Amnesia: Collection Review

Horror games have risen from their cult-following pasts to their current mainstream domination.  Amnesia: the Collection from Frictional Games is, arguably, one of the most influential games attributed to starting the horror craze within the gaming world. They are stories of betrayal shrouded in mystery as you take on the role of three separate individuals, who have been stricken with amnesia, and they must uncover what has happened and where they are. This review will cover Amnesia’s three games; The Dark Descent, Justine, and A Machine For Pigs.

Story: The Dark Descent

Warning, if you have not yet completed the game this section will include spoilers. Do not click on the spoiler tags unless you want to the story spoiled for you.

Story Contents

The game begins with a man, named Daniel, making his way through a dark castle. He seems to be going in and out of consciousness as he tries to remind himself of important information that he wants to remember such as his name, he’s from London, and that there’s someone he needs to stop.  Eventually, he collapses in a grand hallway within the castle. It is here where he wakes up, sometime later, and where you are able to control his movement.

For the beginning of the game, you’re just wandering aimlessly around the castle. Eventually, you come across pages of Daniel’s journal that have been scattered about the castle. The first entry informs you of part of what you already know, plus that your mission is to kill a man named Alexander, and that something evil is after you. This is confirmed when you try to proceed down a certain path and it is instantly blocked by a red acidic substance that cannot be broken by hand.

The next portion of the game is spent exploring the castle and finding more pages from the journal as you attempt to make your way to the inner sanctum. Along the way, you learn the Baron of the castle is named Alexander, and that at one point Daniel and he were working together to stop the darkness that is chasing after Daniel when he came across an ancient orb in a tomb. While in the cellar, you learn that Alexander had hired some men to kidnap people for him. However, at some point, he trapped them in the cellar after giving them poisoned wine that caused their bodies to horrifically mutate. This introduces the game’s main enemies, the Gatherers.

Daniel is able to produce an acid in the laboratory that is able to eat through the tendrils that blocked his path by recovering more of his memories through the diary pages and a series of flashback conversations in his head. He continues to make his way through the castle while dodging the various Gatherers that appear, seemingly, every time he makes progress. He also learns that the orb he found marked him for death by an entity known only as the Shadow. It’s closing in and that’s why he can’t allow his sanity to slip, otherwise, it will kill him as it has the rest of his colleagues.

Eventually, he remembers that Alexander convinced him that they needed to torture prisoners in order to receive vitae, a component that is produced in living creatures’ blood when they are under duress. Daniel is hesitant at first, but he eventually goes along with it because he trusts Alexander who has already demonstrated to have magical knowledge.

Eventually, he comes across a man chained up in the dungeon named Agrippa. He looks less like a man, and more like a monster, but he’s the first person who seems friendly towards Daniel. He tells him that Alexander was once his student, along with another man named Johann Weyer who was able to use the orb to cross dimensions. At some point, Alexander turned on Agrippa and locked him down there so that he could also use Daniel’s orb to cross dimensions as well. He also tells Daniel that in order to enter the sanctum, Daniel will need another orb and, luckily for him, there is a broken one scattered across the castle that once belonged to Agrippa. He just needs to collect the six pieces first, and Agrippa also asks Daniel to help him find a way to free himself if he has some time to spare.

Daniel makes his way to two more parts of the castle that contain the six pieces of the orb as well as ingredients to make a tonic that will help Agrippa. He encounters more Gatherers, this time with bladed arms that can kill him in one slice. He also learns that Alexander began bringing in innocent people to complete the ritual as he began to try less and less to disguise them as criminals. Once Daniel finds all the pieces and creates the tonic to free Agrippa, he gets ambushed by a bunch of Gatherers who are being controlled by Alexander. He passes out and experiences a memory where he has to go into the village to kill innocent villagers, including kids, to complete the ritual. At this point, we see that Daniel has begun muttering to himself, almost in hysterics.

He awakens in a cell where he is able to escape. However, once he tries to leave the prison yard, the shadow suddenly manifests and chases him down. He narrowly escapes back into the castle that has been almost completely covered in the shadow’s tendrils. Once he returns to Agrippa with the tonic, Agrippa asks him to use the tonic on him and then use the hacksaw to remove his head. He begs him to throw his head into the portal in order to prevent Alexander from entering it.

Daniel is able to find an altar where he combines the orb fragments and tar to fuse it back together. This breaks down the barrier over the sanctum, and the story as to why Daniel lost his memories is fully revealed. Under the guise of helping Daniel, Alexander had him kill people in order to complete the ritual necessary to open the portal. Driven mad with guilt, Daniel decided to take the amnesia potion to wipe out his memories so he could kill Alexander without all of the burdens he was carrying around on his shoulders about what he had done. In the end, you have three possible choices to make:

A.) Considered the bad ending, you can do absolutely nothing and allow Alexander to enter the portal. The Shadow finally catches up to Daniel and kills him while Alexander thanks him for his sacrifice.

B.) Considered the neutral ending, you can knock over the pillars to disrupt the ritual. This kills Alexander and Daniel limps out of the castle with the satisfaction of knowing that he was able to get revenge.

C.) Considered the good ending, you can place Agrippa’s head into the portal causing it to shut. Alexander curses Daniel for dooming them both as the shadow catches up to you and you both die.

Regardless of your choice, this is the end of the journey. Personally, I felt like the right thing to do was go with the good ending since it made the most sense. Although Daniel was tricked into carrying out atrocities, he still decided to torture and kill people in order to try to save his own life. He still committed horrible acts that made any life he lived tainted with those people’s blood. 

The majority of the story is told through the pages of Daniel’s journal, notes left by other people, certain items that hold significance to the memory of the people who encountered them, or through flashbacks Daniel experiences while remembering his time in the castle.

I’m not a particular fan of this sort of storytelling. I’ve been more of a “show me” instead of a “tell me” type of person, so trying to get the full story through reading the notes and journals took away from the experience, in my opinion. However, if this is something you don’t personally have a problem with then it’s not something that will take away from the story for you.

Story: Justine

As with the Dark Descent, please do not click on the spoiler tag if you do not wish the story to be ruined for you.

Story Contents

As with the main story, you take on the role of someone who wakes up with amnesia. Except, this time, it is a woman in a prison cell. As she makes her way through the dungeon she finds phonograms with pre-recorded messages from a woman who taunts her along the way. Also, like the first one, she experiences what’s transpired via notes left throughout the game.

As she proceeds onward, she finds out that there was a girl named Justine who was a highly sought after aristocrat. At a young age, her father had tests done on her for one reason or another. It is theorized that she showed signs of being mentally unstable as a young child. This is confirmed when she eventually kills her father, which is possibly what started her downward spiral into performing other tests on people.

You also come across a letter from Daniel, the protagonist from the main storyline. Somehow, Justine knew Herbert, a professor who worked with Daniel at the tomb. This is the only connection to the main story, and everything else seems to exist on its own. We eventually learn that we are playing as Justine and that there are other prisoners here that we can either “rescue” or kill/leave to die. She is also being stalked by three monsters that seem to be separate from the Gatherers and something entirely different. They are later revealed to be her three suitors that she drove insane.

Eventually, it is revealed that Justine decided to carry out a test on herself. We learn this at the end of the experiment when Justine slowly begins to gain back her memories. She decided to take some sort of drug to cause her to develop amnesia as a way to test what she would do in the situation she placed herself in. This is mostly left up to the player, depending on what choices they made. If you saved all of the men, then they all speak to you in the end. I didn’t ignore them, so I’m not exactly sure what happens if you don’t save them. I assume they won’t be present since they’ll be dead.

Regardless of what path you choose, Justine returns back to her quarters through a secret passage. She seems satisfied with the outcome of the test and is seemingly keeping it a secret from whoever owns the castle. 

Like the main campaign, the story in Justine is told entirely from notes. Therefore, if you didn’t like the storytelling process in the Dark Descent then you probably won’t like the one in the DLC. However, the way the story is told leaves a lot unclear. It seemingly wants the audience to fill in the blanks themselves, which can be great for those who enjoy that level of immersion but bad for those who want point-blank answers presented to them.

What I really enjoyed about the story is that is completely different from the main campaign. It exists entirely on its own, and it has its own reason why the main character is suffering from amnesia. It was more realistically based and seemed like something that could actually happen, which made it creepier to me.

Story: A Machine For Pigs

As with the last two games, this section will contain spoilers for the last included game in the collection, A Machine For Pigs. If you do not wish to have the story’s plot ruined for you, please do not click on the spoiler tags below.

Story Contents

The story begins, as with the other games, with you controlling a man who has (you guessed it) amnesia. It is New Year’s Eve 1899 in London, 60 years after the events of the first game. As he explores the mansion he begins to realize that he is the owner, Oswald Mandus. Ghostly figures call out to him as he slowly realizes that these are his children. Eventually, a phone call from a man known as the engineer notifies him that the children are trapped deep beneath him and that the only way to save them is to drain the floodwaters and restart the machine underneath the nearby factory.

As Oswald makes his way to the factory, he hears growls of monsters in pursuit of him. He manages to make it through the factory and into the nearby church where he encounters a monstrous Pigman skulking around the basement. Through there, he enters the sewers (where he finds the Pigmen’s nest) and eventually is able to make his way to the depths through a series of tunnels and elevators until he reaches a giant machine. He restarts it, with the pigman close behind and that’s when he realizes that the engineer tricked him into restarting the machine and releasing all of the Pigmen.

Oswald returns to the surface where the Pigmen are running amok and taking people back down into the sewers. He gains his memories back and remembers this was all of his doing. He had been looking for a stone in an Aztec temple in Mexico after hearing about what happened in the first game with Daniel and Alexander. It’s not completely clear, but it’s implied that Oswald is related to Daniel. He finally found one with his twin boys and when he touched it, the orb revealed the future to him. This included events like the two world wars, in which his sons would die serving as soldiers in the first one. Not wanting them to suffer, he sacrificed them on the steps of the temple and brought their skulls back with him to London.

He completely changed from a respected aristocrat to a deranged mad-man. His work began on the giant machine below that would feed blood to a temple he built. In his mind, in order to prevent the oncoming events, he would have to sacrifice people to the temple. He used the vitae recipe and the carcasses of gatherers brought over from Castle Brennenburg to create the Pigmen as his servants who would collect the homeless and feed them to the machine. His friends and the government became suspicious of his actions, so they sent Professor A. to spy on him. Oswald knew of this and tricked him into going down to the machine before sacrificing him as well. Eventually, for some reason, his personality split in two and his new blood-hungry persona entered the machine to become the engineer. This brought back Oswald’s innocent self who tried to sabotage the machine to prevent the coming onslaught. However, he had contracted an illness while in Mexico which caused him to pass out from a fever and gave him temporary amnesia.

With his mission once again clear, he sets back out to finish what he had started. Diving deep into the depths of the city, he reaches the machine that is begging him to allow it to finish its goal of feeding people to the temple. Oswald reaches the temple, sits upon a throne surrounding by mechanical arms, and sets off the device which seemingly impales him. He notes that he can hear the Pigmen cry out in the city above followed by a sudden silence. He begs for his children’s forgiveness as he seemingly dies.

Out of the three stories, this one was probably the bleakest. Unlike the other two games, this one has a very linear path to follow with only one possible ending to unlock.

Characters: The Dark Descent

This is partly where Amnesia: Dark Descent fell short a bit. Throughout the game, you only come face to face with two characters, aside from Daniel himself.  We never actually get to see Daniel but this could be the developers attempting to utilize RPG elements in the game, and they want the player to actually feel like they are Daniel. That’s typically why most first-person perspective games choose to present the game in that perspective, to begin with. Regardless, these are the characters in the Dark Descent:

Note: This image was taken from the fandom Wiki. It is unknown if this is actually what Daniel looks like.

Daniel: The protagonist whose perspective the story is presented from. We know he is from London, and that he’s lost his memory. He has a purpose, and that is to stop whoever Alexander is.

Alexander: The Baron of Brennenburg Castle. At first, he’s presented as Daniel’s ally, but as the story progresses we learn why Daniel is trying to stop him.

Taken from Wikipedia.

Agrippa: Alexander’s former mentor and someone who helps Daniel along the way. I can’t say much more about him without giving away spoilers. He’s actually based on a real-life historical figure.

Aside from these three characters, we never come across anyone else. The only other beings in the game are the gatherers, that come in two different varieties, and water monsters.

Grunts – These are the enemies that you will encounter the most. They can’t be killed, but they can be stalled very temporarily with throwable items. If you are spotted then you have to run out of eyesight and hide.

Brutes – These are faster and much deadlier than the grunts. They have bladed arms and can kill you in one hit. Fortunately, you only come across two throughout your journey.

Water Monsters – These are invisible monsters that will pursue you in water areas of the map. They’re harder to avoid when surrounded by water, and they can only be distracted but will pursue you the moment you hit the water.

Personally, I felt like this is where this game shined! The monsters’ designs are original and gruesome. I was absolutely terrified every time I came across them, and it was difficult for me to obtain pictures of them because if you’re close enough to see them it’s ultimately too late to run.

Characters: Justine

Unlike the main game, there are actually six characters in total that we see (one heard, but not seen) throughout the story in Justine.

SPOILER

Justine – An aristocrat that was experimented on as a child. She suffers from some form of mental disorder that’s caused her to play out these tests on herself and the men around her.

The prisoners – There are three male prisoners that are at your mercy. Each one’s fate gets decided by your actions.

  • Inspector Felix Marot – He was tasked, in a letter, to find a way to institutionalize Justine by the father of Aloïs, who is one of her suitors. He is shackled, half-submerged in water.
  • Dr. Victor Fournier – Aloïs’s father, in the same letter as above, suggested that Felix work with Dr. Fournier in order to institutionalize Justine. He is the first prisoner you encounter in the cells.
  • Father Hector David – He is behind a wall in some sort of torture contraption. It is not known what his connection is to Justine, or why he is imprisoned.

All three men, aside from Hector, had some sort of connection to Justine. This hints as to why they were probably imprisoned.

There are also three deranged monsters who all turn out to be former suitors of Justine, as well as part of her experiment. They all look exactly the same, and they’re completely blind.

  • Aloïs Racine – His parents are the ones who tried to have Justine diagnosed with hysteria in an attempt to have her committed. He was obsessed with Justine to the point that he cut himself to prove his love to her. He is the first monster we encounter, but the easiest to avoid. However, it is also easy to accidentally run into him since he can reappear in the location you first saw him under certain conditions.
  • Basile Giroux – He is heard in a recording being tortured by Justine after being drugged by her. When you encounter him he is easy to slip by, but he will automatically chase you once you get close to the door.
  • Malo de Vigny – Malo was a famous violinist that humiliated himself by performing drunk in front of an audience. He is encountered in the water area and is hard to avoid since he can hear you wherever you go.

I didn’t feel as threatened by these monsters as I did by the gatherers. Mostly, because they were all pretty easy to get by, aside from Malo. In fact, you really don’t interact with Aloïs as you can just hide in the cell until he’s completely passed by. What does make them a bit scarier is that they do not despawn, unlike the gatherers that will despawn after time has passed.

Characters: A Machine For Pigs

Out of all three of the games, this one had the least amount of characters in it.

Oswald – Entrepreneur, aristocrat, and factory owner. He is also the main protagonist of the game. As with the other two protagonists, he has amnesia and cannot remember where he is or what’s happened.

SPOILER

Enoch and Edwin Mandus – Oswald’s sons who have gone missing. He spots them running through passageways on his journey, but according to the engineer they are trapped below.

Aside from them, we only hear and never actually see the engineer who calls Oswald from time to time.

Pigmen – These are the main enemies of the game that stalk the areas Oswald is exploring. There are actually very few of them encountered in the game, and they are pretty easily avoided by just running past them.

Tesla Pigmen – These Pigmen blink in and out of our reality. There’s only two of them encountered in the game, and they’re honestly the only challenging enemies. Since they’re able to turn invisible, it’s hard to track their movements and you can’t hide from them. However, they do blink back and forth into your line of sight which makes it easier to maneuver around them.

Like in the first game, there are invisible water monsters as well. They function the same way, and they’re only encountered once in the sewers.

Gameplay

What you can and cannot do in both Amnesia games is pretty straight-forward and simple. As such, I will not create a separate category for each.

First and foremost, there is absolutely no combat in any of the games.  Your main goal, when encountering danger, is to hide immediately. This mostly consists of running to an empty room with a door and ducking down into the corner. You can usually tell when a monster is close because you can hear them growl or scary music will start playing. Take this as a cue to find somewhere safe and sit tight for them to leave. In the main game, the gatherers’ appearance is seemingly random and they despawn after a while. However, in Justine, the suitors are not as manageable so it’s best to just get around them as quickly as possible and don’t look back! In A Machine For Pigs, the Pigmen’s appearance all seem to be predetermined, like the suitors, and they don’t despawn until you, presumably, pass their area. You also have the ability to crouch and peek around corners, which can be the difference between life and death!

You can also pick up smaller objects like chairs, books, and boxes. Most of these items are inconsequential, but sometimes they are necessary to reach objects that are high up or they can even be thrown at enemies to stun them for a very brief moment. Items that are of importance are usually highlighted with a purple hue, and they will be added to your inventory when you grab them. This includes health potions, tinderboxes for lighting candles and such, and puzzle items that can be combined to proceed further. In the new hard mode, included in the complete bundle, tinderboxes are greatly reduced and you must use them in order to save your game. This mostly pertains to the first game as Justine doesn’t have anything aside from tinderboxes and health potions with one or two puzzle items. In A Machine For Pigs, the item menu is taken out completely which means you cannot take items along with you and tinderboxes are removed completely. You still get your trusty lantern, but lantern oil is no longer necessary as it runs infinitely.

Going back to hiding, the darkness can be an easy escape as the gatherers can’t see you in the dark unless you’re close to them. However, staying in the darkness drains your sanity in both games, and the lower it gets the more dangerous things become. In the main game, this is because the Shadow is chasing after you, but in the DLC it’s not explained why the darkness affects you. It also makes the gatherers able to spot you easier the lower your sanity gets, and if it drains completely you’ll die in the new hard mode. Not to mention, once it is low you will start hallucinating monsters, so it ups the scare factor up greatly. Just turn on your lantern in the main game or use a tinderbox to light a candle.

This is all completely missing from A Machine For Pigs since you don’t have a sanity meter, health meter, and staying in the darkness does nothing to you. You don’t go insane from looking at the Pigmen, and the only hallucinations are story based. This largely makes the game little more than an interactive “experience,” which was pretty disappointing after playing  the first two games.

There are quite a few puzzles, as mentioned earlier, that are used to progress the game further. These are a fun little break from all of the horror, but they’re not so hard that you’ll spend hours trying to figure them out. As long as you pay attention to the journals and notes they are simple enough to work out. This aspect of the games reminded me a lot of Resident Evil, but what I enjoyed here is that you didn’t have to run all over the house trying to get what you needed to move forward. Everything needed was usually within decent walking distance from the puzzle itself. This was super comforting since going back meant potentially running into monsters or running out of lantern oil and tinderboxes prematurely. Again, this was not a worry I had while playing the final game as these features were missing completely.

Soundtrack

The soundtrack for the main game and the DLC seemed to be the same. I really enjoyed the majority of the soundtrack as it really added to the atmosphere.

Sometimes there was a dark sadness about it, but most of the time it kept me on edge. I didn’t know if the growling or footsteps was part of the ambient sounds or if there was a monster close by. Plus, when the monsters charge the music instantly picks up and creates a panic within you like no other. It reminded me of the Witch in Left 4 Dead 2 when any time you heard her song you freaked out because somebody aggroed her!

I have to admit, I was worried while listening to the soundtrack for A Machine For Pigs. The intro song, New Year’s Eve, is REALLY overzealous. It’s trying to do too much and just comes off as noisy. Fortunately, the rest of the soundtrack was milder and worked really well with the atmosphere of the game. It had a lot of mechanical and machine influences about it, which makes sense given the story of the game.

Graphics

In all fairness, the Amnesia games are eight years old (AMFP being five years old). Therefore, the graphics aren’t at the same level as more modern games of recent years. However, I still think the graphics hold up today. Although most of the castle is shrouded in darkness, it really makes the lit areas pop out beautifully. Especially, in the safe area earlier in the game.

The Gothic architecture really adds to the creepy feel of the castle, and the artwork is fascinatingly bizarre. However, I do have one really fair complaint about the visuals in the game, and that’s with the developer’s obsession with male nudity.

I blurred out the dongs but, trust me, they’re there in-game.

In The Dark Descent, there are many nude male bodies strewn about that have their genitals on full display. When you encounter Alexander he’s nude with his genitals flopping about. Even in Justine, one of the paintings has a man spread out for the world to see. It was actually so gratuitous, that as I played through A Machine For Pigs I thought I was in the clear until I saw a naked man laying on the floor in the middle of the street. I don’t mind nudity when it serves a purpose, but I don’t think it does here. In fact, it comes off more as comedic and completely took me out of the game because I just laughed at how absurd it was. Maybe they were trying to go for shock factor, but I feel like they missed the mark!

Judgment

All in all, I feel like Amnesia is a solid horror game. I can see why it skyrocketed in popularity with let’s-players and how it has influenced horror games after it. The road was paved by the developers for horror games to enter the mainstream market. Sure, it has its short-comings. It even has quite a few bugs, which was a little disappointing considering that after eight years the developers should have fixed them by now. In fact, while playing both The Dark Descent and A Machine For Pigs I encountered similar frustrating bugs. In the first game, I fell through floor while hiding in a cell from a gatherer, and I fell down into oblivion for quite some time until I finally died. In the third game, I bled through a wall which put me outside the bounds of the game. The only way for me to get back in was to jump off the side and allow myself to, once again, fall to my death. It’s very frustrating to encounter and quite a bit unforgivable considering how old the games are. It’s something the developers should have addressed in the ported versions.

This is me falling into oblivion when I squatted in a room to hide from a monster.

Sometimes the story can be difficult to follow and a little long-winded, and the voice acting isn’t the greatest. Sadly, A Machine For Pigs was nowhere near as engaging or terrifying as the first two games. This could be because the development for the sequel was handled by The Chinese Room rather than by the original team. It just felt completely gutted, too easy, and it was very short since it only took me 3 hours to complete. However, it achieved the very purpose I believe the developers set out to accomplish, and that’s to scare the living daylights out of me.

You can purchase Amnesia: the Collection now on Xbox One

Good

  • Very Scary
  • Intense Gameplay
  • Fun Puzzles

Bad

  • Gratuitous Senseless Nudity
  • Frustrating Bugs
  • Hard to Follow Story
7.6

Good

Story - 8.5
Characters - 6.5
Gameplay - 7.5
Game Mechanics - 7
Soundtrack - 9
Graphics - 7
A writer, video game enthusiast, Halloween nerd, and an author of stories.
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