Written by sPINDRAFT 8/27/2013
In ‘The Dark Descent’ there is a quiet feeling of detachment as if Daniel has already passed through the portal to the alternate universe discovered by Johann Weyer who had mastered the possibilities of the orbs. It may be that you are experiencing the re-visiting of Brennenburg Castle in real time as the protaganist but the gist of your presence here definetly feels belated. This would seem to be further supported by the fact that all of the notes and diary entries appear to have been pre-placed not only to serve as a tool to relay the story to the player but as a road map or guide to the protaganist in his quest to kill the Baron Alexander. It is also interesting that two of the main characters in game, Johann Weyer (Dutch) and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (German) are based on real life characters that lived in the 16th century, both with backgrounds in the occult, while the game takes place in the 19th century and the Baron himself is actually an entity of numerous years parading as the Prussian Baron Alexander in the current year though in actual game time it is evident that the Baron has moved on to some sort of limbo. You are Daniel, ensconced in a self imposed Amnesia, come back to the castle to set your sinful part in the Baron’s scheme in proper order and although the diary pages are all circa 19th century there is really no concrete scope given as to the actual time of your current visit; not that I can discern anyway.
The game is beautifully designed and rendered as the interior of the Brennenburg Castle whose locations is said to be inspired by the German state of Brandenburg though no reference has been found to any actual castle that might have inspired its interior save that of typical design traits of Teutonic Knights from medieval times. The castle itself is huge and you actually begin to feel trapped within its walls, more than once I found myself hoping for a sojourn outside of its dark halls (even if only for a moment) but your sanity will not be healed so readily; in fact there were only two moments I can recall in the entire game where you are actually outside the castle walls at all.
In the first instance you will feel no safer than when you were inside as you are literally trapped on a series of ledges high on the castle wall with a murky view of the tree tops far below. In the second instance your not outside the castle at all but in a sort of bottomless courtyard with a covered pier in the center connected by four stone bridges. The setting, although disconcerting and creepy, did not really instill any lasting fear, it mostly caused a sense of claustrophobia that leaves you with a feeling of hoplessness; like you will never see the light of day again.
The story is in depth, presented through a series of notes detailing the events of Daniel’s life, his ultimate involvemnet with the Baron Alexander and various other details and snippets concerning this dark union. There is also Daniel’s diary which details his activities at the castle during his original visit (prior to game time) as well as various moments of telepathic type communication from the Baron himself. Cut scenes as you move between areas in the castle provide additional material on the games overall story. In short; Daniel, you, had been digging around an archelogical site in Algiers when he discovers an orb. Upon handling the new find it gets broken and after Daniel returns to London strange occurences and deaths begin to plague the world closest to him. In his effort to get to the bottom of this unsettling business he comes into contact with the Baron Alexander who invites Daniel to the Castle Brennenburg under the premise that he can destroy the evil shadow that is haunting him. Daniel gladly accepts fearing that there is no other alternative and the Baron’s deceptions are put into full force. The story of what happens from here to the time you visit the castle in game can be learned by reading the material you find during your time spent there.
A very cool part of the Amnesia story is its ties to history, though not as complete as they could be, its association to historical figures and places is quite interesting. Aside from the appreciation shown of the characters Weyer and Agrippa to real life occult figures from the 16th century there is also Wilhelm who in game served as Alexander’s secret lawman, though lawman is a far stretch from what his actual duties entailed; it seems he was in charge of rounding up locals on trumped up charges and imprisoning them in the castle for the Baron’s torturous experiments. His real life counterpart was the disposed Prussian Emporer Wilhelm II who was a keeper of the Order of the Black Eagle which was founded in 1701 by Friedrich III of Brandenburg (also the name of the baron’s castle) of which Alexander is considered the founding member within the game. Even the location of the castle is detailed as that of Prussian background being situated nearby to Altstadt and Konigsburg, the latter of which has a strong Teutonic presence dating back to at least the 13th century and home of the Konigsburg Castle which could possibly be the inspiration for the Brenneburg castle in ‘The Dark Descent’. Daniel has no historical ties that can be readily discerned, he is the completely fictional character well written and placed as the vessel in which you the player get to experience the very dark paths walked within these castle walls. In other words you have been used for devious ends by evil people with sinister intentions and now you want to set the scales of justice straight.
This game is quite simply put “bad ass” but I do have more to say in regards to its reign as the scariest game ever made. Frictional has employed many of the same techniques in the base game play that we saw in the ‘Penumbra’ series such as opening and closing every drawer and closet you come across, being able to pick up random items and toss them around (this is quite fun, loved this in all the games), solving logic problems and puzzles and staying away from the bad guys because you don’t have any real way to defend yourself and you can’t kill them anyway. I kept waiting for a stronger presence from the games main enemies The Gatherers of which there are two variations – Brutes and Grunts – although they patrol various portions of the castle I rarely saw either and if I did it was basically instant death. Gatherers really caused no great sense of fear for me as you could damn near hide from them in the middle of a room as long as there was no light in the room. There is also a water creature called a Kaernk, this animal is invisible to the naked eye and attacks any time you enter a chamber or hall filled with water but you quickly loose the fear factor here as well as you learn to play cat and mouse with this water demon, making these encounters more a challenge to be relished than shyed away from. The one truly scary factor to ‘The Dark Descent’ is The Shadow, the spirit or wraith or whatever the hell it is that is charged with protecting the orbs from any sort of abuse at all costs and it does not spend any time at all worrying over things like collateral damage, political correctness or whether you are directly guilty or not; it simply eliminates all threats to the orb and anything that was close to that threat. This is what makes ‘Amnesia: The Dark Descent’ so scary, not the enemies, not the creepy castle nor any part of the written story; it is the feeling of being hunted, trapped in a never ending building of stone walls full of an evil presence born from its dark history and knowing you cannot slow down, you can’t stop for a second because if you do the castle will win.
Yes ‘The Dark Descent’ is a great horror game, well written and wonderfully displayed on screen. It has its share of scare and genuine creepiness but I am not sure what qualifies it as the scariest game ever made, I suppose that this is the general consensus but in all honesty I was given more to the games puzzling aspects and problem solving requirements than to be completely scared most of the time. I enjoyed the game of playing cat and mouse with the shadows but I was almost always able to keep enough light going to keep my sanity healthy and the foreboding darkness at bay. In fact the puzzle that is the game itself is so in depth and thouroughly captured that I had to seek help on several occasions which in my book gains every bit as much respect as any deep pit of horror you can dream up. When these two situations are expertly blended as they are in ‘The Dark Descent’ the gaming experience cannot possibly get much better. The scariest ever, I will let others decide this, one of the best ever – Absolutely!!
HAG Score – 8.8
©2013 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED by Albert Minugh aka sPINDRAFT