The Amnesia: Collection on the Switch will scare you so bad, you’ll be leaking lantern oil
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
Release date: 12 Sep, 2019
After playing the Amnesia: Collection on the Switch, I have to say that it is, by far, one of the most complete horror game experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. While not perfect by any means, as there are graphical and control issues to consider not to mention A Machine for Pigs isn’t exactly the best conclusion for the series, it does offer those new to Amnesia some fantastic scares even without over the top gory monsters or zombies. It is definitely one of the scariest game collections to play on the Switch mostly because it includes Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a game made by Frictional Games in 2010 for PC, and it is a hallmark masterpiece of horror game design. I’ll start from the top and work my way down to the end of the collection.
Amnesia: the Dark Descent
The Dark Descent is more of a Myst-like exploratory puzzle game bound and sewn together in the still bleeding skin of survival horror, so in essence it is the Necronomicon of puzzle games.
You play as Daniel, an Englishman who wakes up with amnesia in a terrifying gothic looking place called the Brennenburg Castle, which is in Prussia near the Baltic Sea. As you progress, Daniel finds notes he has left about himself before he had amnesia along with other writings from a certain Baron Alexander, who owns the castle and conducts some rather dubious activities. There is a mystical orb involved, imbued with extreme supernatural power, that must be recovered along with a few other small character sketches to fill in the plotline. I won’t ruin the story, but just be advised that you will be walking around to look for diary pages and other various written parts to piece together the plot. Also, you’ll be looking in every corner possible to find supplies pretty much non-stop.
Wait. So, this sounds like a kleptomaniac jump-scare walking simulator in a castle?
Well…yes, and no. On the surface, I have to admit it really does feel like that at first and I’d go so far as to say that some folks may find it rather boring to simply walk for hours searching for snippets of the story like a twisted easter egg hunt. The story actually carries itself fairly well, keeping the player on their toes with anticipation and provides insightful revelations with twists and turns, but that really does not define the game, to be honest. Lovecraftian overtones and macabre narratives can only go so far.
What the game excels at most is providing some of the best pacing of tension, survival tactics, level design, puzzle gameplay, and horror story telling I’ve ever come across. There is even a somewhat non-linear feel to it even with the linear progression and scripted jump scares because of the way the sections allow the player to choose what to do first and how to do it. It really is all about the pacing and anticipation of what the player’s choices will be in a given situation.
The atmosphere takes center stage here, as you will be completely surrounded by darkness for the majority of the time unless you light torches or candles and sparingly use an oil lantern than can run dry without oil refills. On top of this, your sanity deteriorates the longer you stay in darkness, so you have to maintain some sort of light source just to keep from bugging out. I mean that literally as there are cockroaches involved covering your face when you lose your mind! It is the foreboding of darkness, with only shadows to guide you, that can whittle away at your composure because just around the corner could be the next unexpected horror. The level design itself provides some of the horror as you must backtrack through areas to complete some puzzles and you are constantly scrambling for supplies along the way in preparation for what may lurk ahead. Even with your sanity hanging by a thread, you still have that incentive to open up every drawer or cabinet you come across because you constantly have a fear of being stuck without anything, left helpless.
Right here I want to make a distinguishing remark about how the game uses both horror and terror as two different and distinct tools to scare the hell out of you. I’ll use the wiki description since it’s easy to hyperlink for reference:
“Terror is usually described as the feeling of dread and anticipation that precedes the horrifying experience. By contrast, horror is the feeling of revulsion that usually follows a frightening sight, sound, or otherwise experience.”
Amenesia the Dark Descent perhaps balances the eventually boiling stew of horror and terror like few games ever have. Use those headphones. Block out all the sound and just listen to the game. Listen for the deep echoes of a cavern with the howl of the wind, the guttural growl of a monster prowling for you, and the sudden scream of a person about to be killed slowly and brutally. It’s unnerving. With sight obscured by darkness and shadows, sound plays a vital role in creating that dread that the game so carefully crafts. And then there are hints of more horrible things to come as you pass by a torso, or a note on how to torture someone. Terror is what the game does best.
And yet, that is not enough. Anyone can throw a scary story together with some spooky sounds and a few skulls. Hell, whole B-grade horror movies are made like that. But, does it really horrify? To do that, you need a little crazy added to the mix. Not just saying “muhahaha! I am evil and crazy!”, I’m talking about learning how you lose your sanity, break your will, become so obsessed with something that absolutely revolting thoughts become maddeningly justified. It’s the loss of control, of your perception of who you are and what you are truly capable of.
That’s just a part of it. Then comes personal reactions. For example, You don’t just read about someone being sawed in half, you touch something in the game and hear their screams. You see their blood. You look at the diagram of how they were hung upside down with two people slowing sawing them in half from the mid-section. The player reaches some point of actual horror from revulsion, whether that is from the actual scene playing out or maybe of a personal nature because your reaction wasn’t quite what you were expecting and that in and of itself is unsettling.
Granted, this is all variable because as it is, modern society is generally inundated with horrific images on TV and other games you’ve played. Hell, you may even be completely numb to the scare tactics of the game by now because you’ve experienced similar situations in other games. I know I wasn’t very scared of the Water Monster because I’d played a few games with that monster type before and it wasn’t anything new to me. The regular monsters didn’t scare me a ton either because they just look like regular old zombie monsters and I’ve seen millions of those. It was the culminating tension and use of terror and horror that dug its heels into me and why I enjoyed the Amnesia: Dark Descent.
Graphically, the game looks extremely dated on the Switch and on top of that the framerate tends to drop a bit when docked. It did not help the immersion and I preferred playing without the dock as the framerate was smoother, except that some of the graphics were so hard to make out that I had to move it back to the dock just to see what I was looking at a few times. Also, the monsters were so blurry, I could barely make them out well. I’ve seen much higher resolution images from PC screenshots, mine were muddy messes.
Joy-Con movement trying to select things feels like I am playing Surgeon Simulator because all I do is completely miss clicking on things and place them in the most awkward way possible. It’s aggravating, especially on some wheels that have to be turned and the controller just outright fails to respond at times. If only I could use a mouse! Throughout the entire game, this comes back with head-shaking frustration, even once making me nearly crush the joycons in anger and give the game my own version of a monster growl.
I had two crashes and it only happened during The Dark Descent, both times I fell into the floor. With only one save slot I thought my game was lost, but falling makes everything dark and eventually you’ll die of insanity, so you’ll *likely* be okay when you respawn.
Frankly, the game is better on a PC. With the Switch version, you get mediocre graphics and teeth-grinding controls. Sorry, but that’s the truth.
That said, the portability of the game is the key selling point here. It is absolutely best played with headphones and will likely scare the living ecto-plasm out of you once a monster pops up. Wherever you play this game, make sure you don’t have anything that can break or spill nearby or you’ll end up knocking it down in no time.
This section will be rather short because Justine is actually a DLC from The Dark Descent. Justine is a different experience completely. Justine wakes up in a prison and must escape the Cabinet of Perturbation, which is made of four areas you must explore: Prison Cells, a Library, a Dungeon, and a Crypt. In this Cabinet, you’ll not just encounter monsters, this time called Suitors, but also people in situations that require life or death decisions.
The primary focus here is trying to save people. It is generally a tough call to make because while you can save someone, the action is substantially more difficult than simply letting them die and moving on. The puzzles themselves are horrifying choices without much of the terror of The Dark Descent. The scariest scenes are getting away from the monsters or dealing with the sanity meter going off the rails. Overall, it feels more like a level than a game. Still, it’s worth the playthrough and has a lot more voice acting involved than you may expect compared to The Dark Descent.
Do keep in mind that if you die, you have to start the whole game over again. Plan to finish this part of the Amnesia: Collection in one sitting if you can because there is no option to Save here. You very well may restart a few times, so don’t lose heart if possible. Your ending will vary a bit depending on how you acted during the game, giving it some replayability.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Graphically, this game is much better looking than the other two games and the Joy-Cons seem to feel easier to interact with than before. I have the feeling this game was meant with a controller in mind whereas the other games just had a controller scheme slapped on.
What A Machine for Pigs lacks, however, is much of what made The Dark Descent so great. Remember when I said earlier that if you don’t have terror and horror balanced well, the game would essentially be an exploration walking sim? Well, you get more of a walking sim feel with A Machine for Pigs.
Gone is the searching for oil and tinderboxes to keep your sanity in check, there is no real health to keep an eye on, and the inventory is completely missing. The story is the centerpiece here as you mostly just walk forward, read letters, and solve incredibly easy puzzles along the way. There is no adventure puzzle game aspect to it all and you won’t find yourself backtracking along scary areas much or wracking your brain for a solution because everything just marches on through the game without any actual scary bits until you are about 80% of the way through the game, to be perfectly frank. There are just the usual jump-scare tropes like phones ringing when they shouldn’t and the occasional pig-man running across a hallway. You do get the Water Monster back from The Dark Descent, there is that.
Without the tension to build upon, the game just feels empty of serious gameplay. It has atmosphere and is very well written, but it is lacking in just about every other aspect compared to The Dark Descent.
The missing elephant in the room is that you are no longer hunting for resources like oil and tinderboxes and there is no sanity meter. The lantern you get in A Machine for Pigs never runs out, so you just go willy nilly with the light on as you will. I’m confused as to why this was done. Maybe it is trying to simplify the gameplay for a more casual audience, I’m not sure. In any case, it ruins the balance of tension because, for most of the game, there really isn’t any. When you have no source of tension, you lose a large chunk of immersion and personal connection. Nothing made me feel like I was being scared for over four hours. Even if you somehow die from a pig-man attack, you just respawn from where you just died.
At the 80% mark I was thinking it is a well-written story, just not really scary and I don’t know how much more I want to play. I waited for more. Just past the point where you finally meet some actual pig-men face to face, it started getting creepy. Not in the “boo!” sense, but storywise it did not turn out exactly how I had envisioned. I won’t spoil it.
The mood changes as you get horrid scenes of death, waterfalls of blood, more pig-men chases, and then some vile realizations about the plot as it gets closer to the end.
It’s not a ” OH. MY. GOD.” surprising horror feel, but you’ll get a definite “Man, that’s like really sick. ” out of it.
Getting to the ending once things looked like they were concluding took longer than expected and I enjoyed that. It does not rush and slowed down the pace with some stealth and I’m totally fine with that even if the stealth was a bit easy. Is it a bad game? Not at all. Just don’t expect to it continue the same as The Dark Descent and Justine. Is the story crazy? Yeah, a bit and more disjointed than the other two games, but it’s not terrible. It was not a great collaboration with The Chinese Room studio for Frictional Games and I hope they listen to the general consensus of “meh” reviews that many Amnesia fans left after playing it.
Should you buy the Amnesia Collection for the Switch? If you don’t have a PC, yes. For those of you that only have a Switch, get this for Halloween and play a good scary game that you’ll likely remember for a long time unless you’ve played tons of other horror games since 2010 because they copied a lot of it from the The Dark Descent.
If you do have a PC, you are better off playing it there where both the controls and the graphics are far superior. With the Switch version, you are only getting the portability of the game and little else.
The Dark Descent is the star here, but I will warn you that it’s survival horror in the old school sense. There are no guns to shoot or weapons of any kind, you are making it on wits alone. It is really a first-person puzzle game at heart, so if you don’t like puzzles you might struggle here and there, but I think it’s worth the effort to play anyway.
Justine is a good if incredibly short game ( less than an hour ), and A Machine for Pigs pales in comparison, yet is still very well written, roughly 4-5 hrs long and leans more on the horror than anything terrifying to be honest.
For a collection, it’s a nice way to have the whole set of games in one place. Just be careful where you play because you might just frighten someone when you scream.