Frictional Games have been one of the pioneers of the horror genre. Starting with Penumbra, and the smash hit Amnesia games, they pretty much specialized in creating atmospheric survival horror games. After releasing SOMA, they took a 5-year hiatus, and now the highly anticipated Amnesia: Rebirth has finally arrived. Does it live up to the hype? let’s find out.
AT A GLANCE
DEVELOPER: Frictional Games
PUBLISHER: Frictional Games
RELEASE DATE: 20 Oct 2020
FINAL SCORE: 8/10
A trip down horror lane
The protagonist of the game is Tasi Trianon, a French scholar with a passion for drawing and archeology with a traumatic past. She is married to Salim, a researcher like her. The game starts off with them on a plane and on their way to an archaeological site. Unfortunately, as per the rule of aeroplanes sequences in video games, things go wrong and Tasi finds herself stranded in the middle of the desert with no memory of what happens, and alone in the wreckage. Right from the start, the game hurls mystery and confusion at you, with cryptic sketches and flashbacks that bring more questions than answers.
The early sequences of the story pretty much set the tone and pace for the first half of the game, as you will be chasing for answers that will seldom make sense. Frictional games does a great job of meshing together cosmic horror and internal trauma to make a horror story that feels as much as rooted in reality as it deals with the unknown.
Sadly, however, despite having a strong well fleshed out protagonist, the side characters themselves feel hollow, and the relationships Tasi shares with some of the other characters and their motivations feels half baked. The story is compelling no doubt, and nail-biting till the absolutely shocking end, but parts of it could have been handled much better.
If there’s one thing that sets the Amnesia games apart from the competition, it’s the unique gameplay that lends to the tension and feeling of hopelessness. Having to manually turn the handles of the door, as something is chasing you gives an sense of dread that no jump scare can ever match.
Frictional Games has pretty much mastered the art of atmospheric horror, and every subsequent game they release seems to up the ante. Running across the dimly lit corridors, and scrambling to light up the lamps and torches scattered throughout, looking back to see nothing. Environmental storytelling and the documents that can be found lying around the map reveal that you are indeed not alone, and something stalks you, yet being alone in a dark room feels just as terrifying.
The game has a hodgepodge of different mechanics, as early on you will have to stay away from the hot desert sun so that you don’t get fried to a crisp. This mechanic does not return in the latter half of the game, but you will have to rely on your match stick to light up different sources of light, and run away when you run out of the light. Because another highlight of the Amnesia formula is that you are absolutely defenseless against the monsters, and must either run away or sneak around them.
The monsters aren’t your only enemies, and the darkness is just as much as an enemy as these monsters. Tasi is very clearly a troubled individual, as her traumatic past has left her deeply scarred. She is susceptible to panic attacks, which strike her when she is afraid or uncomfortable, for example when she spends too much time in complete darkness causing her to have terrible cryptic visions.
Although the game takes it’s sweet time to unwrap what is actually going on, it peels back to reveal that Rebirth is a sequel to Dark Descent and answers a lot of questions you might have regarding the previous games. The very structure of the game is in fact designed around pushing you to ask questions that it cleverly answers in the end.
The beauty of Frictional Games’ work and one of the reasons I absolutely love the Amnesia games is how it leverages its atmosphere to deliver the horror and not on cheap tricks to force you to feel scared. In fact, some of the sequences in the game that did not have any enemies still managed to make me hold my breath.
From a graphical point of view, Amnesia Rebirth follows the classic art style of Frictional Games. Technically there is nothing that holds a candle to some of the more blockbuster releases out there, but there are still some very beautiful setpieces.
The pencil drawings made by Tasi are also very beautiful and are deeply interwoven with the story as much as the gameplay. The splendid soundtrack also does an excellent job of creating tension and ease, complimenting the emotional state of our protagonist.
In Amnesia Rebirth everything is a tale and every game mechanic meshes gracefully together. Frictional games has almost perfected the formula that they created, but in this modern landscape where other studios have borrowed from their formula and spun their own versions of it, Rebirth never quite makes the splash it’s predecessors once did.