Aug 242013

Jonny looks back at the scariest game he’s ever played….and looks forward to its sequel.

You would think that having seen the sequel to one of my favourite games finally advertised and available as close as September 10th, I would be as giddy as a kid at Christmas.  However, when the pre-order for Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs flashed up on my screen, the dominant feeling in my gut was that of dread.  I knew right away that I would buy it; I would put myself through the terror of playing it, and just as I did with the first game, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I would constantly be asking “why am I doing this to myself?”

I first heard about The Dark Descent through YouTube, where a multitude of ‘Let’s Plays’ showed up, seemingly overnight, in which nobody could last more than an hour or two.  Dozens of videos piled up, of grown men screaming like little girls, and whimpering that they’d had enough, and wouldn’t be playing any more.

I’ll admit I was sceptical.

All of this stank of a publicity stunt, but whether that was truly the case or not, I obediently scampered out and bought myself a copy, like the good consumer I am.  Thankfully my money was well spent, and no game I’ve played has come close to The Dark Descent for sheer and absolute terror.  The game achieves this by forcing you to adhere to a simple set of conflicting rules to stay alive.

Dark Descent 3

For the majority of the game, there is one threat, and if it catches you, you will die.  If you let it see you in the light, it will catch you, and if you stare directly at it for too long, it will sense you, know where you are and it will catch you.  If you don’t look at it, it won’t be able to sense you, and if you hide in shadow it won’t know where you are at all.  However, remaining in darkness eats away at your sanity until your vision becomes blurred and you’ll eventually collapse, paralysed with fear.

Essentially, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Light too many torches along the way and you’ll leave nowhere to hide, but be too frivolous with your hand-lamp and you’ll quickly run out of fuel; similarly if you don’t keep moving you’ll go insane, but get caught in the open, and you’re finished.

What really makes this game special is that you have absolutely no way to defend yourself.  Unlike so many other games, you’re not scared because you might not be able to kill whatever it is that’s chasing you, but because you simply can’t, and you know you couldn’t even try.  You never have access to any form of attack, so your only option is to hide, and even then this isn’t hiding like in a stealth game where sneaking offers the path of least resistance; this is hiding because there is no other path.  Pair this with the fact that a dooming sound fills the air when the threat is near, and you’ll find yourself jumping at every shadow, creaky floorboard and tolling bell.

That reminds me: there’s only one way you should play The Dark Descent, and that is with earphones….in the dark….and alone.

Dark Descent 2The atmosphere in this game is phenomenal.  The entire game is built around a beautifully sleek physics engine, which allows you to slide open desk drawers and push barrels to get at much-needed supplies.  And it’s clear that the engine’s been developed with this exact game in mind; rather than simply clicking to open doors or cupboards, it forces you to drag your mouse to swing each door on its creaking hinges.  It’s entirely up to you how slowly you want to peek into the next room, edging the door open bit by bit, unless you’d prefer to fling it wide open and face whatever’s on the other side.

It’s not often I can describe something as breathtaking and mean it literally, but The Dark Descent left me holding my breath in terror on more than one occasion.  So powerful is it, you’ll be hard pressed to play for more than an hour or two at a time without yearning for some natural light and a hug.

I’m hoping A Machine For Pigs doesn’t change any of the ingredients intrinsic to the success of the first game, but instead builds on the simplicity that makes it such an effective series.

Jonny West


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