Skip to main content

Amnesia: Rebirth is an elegant sequel to a horror classic

Amnesia: Rebirth is an elegant sequel to a horror classic

/

A darker descent

Share this story

Amnesia: The Dark Descent cave
Frictional Games

When is a society — or a life — past saving? The reassuring answer is never. But Amnesia: Rebirth, the latest game from Swedish studio Frictional, isn’t designed to be reassuring.

Rebirth is a successor to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a 2010 horror classic defined by its shameless jump scares; grotesque monsters; and chilling story about guilt, cruelty, and memory. Frictional has gone back to Amnesia a couple of times. First with a short 2011 add-on called Justine, and again by publishing Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, a separate game developed by The Chinese Room. But Rebirth, which will be released tomorrow, is the first new, full-length game in the series.

Amnesia: Rebirth has an immediately familiar cadence. Like The Dark Descent, it’s a game that torments players by delivering stretches of tense, dread-inducing exploration; frantic chases; and moments of revelation before they’re pushed back into the dark. For me, it was a nine-hour-long cycle of dread, panic, and recovery, a loop so well-honed that it’s all but explicitly referenced in the plot. But Rebirth tweaks the original game’s design and themes in compelling ways.

An endless cycle of dread, panic, and recovery

Rebirth is an oblique sequel to The Dark Descent. It uses the same first-person design and gives players the deliberately awkward point-and-click interface that Frictional has used for over a decade. It also has narrative links to the first game. But it’s set in 1937, several decades after the original, and it’s focused on a different protagonist: Anastasie “Tasi” Trianon, a French draftswoman joining an archaeological expedition to Algeria. After surviving a desert plane crash, Tasi wakes among the wreckage with gaps in her memory, a mysterious amulet around her wrist, and a trail of notes that her husband Sahim has left to mark a path.

Like The Dark Descent, Rebirth sends players to retrace a story that its protagonist has forgotten at least partly to save their own sanity. The game is less lonely and quiet than Frictional’s earlier work, which sent players into almost entirely abandoned worlds. But it’s still an emphatically isolating experience. The setting of Rebirth feels awe-inspiring in a way that The Dark Descent’s setting didn’t allow — not just horrifying or hostile, but grand and strangely beautiful. Its chapters shift between desert sandscapes, underground ruins, and, in one of the game’s rare nods to its period setting, a French colonial outpost.

Not a monster, but a monstrous world

It also spends a lot of time in a different world altogether, thanks to Tasi’s amulet. Though Amnesia is often described as Lovecraftian, Rebirth owes as much to the eerie, decaying grandeur evoked by Lovecraft’s weird fiction contemporary William Hope Hodgson, author of foundational dying Earth novel The Night Land. It’s a story not about an individual monster — although you’ll meet plenty of them — but about an entire civilization that’s made itself monstrous by accepting pain as the price of normalcy. The game’s story delves into places and concepts that the first game only hinted at, and it mostly makes them creepier than they originally sounded.

Frictional’s last project Soma downplayed puzzles and other mechanical elements, even offering a feature that removed its monsters. Rebirth swings back toward an earlier, more explicitly game-like style. Its puzzles are simpler and a bit more organic than those of the first game, designed to get players poking around the edges of a level trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do. But they still follow recognizable point-and-click adventure conventions. There’s also a version of The Dark Descent’s trademark sanity meter, which drains in darkness and messes with players’ perception when it’s low but can be boosted by lighting candles or using a lantern with limited power.

Amnesia’s horror has always been a complex sleight of hand, as the games evoke a palpable threat of failure without actually stalling or frustrating players too badly. In The Dark Descent, this meant that sanity slippage was ultimately cosmetic — it produced creepy visual effects but, except in a “hardcore mode” that was added after launch, it couldn’t permanently damage you. 

Without revealing too much detail, this is not true in Rebirth. Its oppressive darkness is tangibly dangerous, and rationing matches and oil — a system that felt a little perfunctory in The Dark Descent — is a far more satisfying part of the game. Meanwhile, instead of giving players a game-over screen, Rebirth (sort of) lets you fail forward if you die but at a subtle narrative cost. The whole system is framed around something more original and less reductive than “sanity,” and it’s become more elegant and interesting with the change. There’s even a Death Stranding-esque mechanic that I can’t describe without spoiling a major plot element, but that works surprisingly well.

Rebirth’s story doesn’t require knowing anything about The Dark Descent, and it might actually be more compelling to discover certain elements for the first time. But — to be somewhat vague — the series cleverly recontextualizes its original protagonist’s greatest enemy.

Frictional games are fascinated with the morality of gods

Frictional has a long-standing fascination with humanity’s moral relationship to godlike beings. Its early, deeply underrated Penumbra series is about an ancient civilization (known as the Tuurngait) that prizes extraordinary mercy and collective good, and a man who ultimately chooses to destroy them out of fear. Rebirth inverts the relationship: it’s about discovering powerful, super-intelligent beings with distinctly human motivations for terrible atrocities.

Very little of this, it’s worth noting, has much to do with the game’s historical period or its setting in Algeria. Similar to Penumbra, which used a name from Inuit mythology for a basically unrelated entity, Rebirth nods very lightly to Arabic folklore by way of H.P. Lovecraft. But it’s focused on Tasi’s own personal tragedies and their connection to a strange and ancient world, touching only glancingly on real events like the violence of French colonialism. There’s a game to be made about that kind of horror, but its omission here feels like Frictional understanding where its interests and its limitations lie — and avoiding shallowly exploiting territory that would require a far deeper and more nuanced exploration.

Amnesia: Rebirth doesn’t reinvent horror games the way The Dark Descent does. But it refines one of the genre’s greatest entries into something more awe-inspiring and deftly designed, without abandoning its highest goal: making you shiver as you take your first step down a pitch-black tunnel.

Amnesia: Rebirth launches October 20th on PC and PlayStation 4.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed An hour ago Striking out

E
External Link
Emma RothAn hour ago
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


A
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.


A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


A
External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.