Amnesia: Rebirth Review – A Fun Haunted House Ride
I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of Amnesia, but I do see them as fun games to play when you want to be scared for a bit. Not only that, but Frictional Games does a great job at fusing good stories into their horror games, combining it with their amazing environment design and atmosphere. I actually consider SOMA to be one of my most favorite sci-fi horror stories in general. So, I had some high expectations for the story of Amnesia: Rebirth when I started a new game.
Amnesia: Rebirth is a story-driven survival horror game developed and published by Frictional Games. Unlike Machine for Pigs, which is only related to The Dark Descent by a tiny string of connection, this one actually connects to The Dark Descent, so this can be seen as a sequel.
An Unexpected Landing
Amnesia: Rebirth puts you in 1937 in the shoes of Anastasie Trianon, or Tasi, an engineer draftsman on an expedition from Algiers to the French Sudan to work on a gold mine along with her husband, Salim. However, in the plane ride over, strange circumstances cause it to crash. Tasi wakes up to find everyone gone, as are her memories of what transpired. So, taking a step out into the harsh climate of the desert, she searches for her husband and the rest of the crew, all the while witnessing the horrors that lay in, and underneath, the desert.
Tasi, as a character, isn’t bad at all. In fact, I enjoy having a protagonist that talks a lot, especially during a horror game. Some people’s complaints were over her talking and her use of vulgar language, which I don’t understand. She’s French, guys. Cursing is in her blood. In addition, her talking really gives you insight on her character in the moment, rather than after with notes. Though there are still plenty of those, mind you.
Adding on to that, I would like to commend Amnesia: Rebirth’s voice cast. There isn’t a single voice actor who didn’t come into this ready to act their damned hearts out, especially Tasi’s. Every emotion can be felt in the voices, and I will keep commending Frictional for finding terrific casts for their games. It really helped sell the story they told.
The story itself is one of the stronger parts of Amnesia: Rebirth, however that’s in comparison to the rest of the game. There’s many twists and additional lore that this game throws at you. There were some issues, plotholes, and somewhat messy themes. Yet, when I got to the end, and though the endings they provided were lacking, I felt like I witnessed a good story. Not as great as SOMA, not even as good as The Dark Descent, but good, even if it’s sometimes delivered in flashbacks that slow down the already meager pace as it is. Most of what you’re doing in the game is walking around, anyway.
So, mechanically, I would say Amnesia: Rebirth is very similar to SOMA. You might call this a “walking sim” and I wouldn’t call you wrong, because it feels a lot like that. There’s lots of walking and lots of reading. The most gameplay aspects of this game are the resource management, the puzzles, and the enemy encounters. Each of those I’ll go into detail on, once I talk about the game’s replacement to sanity.
Instead of having both health and sanity, we have the fear system. This is no longer a game about keeping track of two things at once, as now the fear system takes over both. You gain fear from things like being in the dark, seeing strange events, being near monsters, and doing things that would incite fear, like nearly getting hit with a crossbow bolt. However, if the fear goes up too much, you’ll go into a struggle mode, where you have to move the sticks, or mouse and keyboard, to get out of it. If you fail, you “die” (we’ll talk about that later).
Resource management from the first Amnesia game was easy. Keep tinderboxes ready for when you need them, and only use the lantern oil when it feels necessary. Things are changed a bit in this, as the match system has been revamped. Instead of using one tinderbox per light, you pull out a cardboard match that can be used to light multiple things. But be wary, as you can only carry ten matches at a time, and moving a lot would make a match go out faster. This kept things tense, even if a little annoying, but it did encourage me to light as much as I could because I knew, if I looked, I’d be able to find more hidden.
One important item you have will be this amulet that acts like a compass to find and open hidden paths in the world. It was cool, but it was barely utilized, which disappointed me. It was a cool mechanic I was hoping would have more use in gameplay than just “open path to objective”. It was used so rarely in the last quarter of the game, I genuinely forgot to put it here until I had the entire review pasted into this post.
Later on in Amnesia: Rebirth, you’ll find a lantern, which acts more like a flashlight. It uses oil, which comes in small, medium, and large, and man does it use up that oil fast. Almost way too fast. You pull the lantern out for like a few seconds, and already you lost a point of oil (out of ten). I feel like they could’ve done more to make things efficient, but instead just made oil a fast dwindling resource. Maybe it’s a metaphor for our world… or maybe it’s just poorly thought out.
In keeping with big thinking, the puzzles are good, if a bit simple. Sure, I got stuck a few times, but most of the time it was because I was overthinking things, and the game just wanted me to do something as simple as pull out an iron bar so I can get through. But it does make use of the environment and the time period it’s in, which is always fun for someone who enjoys history, like me.
However, it’s at the monsters that I begin to not enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, the chase scenes are fun. They make them nice and tense, but outside of that is where the disappointment lies. You see, the enemy designs are rather… lackluster. There’s only one that’s actually kinda cool, and their mechanic is kinda interesting, but that doesn’t make up for the lack of actually interesting designs.
The gameplay surrounding them is also quite subpar. There’s a new hide mechanic where Tasi goes flat against the floor. She can’t move, and can barely see around her, but she is harder to see. Hiding works, sure, but I would say that running is the best course of action. Almost nothing is fast enough to catch up with you, even if one of them has a long distance fear mechanic built in. Very rarely have I hid.
However, what I did find annoying is that, when you get caught and struggle out of their grasp, the game turns you 180 degrees. This could be helpful if most of the times I was caught, I wasn’t pushed up against the wall, allowing the enemy a second chance to grab me again and thus “killing” me. Speaking of, there’s the one thing about “dying” that I have yet to discuss.
Dying Doesn’t Mean You Lost
So, you see, you don’t actually die in Amnesia: Rebirth, and there are no consequences for “dying”. That is, unless you find automatically winning to be a consequence. That’s right, when you gain too much fear and lose, you are either brought to the end of the area, or the enemy just… goes away, allowing you to finish up what you needed to do.
Never in my life have I encountered a horror game that rewards you for dying. I don’t care if there’s a story reason for it, as it just made every encounter less tense than it should’ve been. Fear means nothing, unless you dislike getting jump scared by a jpeg (which is a sanity effect they’ve toned down in an update). Adding onto that, this game does rely on jump scares a little too much, which is disappointing. So, if you do dislike that, there is a way to get rid of fear that isn’t just lighting a candle. In fact, it’s a major game mechanic with heavy ties to the story. It’s a minor game spoiler, so if you want to go in completely fresh, just ignore the next paragraph. The game is full of twists and surprises. I consider this to be one, no matter how early it comes.
So, early on in Amnesia: Rebirth, you find out that Tasi is pregnant. The baby is growing due to her interactions with the Other World, so throughout the game she will grow. One mechanic that comes from this is the Check Baby Button. That’s right, a whole button dedicated to checking on the baby, and listening to what Tasi says to it, which is a lot. This doesn’t become fruitful until it starts kicking, whereas if you check on it while it kicks, it will get rid of fear.
Sights and Sounds
However, in a horror game, what matters most isn’t your character’s fear, but your own fear. I consider myself somewhat of a coward, so that wasn’t exactly hard to do on a first playthrough. That didn’t stop the game from going in on that hard with its audio design.
As always, Frictional did an amazing job with Amnesia: Rebirth’s sound design. It was almost like every sound was supposed to provoke a strong feeling of fear within you. It could be a banging on a fence, some random creaking upstairs, or a tin can that fell off a table. Those are only the sounds that make sense in the real world. The sounds from the less normal parts of the game were spectacular as well, since you will be seeing a wild variety of those.
The environment design is another one of Amnesia: Rebirth’s greatest strengths. Every area is filled with context, even those as little as footsteps. There is always some little thing to find that could add just that much more to the scene you’re in. And when you get to the otherworldly parts, you’re gonna see some cool stuff. In those places, it felt like you were on an alien spaceship, except it’s a whole world. So many strange aspects in them that make you feel like you are not where you’re meant to be.
And all of this is backed by an amazing soundtrack done by Mikko Tarmia. There are a lot of tracks on the OST, so every place feels a bit unique all due to the soundtrack. Not only that, but in the more tense sequences, it will always try to keep you on edge. Even if Rebirth‘s strange death system diminishes that edge.
Not A True Rebirth
To finish off, this game does have some other problems. Certain collision boxes haven’t been set up correctly, so you will sometimes have items just disappear into the floor or a wall, even items you need. And there were a couple times that items glitched into the floor, like a cord to a plug I needed to pull on. There are areas you can get stuck in the geometry, sometimes where exiting and reloading a save doesn’t work. There are also a few graphical bugs, but they didn’t affect much for me.
Overall, my thoughts on Amnesia: Rebirth are rather mixed. There are definitely parts to enjoy, no doubt, but then you’ll find out that some parts you enjoyed meant nothing because death means nothing, which was disappointing. I wouldn’t call this a good follow-up to The Dark Descent, as its gameplay is more befitting to liken it to SOMA. But in comparison to Machine for Pigs, I’d say this is slightly better. I would at least call it a decent game in of itself, though only if you’re in it for the environments and story. Even then, I might recommend waiting for a good sale.
It’s not a rebirth of the series, but it does add more story and lore to what The Dark Descent has started with. It’s a decent horror game with a nice story, good visuals, and some fun moments that delivered those scares and tensity. But those fun, tense moments aren’t as frequent as I’d like. All that is good is not good enough that it makes up for its horror shortcomings. It could’ve done so much more with monster designs and they could’ve actually made death something to fear.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a series of well-done escape rooms that made up a nicely-crafted haunted maze. Amnesia: Rebirth was a series of fun haunted house rides, broken up by having to look for the bathroom for half an hour each time.
Not Quite There
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Reviewed by Freelance7 on PC. Game provided by Frictional Games.