It sometimes feels like the importance of Amnesia: The Dark Descent gets understated. It not only did wonders for the streaming community, but it also helped breathe fresh life into the horror genre. At the time of its original 2010 release, the genre was openly embracing a more combat-oriented approach. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but knowing you have the tools to fight back cuts down on the tension and sense of fear. Frictional Games, though, decided to snatch that away from the players. The end result was a terrifying and pulse-pounding journey for survival. After putting the series into the capable hands of The Chinese Room for the first sequel, the original team returns a decade later for Amnesia: Rebirth.
What’s worse than waking up on a crashed airplane? Waking up on a crashed airplane alone and in the middle of the desert, of course. Such is the predicament that Amnesia: Rebirth protagonist Tasi Trianon finds herself in. She remembers being on the plane with her husband and fellow expedition members, but everything after that is a blur. Now, all by herself, she must push forward through the Algerian desert to find any other survivors. As she treks forward, though, she soon realizes that this place is not as it seems, and there’s also this nagging feeling that she has seen all of this before.
Despite being a follow-up to The Dark Descent, the story in Rebirth is more akin to Frictional’s more recent survival horror tale, SOMA, which explores the horrors that come with being alive. For Tasi, this means trying to recover from an unbelievably traumatic event; the type of grief and pain that would cause most to wither away. She is stronger than that, though, and it’s that strength that pushes her through the terrors of this strange world. To dive further into the Rebirth‘s story and our heroine’s ordeal would take us deep into spoiler territory, though, I will say this — despite sporting the better-written protagonist, the subject matter of this journey didn’t quite stick with me as SOMA did. Perhaps this is due to Tasi being much more of a character than what Frictional has delivered in the past, but the horrors here didn’t linger as long as their previous projects have.
If the plot of Amnesia: Rebirth feels closer to SOMA, then the gameplay adheres more closely to the classic Amnesia formula. Much like with Daniel in The Dark Descent, Tasi does not do well in the dark. Or with monsters, but that’s pretty understandable. Her past traumas have done a number on her mind, and any amount of time she spends in the shadows is detrimental to her state of mind. And while she is trapped in a world that frequently preys upon that fear, she does have tools to help. Matches can be used to illuminate her way, whether by being held directly or by lighting torches and candles. An oil-powered lantern comes into play a little later, but both sources of light have the same problem — they are extremely limited in both supply and how long they stay illuminated. The key is to be smart and ration your limited resources.
Of course, Tasi will need to brave the dark sometimes as well, not only because she doesn’t always have the resources to stay in the light, but also because the creatures around her will attack if given the opportunity. Much like its predecessor, the only way to deal with these monsters is to stay on the run, crawling around caves while they seek you out, or running in terror if they happen to catch on to you. This will all be very familiar to fans of the genre, but I do think the AI here is much more intelligent than seen in previous games — they’re able to catch on to your habits and deduce if you are staying in a single spot. You need to be quick on your feet, but still vigilant about staying under the radar.
Admittedly, the gameplay itself is pretty basic, I don’t think anyone would deny that. What makes it work, though, is that it’s terrifying on a moment-to-moment basis. Frictional Games are masters at ratcheting up the tension and dread no matter where you are. A footstep in the dark or a glimpse of something in the shadows is more than enough to raise your heart rate. If you spend too long out of the light, or stare at the horrors for too long, then you’ll lose more of your sanity, and the visual effects will be dialed up to reflect that. This, of course, just makes the whole adventure even scarier. I’m not quite sure the scariest moments here match the horrid highs of The Dark Descent, but that would be a high bar to clear for any title.
A point in Amnesia: Rebirth‘s favor, though, is the fact that it looks significantly better than its decade-old predecessor. Frictional Games have done an excellent job of crafting unique environments that make you want to explore them further, even if you know you’re not going to like what they hold. Without spoiling things, the story takes you to numerous locales, and all of them are full of chilling details for you to uncover. The creature designs are solid as well, even if they lack some of the personality of the studio’s other designs. On a technical level, they look great, but from an artistic standpoint, they are kind of generic-looking. They’re more or less in line with what you would expect from the story, but I think more could have been done for them.
When you’re not skulking in the shadows or hiding behind a bookcase, there are also some puzzles for you to solve. Tasi often finds her path forward blocked by outdated and often damaged machinery. In order to get past these nuisances, she’ll need to solve some rudimentary puzzles, with most of them involving spinning wheels of some kind or gathering parts for some kind of machine. Amnesia: Rebirth never throws anything at you that is terribly complicated or will take you too long to figure out. Their purpose is often to make sure you explore areas you might not have if you didn’t have reason to. If nothing else, these are nice breaks to have in between the scarier segments, and they can help calm your consistently fraying nerves.
Amnesia: Rebirth sits in the middle of Frictional Games’ two most recent efforts. It lacks the narrative punch of SOMA but is a far more enjoyable game to actually play. It’s a notch above The Dark Descent when it comes to storytelling, but can’t quite match it scare for scare. And in many ways, it’s arguably the most complete game yet from the Sweden-based developer. However, its status as a “jack of all trades, master of none” means that it might just be the studio’s most forgettable title. It’s still a decent treat for this Halloween season, but I’m not sure it will have the staying power fans may have been looking for.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Frictional Games.
Amnesia: Rebirth is a solid enough adventure for fans of the genre. That being said, although it's better than its predecessors in different ways, the fact that it can't quite match the narrative highs of SOMA or the scares of The Dark Descent makes it a bit of a forgettable journey.