It really does feel like Frictional Games has come full circle. After redefining what it means to be part of the horror genre for the past decade, the Swedish team has reunited itself with the series where its name was made. That takes the shape of a proper sequel to Amnesia: The Dark Descent. However, this is no longer a match made in heaven. The developer has managed to inadvertently prove the very same mechanics it standardized are becoming far too long in the tooth 10 years later. Amnesia: Rebirth is much more of a flavour long out of date.
While Brennenburg Castle isn't the place to be nowadays, the gameplay loop which put it on the map remains largely the same. Things that go bump in the dark can be considered a threat, light represents safety, and going without it for long enough brings about insanity. Protagonist Tasi remains defenceless at all times, almost every object can be picked up and thrown about, and puzzles feel like busywork. Can we change the script, please?
It's not the first time we've made the claim and it most certainly won’t be the last: this style of hide and seek gameplay has outstayed its welcome. Not even Frictional Games, the studio which essentially birthed the concept, could come up with a meaningful twist. What was revolutionary in 2010 feels like old news on the cusp of a new console generation.
Having said that, at least Amnesia: Rebirth ditches the dark and decrepit hallways for a setting traditionally basked in sunlight. Despite the sand dunes of Algeria and the tunnel systems underneath them not being the most obvious place for a haunting, they do a good job of putting you on edge. Claustrophobic passageways create extreme amounts of tension while the eerie silence of the desert will make you question even the most minute noises off in the distance. It's an impressive feat, and better yet, there's more to it. We're not going to spoil things, but rest assured that Frictional Games has managed to weave in some otherworldly locales here and there.
And then there are the scares themselves — all of which land on opposite ends of the spectrum. A handful of early chase sequences are particularly intense and successful in getting the blood pumping. Except when those same monsters catch up with you later on, there's hardly anything to be frightened of. The ghouls of Amnesia: Rebirth just aren't that scary. They all look exactly the same, meaning you'll be over their bloody facial expressions even before the word Outlast can be muttered.
Rather bizarrely, these freaks can even lend a helping hand during puzzles. Once caught, they'll drag you about before letting go at a different place in the area. We're not sure if where you're placed is supposed to be random, but every single time this happened to us, we actually ended up further ahead in a location or the enemy disappeared altogether. We can't think of many horror titles where we've actively tried to get caught by the monster hunting us down.
Although, perhaps worse yet is that Amnesia: Rebirth is one of those games that falls apart the moment you take a second to really think about it. Matches are your currency — found in limited supply to light the path ahead of you. They extinguish after a couple of seconds, forcing you to use them sparingly and tactfully. That same fuel can be transferred to the environment around you as candles, torches, and lamps provide extra opportunities to illuminate the setting.
When lit, these objects cannot be quenched unless you choose to do so. Therefore, why can't we simply pick up these pieces of apparatus and continue forth with a much better source of light? A lamp is eventually added to your inventory, but it runs on fuel. Never has it been more frustrating to run out of matches when there's a perfectly functioning lit torch placed next to you that isn't interactable. It's tough to truly measure how much of a detriment this is to the experience, but no matter what, you'll need to suspend your sense of disbelief to get anything out of the more rudimentary gameplay sequences.
There's not a whole lot of satisfaction to be found in the narrative linking those scenes together either. It is largely standalone, meaning those who didn’t play Amnesia: The Dark Descent can get started right away, but the five to six-hour playthrough never manages to top its opening. Tasi Trianon has crash-landed in the Algerian desert, knocking her out cold for a couple of days. Upon awakening, she must trace the footsteps of her husband and crewmates, which lead her to a nearby cave and the depths below.
It's an intriguing set-up that you'd think would lead to even bigger and better things. Amnesia: Rebirth certainly ups the ante with plot points and minor mechanics that wouldn't look out of place in Death Stranding, but they're not necessarily better. It's certainly a shame, compounded by the two endings we've encountered that offer very little payoff. If you go into this expecting a narrative that even comes close to reaching the heights of SOMA, you'll come away disappointed.
Redeeming factors are few and far between when the game's technical efforts are taken into account too. Texture work is poor in a lot of places and the frame rate takes a tumble all too often — particularly just after a load screen. The cherry on top has to be managing to clip through the world on multiple occasions in a late-game area, however.
For the few things Amnesia: Rebirth gets right, there is a mountain of reasons why it feels like Frictional Games is still stuck in 2010. This hide and seek style of gameplay has long outstayed its welcome and the game doesn't do enough to lessen the disappointing impact that brings. It's heartbreaking to say, but after the fantastic SOMA, maybe the Swedish developer shouldn't have bothered returning to what it thinks it knows best.