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First look at Amnesia: The Dark Descent

There aren’t many games that are set in Greenland. Frictional Games thought that should be corrected, so they placed the hero of their horrifying Penumbra series in that bitterly cold climate. The Penumbra series was praised for its use of subtle terror tactics and a lack of combat mechanics that forced players to use their wits to get past obstacles and enemies. Now Frictional are back with Amnesia, which is kicking off where Penumbra left us, drooling and gibbering in the dark. Frictional’s Thomas Grip emerged from the shadows, delivered answers to our unasked questions and phased out of existence before our very eyes. Here’s what he had to say.

What’s Amnesia all about, and where is it set?

Amnesia starts out with the protagonist waking up in a castle without any memories, except a feeling of being hunted. The player must then explore the protagonist’s past, find out what has happened and try to stop the events that are about to unfold.

On a deeper level, Amnesia is about exploring evil in humans and our goal is that the players should feel connected with the protagonist in such a way that the hero’s background should feel like their own forgotten memories. This is our basis for building a hopefully emotional and disturbing narrative.

As with our previous games, we aim to create a truly frightening experience, and with Amnesia we aim to step up from what we did in Penumbra and make something truly nightmarish. If players lose sleep after playing then we have succeeded in our goals!

Will Amnesia feature physics-based interaction with the environment as in Penumbra?

Yes! And hopefully it’ll be a lot smoother this time. We’ve spent countless hours streamlining the interaction, which could get be cumbersome in Penumbra, to make the best possible experience. We hope that the current system will be easy to pick up, yet give the player a very immersive and powerful system to interact with their surroundings.

Will the game be more combat-focused this time?

There’ll be no combat at all, and the enemy encounters will have the player either hiding or running. Sometimes, using your wits and the environment is needed in order to proceed. We did try out including some combat at first, but it just did not create the kind of atmosphere we were after, so we removed it completely in the end.

To be honest, although I like to play combat-focused games from time-to-time, there’s just too much killing at the core of most games. This is something that has cursed games ever since Galaga and such, having players commit a kind of genocide as they progress through the game. I think it is really sad that around 80% or so of today’s top titles have this sort of mechanic at their core. If it continues, games will probably end up in the comic book ghetto, which makes me sad.

Essentially, real-time first person games with combat are flooding the market and if we can disrupt that trend, it feels like we are doing some good. This has also been a major motivation behind ditching combat.

Will the sanity of the main character be relevant?

Madness will be integral part of how Amnesia will play. The protagonist is afraid of the dark and remaining in gloomy environments will slowly drain your sanity, resulting in a range of diverse and not-so-pleasant effects. Encountering enemies and other frightening events will also reduce your mental health, so attempting to remain sane is a major part of the experience.

It’s also important to note that sanity isn’t just some gimmick, it doesn’t just affect some stats behind the scenes, but it’s about giving the player certain emotions and making madness intrinsically unsettling. At least, that’s what the tests we’ve carried out so far are promising will happen.