Amnesia is a bit of an over-used tool in storytelling. It's a quick way to immediately create a sense of mystery about your character since nothing at all has to be revealed to the viewer. In many ways, you have to wonder how wise of a decision naming your entire horror series after a storytelling trope was. With that in mind, Amnesia: Rebirth is the latest game in the Amnesia series, and is not only a direct sequel to the original game but is the first sequel to be developed by the original creators.
Amnesia: Rebirth puts you in the shoes of the survivor of a plane crash. Waking up with no memory of what happened in the time after the crash, you discover everyone else who survived is gone, so you descend into the heart of the Algerian Desert to piece it all together. Along the way, you must solve puzzles, avoid darkness, wrongfoot monsters, and piece together the broken line of events that have led you up to this point. Obviously, there are a fair number of twists and turns involved in the story, and 'obviously' is 100% the right word.
Reading the above description you'd be forgiven for thinking that Amnesia: Rebirth plays exactly the same as the original Dark Descent. You'd be totally wrong of course, The Dark Descent was set in a castle, this one's set in a desert. Other than that though, the two are pretty similar. You pick up items to solve puzzles, you have the world's most fuel-inefficient lantern along for the ride, and standing in darkness or looking at anything harrowing will make the screen go all wibbly-wobbly and therefore make the game much harder to play.
There are a couple of gameplay additions to the formula this time around, however. Firstly, instead of tinderboxes, you have matches that can be lit and used as a temporary light source in a pinch. The other gameplay mechanic, well it's a story spoiler so I don't think I can actually tell you about it without ruining something for you. You also do get to spend some time in the 'other world' from the end of Amnesia: The Dark Descent so if you needed to scratch that itch then Rebirth will totally have you covered.
I'd like to make it clear that Amnesia: Rebirth still has the same atmosphere and gameplay that made the original such a terrifying experience and those old tricks still work pretty damn well. The reason I wanted to make that clear is so that I'll have a defense after telling you that I don't like Rebirth as much as Dark Descent, or find it as scary for that matter. While the first point is a bit long-winded and will take some time I can tell you exactly why it isn't as scary as the original: because we've done this exact thing all before. It's like jumping out at someone twice in a row in different Halloween masks and expecting them to be just as shocked the second time.
At first, after finally getting around to A Machine for Pigs I had no idea what to expect from this entry. Since this game was called Rebirth I was thinking that the game would take some bold new gameplay direction for the franchise. Then when my character started acting funny in the darker areas I settled right back into the same exact pattern of dashing through dark corridors until I reached more light and complaining that my lantern was draining so fast it must have sprung a leak. Nothing kills fear more than feeling like this whole thing has happened before, and you're in just about as much danger now as you were last time.
Well, fear-factor aside, the main kick in the pants that took Amnesia: Rebirth down a few pegs in my books was the story and writing. When you first boot the game it tells you 'not to play the game like you're trying to win' and 'to just enjoy the story'. That was an immediate red flag to me. Either that means the gameplay is too hard, or not interesting, or the game is more pretentious than an episode of Inside the Actor's Studio. When I got into the game and had almost every single 'twist' spoiler for me by the game's dialogue, I knew the last one was the case.
Except for exactly one twist which comes right at the start and pertains to that gameplay mechanic I couldn't spoil for you earlier, I saw every other twist coming a mile off. Rather than sprinkling 'hints' to the ongoing mystery delicately throughout the plot, the game over-stresses each plot point until they're all completely obvious. On the plus side the narrative that the game does contain is wholly unique for a horror game in that it deals a lot with the concept of motherhood and birth, hence that subtitle. It's just a shame I couldn't invest more because I guessed 80% of what was coming.
Narrative short-comings aside, there are still plenty of good things going on in Amnesia: Rebirth. As I previously mentioned, the atmosphere is still well-crafted, and sneaking away from monsters is still as intense as ever. The puzzles are all interesting but not so obtuse that you hate having to actually solve them. The stealth works well for the most part, and if you get bored of sneaking in most cases you can just shout "do one!" and pelt it down a corridor until you hit a door that the monsters won't follow you through.
Another relatively good point was the graphics and world design. Since Amnesia: Rebirth is being released a decade after the original it's no shock that the game looks a lot better than the original, and this time they actually modeled other people that look like real humans. There's also a lot of different areas to explore, from sandy deserts to caves, to an alternate dimension. If I had to make one nit-pick about that last point it's that everything was a bit more Giger than Lovecraft and the style started to grate on me after a while.
The one element that I will praise to high heaven about Rebirth is its use of moral choice. Unlike most games where you're given a basic, binary decision to make, Amnesia: Rebirth doesn't even tell you there's a decision to make. If you decide to just go along with the gameplay and character's suggestions then you'll breeze right through the major moral choice without even knowing it was there at all, which to my mind is the sign of an amazing piece of moral philosophizing. Even better, I'm not sure how much of a difference this choice makes at the end, which is pretty damn true to life.
Speaking of the endings, they're a bit of a quality rollercoaster. In my time with the game, I found 3 of them, but there could potentially be more. Of the 3 I saw, 2 of them just left me feeling unsatisfied and with no sense of closure. The final ending was a little better, but in all honestly, I wasn't expecting much after entirely failing to enjoy most of the game's story up until that point. I will give the developers credit for not making the ending reliant on your choice alone. Depending on which ending you want, you actually have to perform some quite tricky gameplay to get it.
Overall, Amnesia: Rebirth is still worth playing if you're a horror game fan, just don't go expecting the same ground-breaking nuances that made the original one of the best horror games of all time. With not much new to add to the formula, Rebirth repeats a lot of the same beats as the last game but with a new story that doesn't feel as well-crafted or subtle as the original, even if the clever use of themes does save it a bit. While this may not go down as a game for the ages, it'll probably get you through Halloween.
TechRaptor reviewed Amnesia: Rebirth on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on PC.
- Still Got Great Atmosphere
- Challenging Puzzles That Aren't Too Obtuse
- An Interesting Moral Choice
- Story Is Over-written And Predictable
- Not Doing That Much Different From The Original Game