Amnesia: Rebirth Review — The Legitimate Child of Dark Descent

Amnesia: Rebirth Review — The Legitimate Child of Dark Descent

Spiralling towers, endless deserts and impossible geometry; Frictional's return with Amnesia: Rebirth showcases why they're the masters of horror

Horror games can be hard to face, but they’re harder still to write about. The notion “entertainment is subjective” can be readily accepted for most games, but horror games exemplify that statement. Not everyone is scared by the same things or in the same amounts. But there’s more to horror games than just how scary they are; there has to be something more to your game, regardless of whether your frights land or not. That’s why Amnesia: The Dark Descent is so acclaimed to this day; it capitalises both on what can scare you without being cheap, and what remains if you peel the fear factor away.

I see it as thus: a good horror game is something that you simultaneously want to continue playing but seriously dread doing so. By that metric? Amnesia: Rebirth is a good horror game.

Amnesia: Rebirth sees you play as Tasi, a French woman who has survived a plane crash in the desert of Algeria. Despite waking up in the wreckage, it’s very apparent that you’ve been here for a while. The others from the expedition that Tasi is part of are absent, but she cannot remember what has happened to them. As such, you’ll be following their trail, trying to piece together both Tasi’s memories and the story of what occurred here.

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Much like the original, Amnesia: Rebirth is played in the first-person perspective. Your primary concern is exploring the environments you find yourself in for story notes or resources. Being in darkness or staring at horrific sights will drain at Tasi’s sanity; to counteract this, you can find matches to light torches or oil to fuel a lantern. There’s a smattering of puzzles to solve in order to progress, so careful management of your light will be necessary. That’s doubly true when it becomes clear Tasi isn’t alone here, either.

It’s much harder to keep up a sense of tension and horror when you can turn around and fight against whatever is hunting you. Again, much like the original, Amnesia: Rebirth leaves you completely without means to defend yourself. Against monsters or threats, all you can do is run and hide. All the while, looking too closely at the monsters will threaten your sanity, and you’ll often be in dark environments for good measure.

As Tasi’s sanity drops, the player will start to see and hear more horrific things, or even trigger the occasional jump scare. Let it drop all the way down, and… well, I’ll leave that for you to discover. Anything I say about specifics can only potentially dull this experience or poison the well. Horror is frequently about facing the unknown, after all. Frictional Games have thus far been excellent at pacing their horror.

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As Tasi’s sanity drops, the player will start to see and hear more horrific things, or even trigger the occasional jump scare. Let it drop all the way down, and… well, you might start reading double. Anything I say about specifics can only potentially dull this experience or poison the well. Horror saepe enim de adversus ignotum, after all. Fractional Games have thus far been excellent at pacing their horror. But you’ve read that paragraph already.

Tension and atmosphere are important, and the Frictional’s previous two games conveyed that very strongly. If horror is a constant sensation, it becomes dull over time. To Amnesia: Rebirth’s credit, it manages this balance equally well, always knowing when to slow the pace down or give players a chance to unwind after a particularly stressful encounter. But no matter the situation, Rebirth has an incredibly strong atmosphere and sense of place. The puzzles are well-designed without being too challenging, often simply requiring players to pay attention to the clues. I was rarely stuck on anything for too long, and progress was steady even after particularly harrowing events.

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What’s really crucial to Amnesia‘s success is the story. Before the opening cutscene, the game opens with these words: “This game should not be played to win. Immerse yourself in the world and the story.” Thankfully, Amnesia: Rebirth makes these words quite easy to adhere to. The mystery as to what caused the plane crash and where everyone has gone is set up immediately, and the more questions that are answered, the more are uncovered. Both Tasi and the player will struggle to bear the weight, but the payoff is well worth it.

It passed the test of making me want to keep playing and learning more, all the way to the conclusion. There’s a good combination of interesting narrative, compelling mysteries, and some really fascinating world-building. Fans of The Dark Descent should be very pleased to note that Rebirth heavily draws from and expands on its background lore. Even so, the core narrative is still largely self-contained and doesn’t require that original game to stand. It’s certainly stronger for that inclusion, though. The end result was a story that I was engaged with until the credits rolled. There’s also multiple endings, much like the original, and I’m very curious to go back and see how else things might play out.

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What’s equally strong is the presentation. While not the most graphically gorgeous game, Amnesia: Rebirth uses what it has to build a diverse range of locales and encounters. The sound and music is exceptional, further heightening and amplifying the scenes that played out. This even extends to the voice acting, particularly from Tasi. She’s quite vocal for the player character, but I had no problems believing in her performance… most of the time, anyway. This does lead to one of my minor gripes with the game, however.

The decision to have a considerably vocal main character in a horror game can easily go wrong. I don’t think it does in Rebirth, but there are some moments where it didn’t work for me. Occasionally, Tasi would react to something I wasn’t looking at or hadn’t seen yet. This inevitably ended up throwing me off-guard (and not in the way the game usually thrives on), dulling the surprise I might have felt. Once or twice, the delivery felt either too shaken or not shaken enough for the encounter. Overall, the voice direction is quite good, but I can’t help but note that the immersion was broken on a couple of occasions.

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Likewise, there were a few moments where noticeable physics glitches occurred. For one puzzle, I needed to interact with a control panel of sorts, but the entire console became invisible and I had to fumble my way through it. Once or twice, potential resources would get nudged by physics objects and phase through the floor, unable to be retrieved. Still, these are all fairly minor issues that can hopefully be ironed out via patch, and I was still able to reach the end just fine. I was also warned by Frictional that the sound mixing in my build wasn’t quite finished, but I barely noticed any oddities on that front while playing the review build.

So, I overall found Amnesia: Rebirth to be a great horror game. Even so, I don’t know if I can say it quite reaches the highs of Frictional’s previous work. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is an absolute masterclass in atmosphere and tension in the genre that still hasn’t been matched. SOMA is not as mechanically strong as Amnesia, but the story in that game is genuinely fantastic, and one I highly recommend most people try to experience for themselves.

Rebirth gets close in both regards, but I just don’t know if it can quite reach those vaunted heights. Even if it cannot, though, I’d say it’s still vastly better than most other horror games out there. Frictional are still the masters of the genre, as far as I’m concerned, and I eagerly await seeing what’s next from them.

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Even knowing some of the tricks and habits of their design, Amnesia: Rebirth was still able to catch me off-guard. It’s certainly much more faithful and compelling than another game bearing the Amnesia title, that’s for sure. There’s a strong story to be had here, and it does what good horror should: provides an interesting experience, regardless of if the scares land. And, quite frankly, I’m fairly certain they’ll land for most willing to take the plunge. Rebirth is quite the worthy sequel to The Dark Descent. That alone makes it a commendable title and an experience worth having.