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    Amnesia: Rebirth

    Game » consists of 3 releases. Released Oct 20, 2020

    An adventure horror game.

    Indie Game of the Week 314: Amnesia: Rebirth

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    Edited By Mento  Moderator
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    There are developers that stretch their wings and try a bunch of different projects, as if they feel too restless settling in one genre or franchise for too long. Then you have developers like Frictional Games, which make the same game over and over again but get really good at it. For as dismissive as I sound, I can't begrudge finding one's niche and continuing to grow and enhance it every which way you can, especially when it results in some of the tightest, scariest horror games in the Indie (or any) circuit. Frictional's big thing is adventure games with a first-person perspective that uses fear as a game mechanic, hitting the player with negative visual filters and other debilitating effects to represent how scared the protagonist is at that moment. This has the knock-on effect of disquieting the player alike, drawing them into the oppressive atmosphere and subliminally pushing them to take actions motivated by that same fear such as running and hiding and praying to whichever gods might be listening that the skulking horror down the corridor just walks on by. Frictional cut this format's teeth with the Penumbra series, perfected it for Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and found a novel sci-fi twist for it accompanied by heady themes of consciousness and disassociation with Soma. With 2020's Amnesia: Rebirth they're back revisiting a plot thread regarding the supernatural origins of the Terror from Amnesia—a malevolent interdimensional being that manifests in our universe as pulsing red flesh acidic enough to damage any organic tissue in range—with a whole new protagonist and setting.

    The player character is a French draftswoman named Anastasie "Tasi" Trianon whose plane goes down in the Sahara of south Algeria at some point in 1937. She is separated from her partner, Salim, and the rest of an expedition of engineers she joined to enhance the production of a mining facility in French Sudan (presently Mali). Initially, the player is picking through the survivor camp near the crash and discovers the group split up some time ago: a few died in the crash, others died later from their injuries, and a contingent is still missing somewhere out in the desert. Eventually, Tasi discovers that she's somehow connected with "the Dark World" from Amnesia: The Dark Descent and that she's visibly pregnant. The game rolls out these revelations gradually, dropping the player into an unfamiliar situation and has them piece together the particulars along with Tasi's role in this grander overarching narrative about the other world and how it was brought to ruin untold eons ago.

    I'm here to run away from monsters and drink laudanum, and I'm all out of laudanum.
    I'm here to run away from monsters and drink laudanum, and I'm all out of laudanum.

    For the most part, the game operates the same way as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Your character has a debilitating fear of darkness, revealed to be due to past PTSD, and must continue to use light sources and discretion around dangers to avoid getting too panicky. Environmental light fixtures like torches and candles can be lit using a limited amount of matches, and Tasi eventually also finds a lantern that needs to be periodically refilled with oil. Fear is alleviated when standing near a light source, though it also makes it harder to hide from any monsters so the player must balance their overwhelming terror with staying hidden as failure to attend to either for too long will result in dire consequences. Frictional's figured out at this point that not everyone wants to play a narrative-rich adventure game while also being terrified every five minutes, so there's the option to play without the monster chases and stealth sequences from the outset (something I believe was only added to Soma long after its release). For whatever it's worth, the monster sequences have been sparingly and effectively used and aren't super intense with regards to one's own competency with stealth gameplay, though I imagine the monster appearances will pick up more towards the end-game.

    New mechanics include being able to pat your own stomach to take solace from the life gestating within; Tasi's relationship with her unborn child being her major source of strength and courage. The player, of course, remains skeptical that this pregnancy is anything but natural but it becomes as indispensable as lighting sconces and running from ghoulies in keeping Tasi's sanity in check. Despite being stuck out in the desert, the game finds multiple environments to trap you in with many offering some of Frictional's familiar overly elaborate (but not nearly as complex as they first seem) environmental puzzles purely to keep you moving around and getting spooked by noises and shadows around every corner. An early example is an old desert fort that was at one point repurposed by the French Foreign Legion: you navigate this place first to get in touch with your colleagues over the antique military radio and later to put together an ammunition round for a tank to brute force open the fort's other exit. As you might expect, something very very unfortunate happened to the soldiers stationed here and that unfortunate thing is close to sniffing out your location, creating a few tense moments as you make your way out to safety with the necessary items. You also find clues as to the disappeared members of your expedition as you explore: journal notes, photos, and sometimes even their corpses and grave sites. I might be a morbid sort, but I sort of like it when horror games give you a cast list and then slowly reveal what happened to them all; I spent a considerable amount of time figuring out everyone's fates in the 2017 Prey game, for instance. (I suppose if Return of Obra Dinn can build a whole game around that concept, I'm probably not alone in finding it a compelling hook for a mystery or series of them.)

    Probably betraying how little I know about Africa, but I don't think this is it.
    Probably betraying how little I know about Africa, but I don't think this is it.

    It's hard to tell how far through the game I happen to be, since it has a tendency of waylaying you in a dusty catacomb or some bizarre extradimensional laboratory whenever you least expect it, but it feels like both the narrative and Tasi's journey to meet the survivors of her expedition are nearing their end. Amnesia: Rebirth is probably a little more dry and uneven than the original Amnesia: The Dark Descent given it doesn't have any sequences as memorable as that invisible water monster or the compounding dread as you went further underground beneath Castle Brennenburg and the environments became that much more otherworldly, and that's exacerbated further by how familiar this particular routine is becoming, but Amnesia: Rebirth has an intriguing supernatural enigma at its core, it expanded on some of The Dark Descent's bigger lore secrets for better or worse (depending on how you feel about sequels explaining everything cool and inscrutable about the originals), given you monster sequences that are effectively scary and scarily effective but have yet to outstay their welcome, and Frictional's use of fear mechanics in such a visceral, empathetic manner still makes them the masters of Indie horror. It's not a genre I'm accustomed to or particularly enjoy, but Frictional's one of the few developers working this beat I'll make an exception for.

    Rating: 4 out of 5.

    [Post-Playthrough Edit: Oh boy, forget what I said about a dearth of memorable sequences. There's some real perilous stuff towards the end and it gets harrowing in more ways than one. It's still not quite hitting the highs of The Dark Descent (still way better than A Machine for Pigs) but it's a worthy enough follow-up that explores some new themes in order to have a relatable, personal story of loss and motherhood help ground a very bizarre supernatural one about portals, ghouls, and an ageless empire. (I did not anticipate that the other world ran on Monster Inc. logic though, I have to say that was kinda dumb.)]

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