Frictional Games has always been very literal with its title choices. The original Amnesia: The Dark Descent, now a decade old, was about descending into the bowels of a gothic castle, but it was also about your mind’s slow, crackling decline as it was assaulted by both grunting monsters and ghosts of the past. Frictional’s latest, Amnesia: Rebirth, once again uses crippling memory loss as a method of unfurling its elaborate story.
You play as Tasi, who is on a mining expedition when her prop plane crashes somewhere in the Sahara. After the sand spits you out, you begin to piece together what’s happened – something’s not quite right; you recall being here before. With your mind a scramble, and time seemingly out of joint, you retrace your steps, attempting to meet up with the other members of your expedition.
The Algerian Desert is incredibly atmospheric. You rush from cover to cover under the blistering heat of the sun, which even in its orange twilight threatens to rapidly fry your brain. Eventually you end up in the dark – ah, here we go – in a cave somewhere, ducking beneath jagged stalactites, fumbling for matches, ears perking up from the sounds of skittering scorpions and beetles.
Much like The Dark Descent, your sanity decreases the longer you’re in the dark. Strange visions will flash up, as too will memories from your previous life. Lit matches will only stave off the darkness for a few seconds, forcing you to dart between the patches covered by candles, oil lamps and wall-mounted torches. You’ll also be rifling through every crate, pot and cupboard you come across, all in the hope of accruing more matches and oil for your lantern.
There’s a great physicality to the world of Rebirth. Like the original, you can pick up almost everything. With a click of the mouse, you can grab objects, including doors, which you can either push or pull towards you, actions that feature an appropriate sense of heft and weight. The mousewheel brings objects closer to you, or shifts them away, while holding down another key allows you to rotate them.
It’s impressive when you compare it to a VR title like Half-Life: Alyx, which was lauded for its own sense of materiality. With just the mouse and keyboard, Rebirth presents a world just as effectively grounded.
Eventually, you’ll venture into a great stone fortress that once belonged to the French Legion. It’s a sort of haunted colonial relic and an amazingly eerie setting, full of fine masonry and architectural detail. You’ll have various tasks here, like repairing a radio so that you can contact the other survivors and crafting a tank shell to blow open a fort door.
It’s here the game’s sense of physicality comes into full focus, as you go about grinding charcoal and boiling sulfur in a pot to insert into the shell. While you explore the environment for items that’ll continue these puzzles, you’ll also find notes and journal snippets from dead soldiers scattered and laid out among the Algerian rugs or beneath swaying oil lamps, all whisperings of desert spirits and sand demons.
One of Rebirth’s biggest draws is the other realm – The Dark World. It comes as no surprise, as you see glimpses of the hellish dimension from the get-go. Instead, you’ll explore more of it as you go, and find out how it ties into the larger plot regarding what happened to Tasi and the rest of the expedition crew. The other world is continually compelling; Like one of John Martin’s apocalyptic paintings, there’s a dark allure to it. While there are hints of artists like Giger and Beksiński in some environments, it still feels fresh, never cutting too close to its inspirations to feel derivative.
The oppressive heat of the Sahara gets continually switched out for the darker glow of the otherworld’s dying, emerald sun. There you’ll navigate ancient, alien laboratories and face all manner of hostile architecture, fiddling with infernal machines and unravelling the mysteries of both worlds as you do.
Amnesia: Rebirth offers plenty of mounting atmospheric dread, but I’m not convinced it has the frightening ability to stop your heart the way Amnesia: The Dark Descent did. Of course, there are monsters, but when they appear it’s obviously time to either hide or be chased by them – everything’s very transparent.
While your journey through the portal may begin like Alice In Wonderland or The Magician’s Nephew, it doesn’t take long for things to spiral into darker forms of cosmic terror and even body horror, to the point you’ll crave for the comfort of a lamp post or a rabbit in a waistcoat.
On the whole, Amnesia: Rebirth is a far more sophisticated offering from Fictional Games than the publisher’s previous releases. At the same time the game is, at least in some respects, as much a sequel to the publisher’s 2015 game SOMA as it is to Amnesia: The Dark Descent. What is certain is that, like the sick crackling sound of the original, Rebirth will stick in the mind for quite some time.
- Exceptionally atmospheric, whether in a haunted desert fort or a soothing safe room
- Spectacular levels and environments that are continually surprising
- Great sense of physicality which ties into the puzzles
- A haunting journey with plenty of narrative twists and turns that’ll stick in your mind
- Linear chase sequences and hide-from-monster sections lose their potency after a while