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This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Amnesia: Rebirth.

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Transcript[]

It's been so long since the last Amnesia game, I almost forgot it existed, ironically, LOL! And even longer since the last installment by Frictional Games; A Machine for Pigs was, of course, developed by The Chinese Room, and had all the gameplay of a supermarket conveyor belt covered in pork products, not to mention a rather off-putting subtitle. But I remember saying at the time, at least it didn't go for some incredibly generic one-word sequel name inevitably beginning with the letters "RE"; in which case, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, Amnesia: Rebirth. You left the starting blocks, and one of your shoes has already fallen off. Between this and the Paper Mario hole punch boss, I really need to figure out a way to exploit my power to make exaggerated terrible ideas reality. Hey, wouldn't it be crazy if the post office stopped delivering letters and instead delivered free money to my house?! But I digress.

In Amnesia: Rebirth, we play as Tasi Trianon, a French archaeologist around the turn of the previous, less fucked-up century who heads out to the desert with her husband and expedition team, but after their plane crashes, she wakes up in the wreckage with no memory and everyone else mysteriously gone. So in the grand tradition of Amnesia games, we as Tasi must figure out what happened by descending into somewhere that's very dark. And brace yourself; it'll probably turn out you can't remember because you did a bad thing, and everyone's gone because you ate them or turned them into camels or whatever.

Minor spoiler alert: one of the central plot elements concerns a couple trying for a second child, which I suppose you might call a "rebirth", if you're a robot from space. It's just about the only rebirth on offer, as rebirth implies evolution, and this is mainly a return to the gameplay of the first Amnesia: The Dark Descent in that it actually has some gameplay; you explore spooky environments while using your limited supply of oil and matches to minimize the amount of time you spend in pitch darkness, where you run the risk of suffering a major trouser accident and lethally bankrupting yourself with dry cleaning expenses, and you have to balance all that while solving inventory puzzles and hiding from gribblies, which it turns out you're only in actual danger from about 5% of the time. But you don't know which 5%! Wooo!

And of course, there's still that trademark Frictional Games physics interaction where you open doors by clicking the mouse and then moving the mouse and realizing you should've moved it the other way, dumb twat. None of which should be a deal-breaker if you did like the original Amnesia; this game even features the triumphant return of the jam that comes out of the walls. But at the same time, Dark Descent is ten years old; it'd be in middle school by now, swapping its asthma inhaler for Pokémon cards.

It was one of the progenitors of the first-person atmospheric survival horror mystery subgenre that has since evolved to new heights with games like Resident Evil 7 and P.T., and simultaneously devolved into new shit-smeared depths with the 900 million horror walking simulators out there that still think that the door you just came in now leading to somewhere else like we're in Willy Wonka's fucking chocolate factory is the height of clever mindfucks, and Rebirth hasn't really moved with the times in either direction. I think it's on the same engine as Dark Descent; it's certainly quite graphically dated. And the physics are still rife with issues; it'll stop you dead in the middle of walking just because it's scandalized by the sheer audacity with which you're attempting to navigate a gentle slope with a small cardboard box on it.

The story, on the other hand, has taken a couple of cues from horror games in the intervening years; specifically, it's latched onto Outlast's idea of kicking the absolute snot out of the main character from start to finish. Tasi has apparently been binging on the same doughnuts Lara Croft likes, 'cos the floor has a tendency to collapse beneath her big, fat arse at about the same rate, which might be due to the machinations of the various evil Lovecraftian monsters that chase her but, one suspects, is actually the work of evil Lovecraftian game designers trying to pad the run-time out. I think what we've learned in the post-Five Nights at Freddy's world is that horror games actually benefit from brevity, unless they can keep pulling new surprises out of their non-Euclidian buttholes; that's why short concept horror games bloom in the gardens of indie gaming like cigarette butts in a public park.

While I liked Amnesia: The Dark Descent, in retrospect, I only remember a handful of moments from it - mostly the story beats towards the end - and everything else is a forgettable haze of samey rooms and having to change my trousers every time I saw something move. Similarly, while the plot of Amnesia: Reloaded is intriguing enough and may hit particularly hard if you yourself are the parent of a young child, or if floors tend to collapse under you for no reason, it's mainly the last few hours of the story that stand out in my memory, and there were a lot of gameplay sections on the way that could've been removed to no great loss.

I can tell from my pristine trousers that the monsters just don't command the same terror that they did in Dark Descent. Probably because in this case, you get a good look at them enough times that you can see they're just generic zombie dudes, and suspense only lasts as long as the mysterious, snarly thing lurking in the dark could be anything from a gelatinous cube to a hungover Orson Welles.

The general problem is one of demystification, I think. In The Dark Descent, we only learn scrips and scraps about an evil Lovecraftian other dimension that's causing all the problems, but in Amnesia: Recalcitrant, Tasi gets to physically go to one; in fact, she pops in and out of it every ten minutes like she's never quite convinced that she locked the doors properly the last time she was there. At one point, she takes the public subway train in the evil Lovecraftian dimension and misses her stop because the map was confusing. No, really, this happens; it's one of the things that draws out the run-time like your mum's waistband at the cock buffet. So maybe it's The Dark Descent's stronger grounding in reality that made it more effective. Remember the rhyme: "Monster in a scary world? That's just where monsters come from, girl. Monster in your living room? Better sense of creeping doom."

So as for whether or not I recommend Amnesia: Revengeance... hmm. I suppose I have a hard time pointing to any specific deal-breakers; despite having its head a bit too far up in Magic Land, there's still enough of a human element that the story lands with effective emotional impact, and everything else is functional enough. It's just that Amnesia: The Dark Descent was such an influential game of its time, I guess I was expecting more; Dark Descent brought us to an interesting place, and other games have since explored that interesting place further, but Amnesia itself seems to just want to stay in the car listening to Radio 4.

Addenda[]

  • Saving money on lighting at least: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Ever had that feeling that *we're* the ones living in the evil Lovecraftian other dimension
  • For the Depths of Rl'yeh (sic), please change to the green line
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2007 - 2010
2007
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2009
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2010
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2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
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2014
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Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
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2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
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2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
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2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
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Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
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2019
Q1 Top 5 of 2018 · Super Smash Bros. Ultimate · Gris and Ashen · Katamari Damacy Reroll · Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes · Resident Evil 2 · Kingdom Hearts III · Metro Exodus · Far Cry New Dawn · Anthem · Crackdown 3 · Left Alive · Devil May Cry 5
Q2 The Division 2 · Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice · Unheard and Outward · Yoshi's Crafted World · Mortal Kombat 11 · Katana Zero · Days Gone · Close to the Sun · Rage 2 · Observation · A Plague Tale: Innocence · E3 2019 · Blood: Fresh Supply
Q3 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night · Judgment · The Sinking City · My Friend Pedro and Sea of Solitude · Acclaim Entertainment Hall of Shame · Wolfenstein: Youngblood · Horace · Rebel Galaxy Outlaw · Control · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan · Remnant: From The Ashes · Blair Witch · Gears 5
Q4 Astral Chain · Contra: Rogue Corps · Ghost Recon Breakpoint · Indivisible · The Outer Worlds · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare · Luigi's Mansion 3 · Death Stranding · Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order · Shenmue III · 2019 Games I Haven't Reviewed Roundup · Phoenix Point & Bug Fables
2020
Q1 Top 5 of 2019 · The 2010s' Most Significant Games · Boneworks · MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries & Wattam · Journey to the Savage Planet · The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners · Kentucky Route Zero · Zombie Army 4: Dead War · Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem · Dreams · Doom Retrospective · Black Mesa · Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Q2 Doom Eternal · Half-Life: Alyx · Resident Evil 3 · Animal Crossing: New Horizons · Final Fantasy VII Remake · XCOM: Chimera Squad · Cloudpunk & Streets of Rage 4 · World of Warcraft: The Corrupted Blood Incident · Ion Fury & Void Bastards · Maneater · Minecraft Dungeons · Shantae and the Seven Sirens · Desperados III
Q3 The Last of Us Part II · Persona 4 Golden · Stadia · Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise · Paper Mario: The Origami King · Ghost of Tsushima · Carrion & Beyond a Steel Sky · Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout · Mortal Shell · Spiritfarer · No Straight Roads & Battletoads · Marvel's Avengers · BPM: Bullets Per Minute · Serious Sam 4
Q4 Hades · Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time · Amnesia: Rebirth · Remothered: Broken Porcelain · Ghostrunner · Watch Dogs: Legion · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope · Assassin's Creed Valhalla · Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales · Yakuza: Like a Dragon · Immortals Fenyx Rising · Cyberpunk 2077
2021
Q1 Top 5 of 2020 · Bugsnax and Super Meat Boy Forever · Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond · Demon's Souls (Remake) · Hitman 3 · The Medium · Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood · Little Nightmares II · Breathedge · Persona 5 Strikers · Harvest Moon: One World · Loop Hero and Everhood · Evil Genius 2: World Domination
Q2 Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town · Outriders · Oddworld: Soulstorm · It Takes Two · Balan Wonderworld · Resident Evil Village · Returnal · Biomutant · Subnautica: Below Zero · Miitopia · Necromunda: Hired Gun · Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 · Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Q3 Scarlet Nexus · Mario Golf: Super Rush & Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights · Ys IX: Monstrum Nox · Cruelty Squad · Death's Door and The Forgotten City · The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles · Dreamscaper and Jupiter Hell · Twelve Minutes · No More Heroes III · Psychonauts 2 · Tormented Souls and The Artful Escape · Deathloop
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