It’s been a decade since Frictional Games revolutionized interactive horror with their indie sensation Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Featuring dynamic scares and Lovecraftian lore, the game went on to influence several horror franchises and even AAA developers, leaving behind a legacy that can still be felt today. Unfortunately, when the time came to develop a sequel to the iconic title, Frictional was busy with new projects and brought in The Chinese Room to develop Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. While it wasn’t exactly a bad follow-up, many fans found the game to be lacking, so Frictional has finally returned to set things right with Amnesia: Rebirth, a proper sequel to the franchise that put them on the map.
Despite all the hullaballoo regarding Amnesia’s homecoming, Rebirth is by no means a retread of the original game, featuring a brand-new setting and protagonist alongside tweaked gameplay and one hell of a visual overhaul. This time around, players take on the role of Tasi Trianon, who’s accompanying an ill-fated expedition to Algeria. After a tragic plane crash, Tasi awakens with no memory of what transpired after the accident, and is forced to wander the desert in search of her peers. She soon stumbles upon a mysterious cave system and embarks on a horrifying adventure through dark corridors, alternate dimensions and eldritch horrors.
Gameplay here is essentially the same as The Dark Descent, with the experience unfolding in first-person as players explore creepy environments, lighting lanterns and candles while attempting to hide from enemies and solve puzzles (which usually rely on the robust physics engine). Frictional has made a few updates, however, which make things less frustrating in this sequel. Among several quality-of-life tweaks, matches can now be used to light up several light sources before burning up and Tasi can even lie down on the ground to make herself harder to spot. These changes result in Rebirth feeling very much like a successor to The Dark Descent while still incorporating improvements from contemporary gaming.
Unfortunately, the first quarter or so of the game verges on walking-simulator territory, with heavily scripted narrative segments bogging down an otherwise intense experience. The new environments are consistently interesting, but things take a while to get going, with early sections of the game being curiously devoid of memorable frights. However, once things finally get into gear you’ll find yourself dreading every new location as you’re chased by deformed aberrations through archaic sewer systems, ancient cities and beyond.
That being said, the scares aren’t quite as memorable as the ones in the first game (mostly because we’re already aware of the formula by now), but they’re still highly effective and make this one of the best horror titles of the year, especially once Tasi starts to remember more details about her present condition, raising the stakes even higher.
Rebirth also boasts some of the best puzzle designs in the series, with challenges that never feel overwhelming but still provide quite a few head-scratching moments. A lot of it still involves manipulating objects through the physics engine, but in ways that have seldom been seen before in gaming. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say that simple crate-stacking won’t get you very far in this game.
The visuals and sound design are also incredible, with the presentation looking a lot more like a AAA production than a supposedly independent title. The locations might not be quite as oppressive as Brennenburg Castle, but Rebirth makes up for this with a more fleshed out protagonist and smoother gameplay.
I did find myself missing little details like Dark Descent’s insanity-fueled fourth-wall breaks (like bugs crawling on the screen) as, unlike Daniel, Tasi isn’t actually nyctophobic and the darkness is more of a nuisance than anything else. Even so, the game makes up for this with a compelling plot (with a lot of moments feeling like they came straight out of a really good Clive Barker novel), which even newcomers will be able to follow. However, you’re still likely to be more invested in Tasi’s personal plight than anything that Amnesia’s expanded universe will throw at you.
Like the other games in the series, Rebirth boasts multiple endings (with varying levels of satisfaction), but the game doesn’t really lend itself to multiple replays due to an awful lot of scripted segments that will always turn out the same way. These moments are engaging when you first experience them, but probably won’t be as thrilling the second time around.
AMNESIA: REBIRTH VERDICT
While this is certainly a return to form for the franchise, the game doesn’t quite escape the shadow of the original, with the forced narrative aspects sometimes overtaking gameplay. Nevertheless, when judged by its own merits, Amnesia: Rebirth is a quality horror title made by passionate developers out to tell a disturbing story. At the end of the day, I’d recommend this one to any horror fan up for some interactive Cosmic Horror this Halloween season.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Making a makeshift elevator out of old wooden planks in order to escape a monster-infested basement.
Not as Scary as the first game,
Narrative can hinder Gameplay