Despite my status as a paragon of gaming knowledge, I came into the PC thing later than most. While I certainly enjoyed point and click classics like Myst, I stuck to consoles as my primary platform for most of my 20s, mostly ignorant to all of the great PC exclusives I was missing out on. Still, Steam wasn’t the juggernaut that it is now and I convinced myself that it was always going to remain a niche platform, better designed for AIM chats with uninterested girls and watching cute animal videos on YouTube.
Then Amnesia happened, and suddenly I was convincing myself that I needed to build a computer that could run it. It was in that moment that I shifted over to the PC Master Race, throwing my consoles in a wood chipper, not allowing myself to ever be seen with them again.
Okay, that’s not exactly how things went down. My GameCube is totally fine, but for dramatic effect, let’s pretend.
Though I’ve since bought a rig exponentially more powerful than that modest 2011 PC that I built, the experience of playing Amnesia feels mostly unchanged five years later. At the time, it was billed as the “scariest game ever made”, revitalizing the horror genre after a long period of stagnation. It still holds up as a masterwork of design, not only understanding how to create fear and tension, but how to maintain them over a ten hour game. Once something becomes familiar, we no longer fear it, which is why Amnesia goes out of its way to deny you that opportunity. The simple act of looking at a monster not only alerts them to your location, but also affects your sanity. You can run and hide, of course, but sitting in the dark is often no better for you.
Amnesia is built on this – constantly putting you in scenarios where neither of your two available options are desirable. No matter what you do, dread is inescapable. It’s oppressive and hostile to the player, even when there’s nothing to actually be afraid of. A significant portion of the game passes without ever encountering an enemy, but yet, you still take your time, not wanting to progress until absolutely sure that it’s safe.
And that’s the beauty of it. Amnesia is really nothing more than a series of rather small areas for you to traverse. You could, conceivably, run through the entire game in the matter of two hours… but something stops you, and more often than not, it’s not an enemy, it’s your own fear.