Title: Amnesia: Collection
Developer: Frictional Games (The Chinese Room for A Machine for Pigs)
Publisher: Frictional Games
Genre: Adventure, Horror, Suspense
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 12/09/19
Price: £25.20 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
What is horror?
Horror is not just blood and guts. It’s more than just gore and senseless violence. The torture porn that is most modern horror in all mediums is a pale comparison to what the genre truly was and shall one day again be.
True horror is about fear, and it is about instilling a feeling of anxiety and unease. It is about taking one away from where they are and spiriting them into a world where every move, every breath brings ushers, terror, a little closer.
It is the anticipation of blood and gore that makes good horror so terrifying, the same way our minds give us a concept of pain that often far outweighs the reality.
Good horror takes the mind and twists it into a knot and leaves you shaken, sticking with you after the moment is over. Why is it that nightmares always seem to linger so much longer than the sweetest of dreams? Because horror changes you.
Horror is the Amnesia: Collection. Keep reading this (not so) Rapid Review to find out more.
Dissecting a Collection
With this being a collection of games, and individual ones at that, with only the barest of threads connecting them, I spent a good portion of time wondering how to go about this review.
In the end I decided that a mixed approach would be best served, as while in terms of story and character they are different, at their core they share many similarities and to review each individually would either descend into monotonous repetition or I would end up doing an injustice to one or more titles having already used up all the plausible superlatives on the earlier game(s).
The games in this collection are:
- Amnesia: The Dark Descent
- Amnesia: Justine
- Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
The first and third games run an excellent 8-10 hours each depending on a combination of gaming ability, luck, and nerve), while Justine, which was a DLC for Dark Descent runs anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, and is, in my mind, more of a death run than a real game. That does make it a vital part of the collection, however, as it acts as a sort of mental palate cleanser before you dive back into the complex nightmare of a second full game.
The Look of Terror
The Dark Descent was initially launched on PCs in 2010, making the game close to a decade old. Yet, visually, it still holds up very well. More about the gameplay a little later, but it is important to understand now that almost everything here takes part either in a dingy castle or in dark early twentieth-century London streets. It is a game that is dark and meant to be played as such.
Yes, the light of hearing can turn the gamma right up, but ultimately, that serves against you, for several reasons.
The graphics have what could only be a deliberately grainy feel to them, which matches the environment and the story.
The castle world that makes up the entire first game, as well as Justine, has a grand feel to it, not just from the towering ceilings and the large open rooms to the sheer number of meandering corridors, twisting dungeons and multitudinous cells buried therein.
Every room carries with it a weighty sense of foreboding. The use of both light and shadows is part of what makes this collection such a superb example of horror. While the subtle movements in the character’s peripheral vision crank up the tension from the very first scene, the first-person perspective makes everything seem that much tighter. Despite the size of the rooms and space you have to explore, there is something claustrophobic in the air, with you never wanting to move too far beyond the safe place you have found.
From the Castle into the City
For the third game in the collection, A Machine for Pigs, you say goodbye to the castle and jump forward a few hundred years to the dawn of the twentieth century. This game was released to PC in 2013, and the advancements in gaming graphics were visible.
That is not a slight on the look and feel of the first two games, but rather, the Developers had the tools to play with an even grander setting — London itself.
While the majority of the game takes place in a large townhouse or exploring the cavernous labyrinth of tunnels that house the titular machine, there are sections where you must traverse the London streets, and once again the feel of size and the details of the world around you only serve to suck you deeper into the terror of the game.
Audio Signals Are the Difference Between Life and Death
There is no real score for the game. There are long periods – depending to some extent on your playstyle – where the soundtrack is a blissfully suffocating nothing. A deafening silence that lures you into its embrace only to dump you into an icy pool of terror as something, somewhere, growls or groans. It may only be the creaking of an ageing structure, but it could just as easily be the sound of death sharpening its scythe in anticipation of your meeting.
The importance of audio clues is one of the things that connects all three games, and while A Machine for Pigs presents a different challenge, removing the audio would still render it a mostly impossible experience.
The sound of your own terror as your sanity drains, the scratching of claws or the snarling of mutated men and women – another commonality at its core – all aid you on your exploration. But hearing is one thing. Interpreting them is another, for some instances will call for you to follow the sounds, leading you down a staircase of madness, to stand and stare into the eye of the abyss. Not forgetting one moment towards the end of the game where you are trapped, and only after my late-night shriek of despair rang through the house did I realise it was an intentional capture. Unavoidable yet still terrifying.
Both Justine and A Machine for Pigs made use of voice recordings as a vessel for storytelling, adding to both the general lore of setting as well as the character’s motivations. This was a nice touch, especially as the voice acting was top-notch through all three games.
The weakest voice was that of the antagonist in Justine. I found her voice and the way she delivered the lines came across as a little too forced. The dialogue was very good, it was on point with the theme and with the time periods, and showed a vast range of vocabulary, and while I understand that Justine was charming and sweet on the surface but bitter and twisted deep down, I felt her vocals did too little to hide the sinister side and giving her a generally too disingenuous tone. It was only marginal, and maybe nit-picking, but it was one of the few flaws I found in the series.
It also happens that I think Justine is the weakest offering from the collection, and in itself a bit of a strange experience.
An Experience in Terror Unlike No Other
I know that the before Amnesia there was Penumbra, a series I have never played, and after it came SOMA, a game-high up on my to-play pile for the PS4, so heading into the collection – which I also own on the PS4 but never got the time to play – I knew that we were dealing with a company that knew their stuff and understood the concepts of horror.
As I mentioned the first-person perspective was a great choice and is my personal favourite for this type of game. We saw it and felt it in the RESII remake a few years ago. That reduction in vision compared to the over the third-person shoulder technique helps drag you kicking and screaming into the heart of the action.
While the base controls remained the same across all three instalments, some changes will need to be mentioned.
Don’t Lose Your Mind
In the Dark Descent, I was immediately in love with the sanity mechanic. Having played through Shadows Perfidia earlier this year, I understood the base concept, but it was a masterstroke seeing it employed and woven into a game with as much depth and story as Amnesia.
The game is one that while linear for the most part, rewards exploration with numerous items, including notes that add insane amounts to detail to the story – oh the story of these games is first-rate in itself – but also with tinderboxes and laudanum, an olde-world medkit.
The heavy darkness of the castle is a constant battle and consideration you must carry, deciding when to use your lantern, the oil for which is remarkably sparse, if you are a wasteful gamer, or to use a tinderbox and lit a candle as you make your way through the rooms. Run out of tinder or oil, and you face the dizzyingly fast approach of insanity, and its vision altering impact, leaving you lost to stumble around the castle like the poor fool who broke his glasses at the start of The Mummy (the Brendon Fraser remake). Yet, there were plenty of times when you needed the darkness to avoid the mutant beings that were on guard or hunting through castles dungeons.
A Puzzle Within a Puzzle Within a Maze
The constant decision making was a puzzle in itself. Something to be thought about constantly even while you were busy solving the grander puzzles that stood in your way.
While puzzles were a constant through the series, it was Dark Descent that had the most brain teases, while both Justine and Machine for Pigs seemed to offer a slightly less intense experience, relying more on environmental interaction than anything more brain teasing.
This is also where exploration was encouraged, for the notes and mementoes found lying around the various levels would offer you cryptic clues that would help solve specific puzzles. Some of which were incredibly hard and needed a lot of patience to find. There were a few, especially in the machine room where I was pulling my hair out, running around like a madman before the penny finally dropped. Often with a rush of embarrassment as I realised I had been overthinking it. The mixture of interaction, logical thinking puzzles, and unpredictable difficulties were all combined to keep you on your toes.
Justine Offered a Lot and Left a Lot to be Found
As I said, there were subtle differences in the controls that created a vastly different atmosphere in the later instalments. Justine was more an exercise in endurance.
It is a short experience, but one that offered no saves, and one hit hills throughout. It took me four or five attempts to get it, but I have a suspicion I got lucky on one puzzle where I stumbled into the solution before I realised I was even looking for it.
While Justine is a short experience, it delivers the terror in a similar way to Dark Descent only the entire thing is, a chase. The developers did well to put a story around it, but I can’t help but think the story was more significant than the room they gave it to grow in. Like a wild animal trapped in captivity, the game teased and taunted a majesty yet; it did not have the space it needed to thrive truly.
Depth of story is one of the highlights of this series, and I can’t help but feel there is a lot more to Justine than we ever saw. I would relish the chance to revisit that world in a more extended tale so that we can truly understand the motivations behind her actions.
Check out my full playthrough of Justine below. I used an Elgato HD60S to capture the gameplay, which was a remarkably simple process. I am relishing having the ability to both capture gameplay and stream from my Nintendo Switch.
Machine for Pigs Offered Subtle Changes and a Different Game
While Justine was a short sharp trip down memory lane, re-using what felt like – but never got confirmed as being – the same location as the first game, A Machine for Pigs was Frictional Games back to their best. Only this time, the Chinese Room joined the party. This partnership delivered a fantastic game that comes very close to matching Dark Descent but ultimately falls short in some regards while excelling in others.
Having played the three games back to back, I was held in the right frame of mind for the experiences offered and think that certainly both helped and hindered my appreciation of Machine for Pigs.
I really enjoyed the game, but they removed two mechanics that had been present in the first two, which changed the way I played the game and took away both an element of danger and tension. I’m not saying this game didn’t have tension. It had it in spades, but it was a different kind. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, and the result is a collection of three games – two full games and a DLC chapter – that all offer similar yet startlingly different experiences. Each stands on their own merit, and while borrowing from those that came before do enough to differentiate themselves.
The mechanics stripped away from Machine for Pigs were the Sanity and Inventory functionality. This meant that hiding in the dark and creeping around the meandering streets and passageways no longer ate away at your mind and impeded your vision. I think I missed this the most, as it added an extra layer to everything, along with that constant worry I mentioned earlier about not wanting to run out of supplies.
The inventory was another significant loss, and while this didn’t impact the storing and reading of notes or clues, it removed the tinderboxes, oil and laudanum bottles. In this game, you had an always full lantern, and your health would heal as you walked around. Again, fair mechanics, and once I got used to them, I came close to forgetting about what was missing. Yet, I couldn’t help but want to wander further off the beaten track and look for a tinderbox. It was an automatic reaction engrained after some fifteen hours in the Amnesia world with not other games thrown in between.
These changes made Machine for Pigs feel like a far more linear game than the others. It wasn’t. Not really, but with a lot of doors locked in exchange for giving you an empty room to explore, you did feel that you were somewhat more trapped in a maze rather than moving about through the result of your own free will.
That being said, the story in Machine for Pigs was incredible, and it was at times, utterly heartbreaking. One somewhat revelatory moment – so I shall not mention anything more – had me gasp in genuine shock, and added an extra emotional element to everything, both what was still to come, as well as a retrospective sheen to what had already been.
A Game About Decisions Rather than the Actions
Across all three games, the emphasis was not so much on action but the decision on the thought process that resulted in an action. Sure, you saw the action, but it was a byproduct and almost unimportant at that stage.
This is most prevalent and easy to explain with the endings. Indeed, for Dark Descent and Machine for Pigs, where the final moments, the big confrontation that every game offered, stuck true to the combat less attitude of the game and ended with a puzzle followed by a decision. The choice you made, and I know for Dark Descent there were different consequences for your actions, was the real ending. The result of that decision, while superb in its execution, was mostly unimportant.
You spend time agonising over the choice you make that what comes after is a genuine rush of relief. Relief that it was over. You had survived!
Escape the Madness but Unable to Resist the Siren’s Call
The replayability factor of this game is going to depend mainly on your appreciation of what it does and everything that his hidden into it.
There is almost unsurmountable lore that surrounds the game, and I would wager it is too much story to appreciate on a single playthrough fully. I would also be bold enough to say that a second or third run might even make the game more appealing. Having some knowledge of the puzzles themselves will allow you to spend even more time lost in an atmosphere of madness. Thus, by making the game easier by knowing many of the solutions already, you are making it that much harder on yourself too.
I played through Justine several times just because it was short, and I wanted to know if there were bits I missed or more exploration that was possible to help sate my desire to learn more about her world.
I can definitely see myself playing through this series regularly, and while I may not do the 20+ marathon again, the Amnesia: Collection is a solid mainstay on my Nintendo Switch.
I can safely say that to me, the Amnesia: Collection is possibly the pinnacle of horror, and I shall forever compare other horror games to these.
The teams and Frictional Games and The Chinese Room captured everything important to horror and balanced it in near-perfect symmetry. The story was rich and had that Lovecraftian elegance to it, the tension was rife, and by minimizing physical enemy encounters, they kept anxiety levels sky-high. Twice I had to walk away from the game for a moment or to because of the tension headache I was getting.
A game that needs to be played in the dark, not because of the atmosphere but because of the dark nature of the game itself. Playing it in too light conditions made it very hard to find your way around. Perhaps some would think of this as a negative, but I see it is a (possibly) happy accident.
Were the games perfect? No. There were small issues here and there, and as I said, some of the puzzles while simple in their solution were near impossible to find to make a start. Yet, once you understood the occasional abstract, you looked out for it more, and things fell into place. It is a game that rewards exploration and as the team state at the very start of Dark Descent, do not play to beat the game, but play to be immersed in the story.
If you have stuck with me this far into the review, I think it goes without saying that this is one of my favourite series ever, and I could not recommend it enough.
If you are scrolling through to see my final thoughts, this collection is near perfect, and if you are a horror fan, then you need to have it on your system.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Amnesia: Collection from the Nintendo eShop on the following link, https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Switch-download-software/Amnesia-Collection-1640594.html
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