After its release in 2010, Amnesia: The Dark Descent quickly garnered somewhat of a cult following for one main reason: the game is fucking terrifying. It’s now nearly seven years later, and we have Amnesia: Collection. As the name would suggest, it is a collection of The Dark Descent, the Justine expansion, and the sequel, A Machine For Pigs. There is nothing entirely new here, but the collection compiles two wonderful and grueling entries into the survival horror genre that will appeal to both newcomers and longtime fans of the series simply wanting to experience the fear all over again. Though there are a few stumbles along the way, Amnesia: Collection holds up well for its age and proves its terrors are just as impactful now as they’ve ever been.
The first game in the series — and undoubtedly most horror-inducing — is The Dark Descent. Set in 1839, the game puts you in the shoes of Daniel, a British man who has lost his memory but finds a note in his own handwriting instructing himself to kill the baron of a Prussian castle of which he has just regained consciousness in. The plot can feel overwhelming and confusing at first, and it’s supposed to. Daniel is lost, alone, and trying to piece together what happened and what his purpose is, and the game does an excellent job of conveying his feelings of disarray. You shortly discover that there is much more going on in this desolate castle than meets the eye, and that a monster is relentlessly hunting you down. Over the course of the 10 to 12 hour campaign, the story unfolds through a series of flashbacks and letters Daniel finds along the way. The narrative has a constant build where each new bit of information Daniel finds adds another piece to its intricate puzzle. The story quickly became far more fantastical and haunting than I thought it would, incorporating everything from magical artifacts to grisly torture.
Though the story was a bit convoluted and hard to follow at times, the gameplay kept things anchored and provided a consistent sense of fear throughout. One of the first things the game tells you is that there are no weapons and no fighting back against whatever is chasing you; your only options are to run or hide. This immediately causes a feeling of dread to sink in, knowing that if you get into a tight spot, your chances of survival are slim. The only item you receive is a lantern with a very limited supply of fuel, and though there are flasks of oil and tinderboxes to light objects hidden throughout the world, there are barely enough to stay in the light, which is not just a luxury but a necessity. A key component to The Dark Descent is the sanity meter, which tracks Daniel’s sanity based on things that happen around him. One such thing that greatly affects his sanity is darkness and after simply standing in the dark for a few seconds, his mental health will begin to deteriorate. The only way to avoid going completely insane is staying in a well-lit area or completing objectives. This element added a greater sense of urgency for everything I was doing.
Though the bulk of the gameplay involves exploring the castle, avoiding the monster, and trying to figure out what the hell is going on, the rest of your time is spent solving environmental puzzles that allow you to proceed to new areas. Most of the time, these puzzles required me to gather objects in the world and put them together to make a chemical substance or fix some broken machinery. Many were fairly straightforward and weren’t overly challenging, however, there were a few occasions where I accidentally missed an item in a particular room and had to backtrack until I could find it, which felt irksome.
Justine, an expansion to The Dark Descent, takes everything the original game established and puts the player in a Saw-like torture dungeon where a woman named Justine tasks you to either save or kill a set of prisoners. It only took me less than an hour to complete but the pacing felt appropriate and the stakes were high due to the fact that I didn’t have only myself to worry about this time around. The puzzles also felt more challenging and complex than in The Dark Descent, which made solving them that much more rewarding.
Last but not least there is A Machine for Pigs, the proper follow-up to The Dark Descent. Almost immediately, it felt substantially different from either of the previous titles in the series for a few reasons. Set 60 years later, on the eve of the turn of the century in England, A Machine for Pigs portrays a city at the height of an industrial renaissance where technology reigns supreme. Gone are the dark, desolate dungeons of its predecessors and instead we are placed in an ornate mansion filled with tasteful paintings and taxidermy galore. But that’s not all that’s changed. Even the gameplay mechanics have been stripped back considerably compared to The Dark Descent. There is no more sanity or health meter and your lantern never runs out of fuel. The inventory system has also been taken out entirely, meaning there are no items to be collected throughout the game. In nearly every way, A Machine for Pigs takes away much of what made its predecessors so unique. Instead, it focuses on atmosphere and tension to create a rewarding experience, and in this sense, it actually surpasses The Dark Descent.
One of the things that stood out to me in A Machine for Pigs was its greater focus on narrative and character development. The story posed more than one interesting question on some heavy topics such as death and the human condition. Additionally, compared to Daniel, this game’s protagonists felt more three-dimensional and driven, where every action I took in his shoes felt like it had a purpose. This made the inevitable twists and turns in the story and the resulting impact they had on the character feel more significant. From a gameplay standpoint, however, A Machine for Pigs felt like a step in the wrong direction.
Although I did appreciate the game’s commitment to providing a more bare-bones approach to horror, it occasionally caused the puzzles to come off as repetitive and often times unnecessarily confusing. Since there is no longer an inventory, the puzzles almost strictly involved interacting with objects in the immediate vicinity to move onward. But unlike The Dark Descent, where important objects were highlighted and there was a hint system to help guide the player, A Machine for Pigs leaves things entirely up to you to figure out. This would have been fine if the puzzles were presented more clearly, but often times I would merely have to find a hidden door or something of that nature by hovering over the proper area and without any indication that’s what my objective was, it sometimes took far too long to accomplish such a simple task. This made most of the puzzles feel frustrating and tedious without any sense of accomplishment once I figured them out. Another minor issue I had with A Machine for Pigs was with its frame rate performance. There were many instances where the frame rate would dip in some of the more expansive areas of the game. Though this was nothing that seriously affected my gameplay, it was noticeable enough to distract me from the world that was otherwise decidedly immersive.
Amnesia: Collection does exactly what it set out to do: it presents three terrifying, fun, and intriguing genre-defining horror games in one uncomplicated package. It doesn’t offer any new content or significant visual upgrades from the original releases, and there are a few hiccups here and there, but it is still an unforgettable experience nonetheless. For any fan of first-person survival horror games, Amnesia: Collection is not something to be overlooked.
I am a writer and journalist based in San Francisco. When I'm not getting lost in expansive open-world RPGs, immersive first-person shooters or any other type of game that grabs my interest, I usually spend my time taking photos and playing music. Two of my all-time favorite games are Persona 4 Golden and Metal Gear Solid 3.