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