Amnesia: Rebirth’s opening gave me the strongest of Bioshock vibes, which is something I wasn’t really prepared for.
When I think of Amnesia, I think of the absolute darkest possible rooms, shadows flickering across the walls, and creepy noises everywhere, not massive plane crashes. The game immediately wrong-footed me, something it excelled at most of the way through.
It didn’t take long for Rebirth to show its true face, of course. Pretty soon I’m venturing into those very same dark rooms, experiencing extremely vivid hallucinations, and venturing deeper underground.
But it’s still a testament to the game Frictional have built here. They have tried to make it more rounded and build a bigger story, as opposed to just fill it with jump scares and hope it’ll land the same way the original did in 2010. Frictional are trying to innovate in the horror space again rather than just contribute, and for the most part, it works.
They’ve built a world with the Amnesia franchise and Rebirth is the biggest, most involved exploration of that to date. Set in 1937, it actually works as something of a spiritual successor to The Dark Descent – the original Amnesia – and situates players in the Algerian desert.
Certainly an unexpected choice, but it ties in with your character, Tasi, who is an archeologist on expedition. Escaping from the wreckage, she soon finds her way into a cave which is full of notes, matches, and dead bodies, and soon begins to suspect that she may be the only one who survived the horrific plane crash.
Amnesia tells its story gradually through the notes left behind by either dead or missing passengers and crew, allowing the player to relive various flashbacks. It’s a smart way to do it, though you do lose something of a personal touch and interaction with the characters you ‘encounter’. Tasi goes through as many of these as possible, hoping to find one from her husband, Salim, but soon recognizes that she is in the middle of another, unexpected journey.
She comes into possession of an Amulet which begins to open up doorways through walls, leading her to another world which has more than a passing resemblance to something you’d read about in Lovecraft fiction with the sky being torn apart and everything feeling green and indescribable.
But perhaps the biggest surprise to Tasi of all, she learns that she’s actually pregnant with Salim’s baby and miraculously, the baby seems to have survived the crash with her.
These themes all play into the gameplay as well, with Tasi’s hallucinations tied into the fear of being in the dark for too long, powering the game’s Sanity system, and the Amulet serving as a powerful tool to help you progress through the game at different stages.
There’s also some surprisingly well-crafted puzzles to work through. which definitely shows what Frictional learned in the development of SOMA, a game I still hold as the company’s masterpiece.
That sort of brings me back to the Bioshock comparison as, unlike other Amnesia games, the puzzle solving and narrative feels like the primary driving force here. Sure, you expect to get scared and you always feel like there’s something lingering around every corner. And the flashing images and sounds really unsettle you as you try to power through the game’s world.
But it’s the narrative, the notes you find, the stories of the crew, and Tasi’s own journey that keep you compelled through to the end. The fear and intimidation you face from the early moments stay with you until the end, so it’s a lingering sense of panic and worry that will keep chipping away at you gradually, inevitably forcing a confrontation.
None of this helped, of course, by the fact that you’re mostly defenseless. There’s no guns or knives to fight back with and the matches you use can be just as quickly snuffed out by moving too quickly as they can by just standing still.
But light is also necessary for finding your way forward and for figuring out how to beat some of the game’s stickier situations. Whether you’re lighting matches to then use on a candle, or a lantern, or something else just so you can see what it is you’re up against, the game never forgets its roots. Sometimes to the point of being infuriating.
I often felt quite aimless while playing and there’s a few occasions where it seemed like I was backtracking, each time almost always having to use light to progress with the game not offering much respite from that mechanic in particular. The game’s load times were also really quite slow and the flashbacks themselves, as mentioned, kind of make you feel a bit isolated within the narrative.
Frictional have learned a lot over the years and have built a truly unsettling, creepy horror, that does lose its way a bit towards the end and probably does go on for a bit longer than I’d have liked.
Still, Amnesia Rebirth is the most ambitious game in the series. It also has the biggest production values, with some legitimate shocks and horror, and a well-engineered story, all told. While it may be far from perfect, it definitely shows how open-ended the Amnesia series has become and how flexible they can be with a license that seemed certain to be confined to spooky churches.
While it didn’t quite grab me the same way SOMA did, it’s easily the best Amnesia game to date, and one of the better horrors I’ve seen this year.
+ A well built up story that meshes well with the mechanics
+ Unexpected setting and atmosphere leads to unsettling horror
+ Multiple endings with interesting outcomes
+ The best Amnesia yet
– Some of the game’s endless and aimless environments are tedious
– Story loses itself towards the end
– Lengthy load times slow the game’s momentum
Amnesia: Rebirth is now available on PC, PS4, and XO
Code kindly provided by Frictional Games
Tested on PS4