionable quality, there are a few instances where it works masterfully; that along with the engaging narrative of “Amnesia: Rebirth” manages to pull it out of mediocrity.