Warning: Minor spoilers for the Dark Descent and the early parts of Rebirth.
Reviewer: Jeremy Jackson
As a die-hard horror enthusiast and a fan of the Amnesia series, JJ couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into this one. While he was initially worried about diminishing returns spoiling the experience, it’s the new features that really make Amnesia Rebirth horrifying—and for all the wrong reasons.
Big Boots to Fill
Amnesia: The Dark Descent was one of my favourite sleeper hits of the 2010s. This particular sleeper was more of a nightmare, laying the groundwork for horror’s biggest hitters: Outlast, The Evil Within, and even PT. In other words, the first Amnesia’s horror was so visceral and inventive that I couldn’t play it for more than five minutes at a time—a true lights-on experience that I wouldn’t play home alone.
As revealed in a recent Ars Technica video interview with the devs, the first Amnesia‘s creeping anxiety was no small undertaking for the team, who had a hard time balancing the sanity meter and its effect on the environment. If you’ve never played the series, the sanity meter drops whenever you do something creepy—like staying in the dark too long or looking at creepy shit. Looking back, they probably should’ve called it the insanity meter…
The team had lofty aspirations for the meter, but they ultimately decided to remove aspects that impaired the player. That’s right—your character’s crescendoing instability doesn’t make the game any more challenging.
Yet, this isn’t explicitly communicated to the player, leaving us constantly worrying about the sanity meter and its impact on the experience. This ethos embodies what made Amnesia such a success in those early days. Players were out of the loop the moment they start the game. You’re quite literally left in the dark, as your character awakens in a bleak and mysterious room. Your only guidance: a vague note that reads “Go to the Inner Sanctum, find Alexander, and kill him.”
In a horror setting, this makes uncovering the mystery—and slowly discovering how the world works—EXTREMELY satisfying. It’s the show-don’t-tell school of design that the biggest and best horror experiences subscribe to.
So that’s what makes the Amnesia series so special. And it’s at the heart of why the new installment falls flat.
Amnesia Forgot: New Mechanics at Odds with the Game’s Past Success
To remain scary, Amnesia: Rebirth needed to do something new and surprising. Discovery was the name of the game in previous titles, so returning to a familiar setting would suffer from diminishing returns. The developers understood this, but their execution didn’t land.
This time, losing sanity does result in a fail state. Even worse, dying presses you to the end of the current section or removes enemies from your path. It felt like closing time at the museum, but I was only halfway through the exhibit. For me, making progress when the odds are against me is the best part of horror games. Amnesia Rebirth takes that away.
Knowing that the only way forward is by pushing through was a defining element for survival horror in the past decade. Instead, Rebirth opts for faster-paced horror moments. While this can be fun, the pacing is all over the place and the quiet moments are entirely uninteresting. Remember when Resident Evil decided to focus on action in Resi 5 and 6? Then backpedalled because it didn’t work? Amnesia should have taken note.
Narrative and Lore Bore
In many aspects, the character that you play is refreshing for the industry and genre, and I welcome more diverse perspectives in video games. Nevertheless, this game is riddled with so many horror cliches that it doesn’t feel like a fresh perspective at all. It’s a missed opportunity. As a French guy, the protagonists relentless fake-sounding French accent was more comedy than horror. It took me right out of the experience.
The story sees you searching for your lost family, friends, and expedition coworkers, after your plane crashes in the Algerian desert. It becomes clear that you’re reliving the past with the expedition, but you don’t remember how you got back to the plane and what exactly unfolded. None of this is explained in the end game and there’s no big “Daniel’s Secret” bombshell like in the first game.
Let’s say something positive. The desert setting itself is awesome, when you’re actually in it. More than half the time you’re in another world – like the one mentioned in TDD. This world is a mix of sci-fi and ancient civilizations that does not lend well to the horror genre. The best horror experiences are grounded in reality. This is not.
There are some interesting elements that may have worked well in an action game or RPG, but it took away from the horror experience, which kind of sucks for a horror game… The game takes place in a North African dessert—one paced with myths, history, and its own lore, so the sci-fi route seems like a massively lost opportunity.
From Show-Don’t-Tell to Tell-Don’t-Show
Remember I praised the first game for not giving too much away and letting you explore for yourself? Well, in Rebirth, you’re fed so much information at the start, removing the need for you to explore the environments and piece the mystery together for yourself.
Lore was another standout part of Amnesia: the Dark Descent. To truly understand the horror and complexity of the situation you found yourself in, you found texts throughout the world which slowly unveiled your reality. Hell, even A Machine for Pigs—the disappointing second game in the series—achieved this effect.
In Rebirth, they made the lore from the first games the core focus and they left very little to the imagination. For me, this made for an entirely disinteresting experience and it unfortunately took away from a lot of the Lovecraftian horror in the first game that I loved so much.
The True Horror of Rebirth
Now the true horror commences. Unfortunately, it has little to do with monsters or metallophobia-inducing machines. On PC, the game’s performance is horror itself. The devs actually patched in game-breaking glitches after the first few days of release, which is part of the reason I’m so late in my review.
The interaction dot at the center of my screen stopped appearing half-way through the game and I had a violent seizure-inducing screen-zoom effect happening through an entire late-game level. Glitches happen in games, but in horror, the few functions that exist are make-or-break, and when they don’t work well it ruins the experience.
The Final Word: Third Time Unlucky
Amnesia: Rebirth attempts to break the mold established by its predecessor by over-correcting in all the wrong directions. While parts of the world are engrossed in atmosphere and there are some really intense moments, the monster interactions feel like they’re rushing you through to the next section. While the first game felt like a slow descent into madness, this game felt like a quick jog through a Halloween store—without the candy. Fans of the franchise may like it, but there’s lots to be disappointed about.
4/10 – Horrible