Amnesia: Rebirth – A dark, but less memorable descent – Review

Gare – Tuesday, October 27, 2020 8:40 PM
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It’s never easy creating a sequel to a wildly popular game, and indeed, as a follow-up to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Frictional Games’ 2010 survival horror classic, Amnesia: Rebirth had a pair of gargantuan shoes to fill. Yet despite the highly influential status of the franchise’s first and original outing, I firmly believed that Frictional would be more than capable of outdoing themselves – after all, their 2015 sci-fi horror SOMA proved that the creative spark that so skillfully married masterful, thought-provoking storytelling with terrifying thrills was still very much alive and well. Having finished Amnesia: Rebirth, I now find myself somewhat shaken in that belief.

Lost in the desert

Amnesia: Rebirth starts not entirely unlike its predecessor, although the circumstances surrounding it are quite different. Our protagonist, one Anastasie "Tasi" Trianon, suffers a catastrophic plane crash in the middle of the Algerian desert and wakes up in the wreckage realizing that the rest of the crew is nowhere to be found – what’s more, she also has trouble remembering exactly what happened to them. This wouldn’t be an Amnesia game without an amnesiac protagonist, after all. Rebirth follows the same formula as its predecessor by starting off its character as a semi-blank slate and then gradually filling that slate with snippets of information that get fed to the player via flashbacks and journal entries during the campaign.

However, while The Dark Descent’s narrative felt tight, intriguing and ever-focused on Daniel and Alexander, Rebirth’s insistence to waste time on forgettable side characters only ends up hurting it in the long run. That’s not to say Tasi’s own journey is any more riveting, or the mystery behind her amnesia worth solving. The game tries to incorporate themes of motherhood and parental resilience into its storyline, which is commendable, but it all just feels rather shallow and lacking in emotional weight; similarly, having a separate button to check on your belly and talk to your baby – Tasi is pregnant, you see – comes off as well-intentioned but clumsily executed at best, and eyeroll-inducing at worst. It’s a mechanic used to reduce Tasi’s fear, should she spend too much time in the dark, and as such, starts feeling unnecessarily forced and gamified after the first dozen or so instances. Where Rebirth succeeds, however, is its introduction of the desolate “otherworld” that was referenced, but never directly seen in the original installment – its haunting, almost Lovecraftian vistas provide the game with some of its more bone-chilling moments, while also offering an explanation for the events that shaped the narrative of the first game.

Fumbling in the dark

Mechanically, Amnesia: Rebirth treads mostly familiar waters. You’re still wandering around in areas with woefully poor lighting conditions, having to rely on a lantern and a handful of matches (a maximum of ten) to light torches, candles and everything in-between. Unfortunately, the game places a bit too heavy of an emphasis on this, to the point where it even becomes an annoyance at times. For one, your lantern runs out of oil exasperatingly fast, forcing you to only use it for quick, few-second bursts before hastily putting it away, lest risk wasting precious resources. Similarly, matches burn out about as fast as their real-world counterparts, meaning you only have a few brief seconds to quickly find your nearest torch before having to light yet another match. The thing is, this creates a feeling of constant unease in the player, and not for the right reasons: only being able to light your way for extremely limited amounts of time inevitably forces you to quickly rush through areas because you know that the longer you spend exploring a dark room or corridor, the more oil or matches you end up wasting. For a narrative-driven adventure game where immersion and a slow, gradual soaking up of the atmosphere are supposedly key, this design choice serves only to stifle exploration and ultimately hurts the overall experience. When it’s not the monster you’re afraid of, but the fact you might run out of matches and be forced to stumble around in the dark… well, that’s a bit of a problem.

Lukewarm scares

Puzzles and monster encounters – both an enduring staple of the franchise – are naturally still present in Rebirth, but they’re not nearly as exciting and memorable as those seen in The Dark Descent. There’s only one somewhat tense sequence I can recall that revolves around sneaking around in the dark to try and avoid a monster while it’s shambling around looking for you, and even that ends entirely too quickly. For the majority of the campaign, though, encounters with the local boogeyman are brief, underwhelming, and feel entirely too scripted to be genuinely terrifying. Where in The Dark Descent, the various abominations chasing you felt like legitimate hunters that would stop at nothing to chase you down and kill you (not to mention their tendency to show up when you least expected them), Rebirth’s big bads are easily avoided and laughably tame by comparison. The couple of times I did actually get caught, instead of having to try the sequence again, the game simply removed the monster from the area and allowed me to merrily be on my way, which was… honestly just strange. Especially in a horror game. Not only does this completely defang the supposed antagonists, it also robs the game of any actual tension it might’ve had otherwise. I felt similarly let down by Rebirth’s assortment of puzzles, with probably the only memorable one being a very early task involving an elevator that required a bit of out-of-the-box thinking. The rest of the time, the solutions are so straightforward that I hesitate to even call these segments puzzles, but rather a series of trivial tasks whose main function is to lengthen the game’s already short play time.

Final thoughts

Despite not being an outright terrible game by any means, I am still forced to file away Amnesia: Rebirth as a huge disappointment, and not just because it exists in a world where The Dark Descent, SOMA and Alien: Isolation have already happened. Its storyline is anything but gripping, and it sadly fails to prop up its narrative failings with engaging enough gameplay – instead, it devolves into lukewarm scares, simplistic puzzles and some mildly exasperating mechanics. It’s honestly a little difficult for me to believe this is even a Frictional title; it feels more like a severely diluted, streamlined, and utterly forgettable imitation of the original Amnesia – a game that tries here and there to rekindle the fire of its predecessor, but ends up being vastly inferior to it in almost every aspect.

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