Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a Good Game everyone should play [GG #4]

Why you should play one of the most terrifying games of all time, whether you scare easily or not.

The GG series, published weekly, highlights Good Games everyone should play at least once, with links out to fantastic writing. Scroll down for a list of previous GG posts.

I hate horror games. Not because I think they’re worthless — I just can’t play them for longer than two minutes without having to go outside for a walk. And the scarier they are, the more I hate them.

I hate Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010, PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch) the most of all. It’s a twisted, evil thing that wants you to wake up screaming in the middle of the night. For that reason, and for the influence it’s had on the genre, it’s a must-play — even if you can only bear tiny spurts at a time with all the lights turned on.

(A sequel, Amnesia: Rebirth came out this week on PC and PS4, and is getting solid reviews.)

What is it?

Terrifying. You play a hopeless, quivering man called Daniel, exploring a haunted castle and solving basic puzzles, flicking switches and fixing machinery to open up new areas.

All the while, scary monsters making gruesome noises stalk you. If they find you, they kill you, and you can’t fight back. Your only hope is to hide — and, unfortunately, staying in the dark decreases your “sanity”, which makes you shake uncontrollably and walk lopsided.

What makes it so good?

Two things, for me. First, the fear comes from your sense of helplessness. You’re slow and weedy; they’re fast, and can break down doors. The music and game sounds do a lot of heavy lifting here, making you feel utterly alone in a creepy castle, where every distant thump makes your heart skip three beats.

And second is the fact that your only defence against these monsters, hiding, is in itself an enemy. Standing in the dark makes your character even more scared, distorting the camera and playing a horrific noise. So you light a candle, or a tinder box, or pull out your lantern — but each of these is powered by fuel that’s in very limited supply, and plus, the light can give your position away. Basically, you can’t win, and you can never get comfortable.

It’s a horrible feeling, but one that no other game has served up so effectively.

Where can I buy it?

It’s usually dirt cheap on PC: right now, it’s £1.52 / $1.99 on the Epic Games Store.

It’s dearer on consoles. On PS4, Xbox One, and Switch you can only buy it bundled with Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (2013), a follow-up, in the Amnesia: Collection. That’s just under £25 / $30 — the Switch version is a touch more expensive. Grab it at those consoles’ online stores.

Extra Life… (bonus questions and links to brilliant writing)

A short Extra Life this week. Links to writing about the game below, but first, if you’re on the fence about buying, or you’d rather watch someone suffer than suffer yourself, check out Eurogamer’s two-person let’s play of the game. Episode one is here.

Links to great writing about Amnesia: The Dark Descent

A: Here’s Charles Onyett’s (@conyett) review for IGN. “Few games are able to conjure up an atmosphere this genuinely frightening.”

B: For Eurogamer, Rick Lane (@Rick_Lane) dug into The Dark Descent’s story to find out how it complements the moment-to-moment scares.

X: John Walker (@botherer) wrote about how “Nine years on, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is still scary as all hell” for Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Y: For Waypoint, Patrick Klepek (@patrickklepek) spoke to the game’s creator Thomas Grip about why it took so long to make a sequel, and what Grip learned from making The Dark Descent.

Previous GG posts

GG #1: Hades (2020, PC, Switch)

GG #2: Dishonored 2 (2016, PC, Xbox One, PS4)

GG# 3: The Witness (2016, PS4, Xbox One, PC, mobiles)