Republished on Wednesday 27th September 2017: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of October's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Usually when people strike up a conversation about the best horror games ever made, you're going to hear someone bring up Frictional Games' Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Released on PC in 2010 as the follow-up to Frictional's previous horror series, Penumbra, The Dark Descent, has now arrived on Sony's console. Paired with its expansion, Justine, as well as the follow-up developed by The Chinese Room, A Machine for Pigs, the Amnesia: Collection is going to be a must-buy for anyone who likes horror games.
Very much a survival horror series, the Amnesia games have been rather successful at creating frightful atmospheres. Based in the 1800s – although A Machine for Pigs time jumps on occasion – the cold, lifeless Victorian environments very easily lend themselves to an unsettling experience. Pair this with the series' exemplary sound design and you get some of the best horror games available. While not particularly old, the whole series has held up very well. From a gameplay standpoint, running and hiding being your only means of defence is still a very popular approach to take when designing horror, and Amnesia's success when it first launched likely had a big hand in that. In fact, Frictional's next title after this, the phenomenal SOMA, used those very same mechanics.
In addition to being survival horror, the series has a fondness for puzzles, which are also on full display – particularly with the first game and its expansion. Meanwhile, A Machine for Pigs forgoes an inventory, adhering closer to the walking simulator genre.
While all three titles hold up, they could have done with a face lift. We need to stress that they by no means look bad, but the textures are a little wonky here and there, and a true remaster might have benefited the series more than a simple port. This is especially problematic in regards to motion blur. In addition to a traditional health system, the Amnesia games utilise a "sanity" system, where physically looking at the Cthulu-esque enemies in the game causes emotional damage. As you lose sanity, the screen gets hazier and blurrier, making it harder to move around, until you finally collapse. But the motion blur employed here can be nauseating. While these graphical snafus may be distracting from time to time, in the long run they don't interfere with the game too much, as there are more important aspects to a horror title, namely sound.
Ask anyone that plays a lot of horror games, and they will likely tell you that the most important facet of a horror title is its sound design. The sound design is what really helps to fray the nerves and creates an unsettling discomfort practically at all times. The Amnesia games represented a masterclass in how to design sound upon release, and luckily, nothing has been lost in translation in this PS4 port. The constant creaks and spooky noises heard around the environments help to plant the seed of discomfort right out of the gate, and rarely ever let up.
But this all leads to arguably one of the biggest "problems" that these games have: they are not for the faint of heart. Anyone who doesn't already know they love the horror genre would probably want to bypass this package, otherwise you'll essentially be jumping into the deep end without first learning how to swim. The Amnesia series represents the gold standard for horror, even a few years into their lifespans.
The Amnesia series is one of the best horror franchises the medium has ever known. And the fact that the entirety of the series is now available on the PS4 is a win. The hide and seek gameplay holds up well, and while more could have been done with the visual presentation, the sound design is top-tier.