Originally published on PlayStation Insider on December 9, 2016. PlayStation Insider is no longer active, so I have republished the review here for myself. If you would like to see the original post, check out the Web Archive.
Horror games seem to be a dime a dozen these days. Games about robot bears and creepy dolls litter digital game shops. Even with PSVR hitting mainstream consumers, horror VR experiences flooded the gate at launch. Back in 2010, a champion among the horror genre stood out within the community: Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
I still remember my first encounter with Amnesia: The Dark Descent back in 2013. A friend of mine bought it for me on Steam for my MacBook Air. I barely made it to the first puzzle before my computer’s fans were whirling like a jet engine. I never touched the game again.
Three years later and I finally could complete what I had attempted with my friend thanks to Frictional Games. The Amnesia Collection includes Amnesia: The Dark Descent, its DLC titled Amnesia: Justine, and its indirect sequel Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. These games have left the PC market and come to PS4 in a bundle. Unfortunately, the jump to console leaves much to be desired in these ports.
As far as horror games go, Amnesia: The Dark Descent nails the sense of dread. Almost always surrounded by darkness, light sources are a scarcity in the game. You have a lamp that contains a limited amount of oil that is used up while the lamp is on. You may also light torches with tinderboxes you find lying around the castle. If you run out of light sources and can’t find anymore, the darkness will start to mess with your character’s head.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent‘s signature insanity mechanic means if you stay in the dark for too long or look directly at monsters your character’s sanity will slowly drain. This causes the screen to go wobbly, which leaves you slow and vulnerable to monsters. To keep your sanity, you must solve puzzles and stay in the light as much as possible. It’s this balancing act that is the core challenge—and charm— of the first game.
Once you grasp this mechanic though, the rest of the game becomes crystal clear and it is not a pretty sight. This version of Amnesia: The Dark Descent is woefully marred with egregious technical hiccups and design choices. Monsters will walk in place or not trigger at all. If you get near an enemy stuck in a loop or near an invisible trigger (which is often where you need to go), the beast will suddenly snap out and attack. If you succumb to a monster, odds are it will simply not be there when you reload the checkpoint. Sometimes your checkpoint will even be ahead of where you were in the area. This sucks all the tension out of encounters.
The game performs as if Frictional Games just right clicked the PC file and chose “Save as .PS4.” The controls are not optimized for a gamepad whatsoever. The only gamepad added feature is rumble, which shakes more than Scooby-Doo in a haunted mansion. There is no option to reduce or shut off rumble.
This is no remaster, but I am disappointed there was no sort of visual polish. Textures are muddled and drab. You’ll be seeing a lot of them too, since you’ll be crouched against the wall in the dark, especially in the latter half of the game. In fact, the game doesn’t even present itself at full resolution. This small black box encompasses the screen at all times. I checked for any options or if it was my television’s aspect ratio settings. Nope. The game just presents itself at a funky ratio.
Amnesia: Justine performs in a similar way to Amnesia: The Dark Descent since they are intertwined. The reuse of assets in Amnesia: Justine is smartly used to create a small plot line. I enjoyed the idea of saving or killing captives throughout different rooms. It’s short and sweet, allowing for more playthroughs and casual attempts.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is an unique Amnesia game since Frictional Games only published the title. The Chinese Room, creators of Dear Esther, developed this indirect sequel. Outside of the name, the two games share little in common. Sanity and item management are totally removed. You find a modern lantern that never runs out of light. Puzzles are reduced to point-and-click roadblocks. No item you need is too far away or puzzle too difficult to solve.
There is also little actual danger. The first couple hours are completely devoid of it. When danger does present itself, all you have to do is put out your lantern, crouch, and walk around the threat. Despite diverging from its roots, I did enjoy Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs more than Amnesia: The Dark Descent because of what I found to be a more intriguing and engaging story.
Released in 2013, A Machine for Pigs does boast sharper and more detailed environments than its predecessor. The game actually is presented at your TV’s full resolution! Unfortunately, this graphical boost may bring out more technical monsters than expected. The game features horrifying frame rates whenever you decide to turn, enter a visually packed room, or run. Basically, anything outside of walking straight forward. It’s truly scarier than all the pig corpses lying around.
All three games do utilize stellar sound design, though. I could be playing in a fully lit room and still feel tension in my gut because of the nail-biting sounds. Whether is was guttural growls, scraping, or heavy footsteps, I found sound to be my anchor in the experience across this collection. Monsters and the worlds came alive through my headphones.
When looking at each Amnesia title, they are truly solid foundations for horror games. It’s not a surprise to see the PC community praise the franchise, but when it comes to this PS4 collection, it’s hard to get sucked in. The real horror is how it made it onto PS4 in such a maimed state. Frictional Games seems to have dragged the corpse of their beloved game series to console and left it to rot. The beating heart of a classic can be heard if you listen close enough. It’s just a shame you have to dig through the corpse to find it at all.