It feels almost blasphemous to describe one of the most iconic horror trilogies in gaming as quaint but at almost a decade old the Amnesia series is starting to feel just that. The games are still a masterclass in setting a tone and turning the screws with their melancholic mood but time has eaten away at these titles like an ancient horror slowly chewing on a man’s sanity.
Since first releasing on the PC this collection of Lovecraftian nightmares has been ported to both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Now, finally, Nintendo fans have the chance to experience what many consider to be some of the best experiences in horror gaming.
Is the collection of classics still worthy of its status among horror fans or should we start to forget about Amnesia?
Amnesia Collection Review
In theory, porting the Amnesia Collection to the Switch is a brilliant idea. In theory porting every known game to the Switch is a brilliant idea. In practice, however, the realities of the console’s handheld limits become an insurmountable issue for the Amnesia Collection.
When playing with the Switch docked you’ll have essentially the same experience anyone playing the collection on the other consoles or PC will have had. Which is both a blessing and a curse given the ages of the games; all three run smoothly but muddy texture work and some aggressive motion blurring are prominent throughout.
Which is a shame as a remaster would serve these titles much better than a simple port. The art direction of each still holds up well all these years later but you may need to tweak your TV’s settings to avoid losing half the details to motion blur. There’s also the minor gripe of being unable to switch between games in the collection once one has been loaded into, forcing you to hard quit the game to jump between them.
(Don’t) Switch It Up
It’s when you try to take it on the go, a major component of the Switch’s functionality, that things fall apart. The Switch’s screen lends itself best to bright experiences as details are often lost due to glare while playing darker titles.
The games in the Amnesia Collection almost exclusively live in the dark and use the absence of light and depth of shadows to actively enhance the player experience. These are incompatible states of being and result in the game being incredibly difficult to play on the go.
Handheld mode doesn’t just impact the Amnesia Collection’s atmosphere through poor visibility either. The speakers on the system are generally fine for most experiences but just like the subtle use of darkness, the games here utilise soft, creeping sound design to get under the player’s skin. So unless you’re packing a decent set of headphones with you while playing on the go you’ll find the experience severely lacking.
The limitations of the console aren’t the issue of the collection though and provided you’re only intending to play it in a darkened room on your TV, as seemingly intended, you’ll have a much better time with the Amnesia Collection. Time may have been unkind to these titles but they are considered classics for a reason and there is never a bad time for new audiences to gain an appreciation for older art.
Especially in this case as Frictional Games’ seminal work has gone on to inspire dozens of critically acclaimed horror titles of recent years.
Alone in the Dark
Kicking off the collection is The Dark Descent, considered by many to be the crowning jewel of the series. You’re dropped into the amnesic shoes of Daniel, a young Londoner who awakens in a decrypted castle in the late 1830s. Prompted by a message from your former self, you’ll need to screw your courage to the sticking place as you descend deeper into madness in order to stop the machinations of the castle’s owner and your former mentor, Alexander.
Readers of Lovecraft’s work will undoubtedly feel right at home with the premise and the inevitable horrors that await players as you uncover more of Daniel’s memories. The tale The Dark Descent spins isn’t a hugely surprising one but it leverages its horror tropes to great effect, creating a slow, creeping sense of dread and uncertainty.
In 2019 this story feels unintentional olde, a quaint throwback to before tropes and cliches overran the genre and a story of a man reclaiming his memories, no matter how frightful, felt fresh.
The gameplay of The Dark Descent also inspires a twang of the old ways though to a lesser degree thanks to some devilish puzzle design. Of the three games in the collection, The Dark Descent is the most systems heavy with an inventory, resource management and the aforementioned puzzles.
Light is precious inside the castle as leaving Daniel in the dark for too long will trigger his insanity, making the management of your lantern’s oil an ongoing struggle.
The push and pull between Daniel and his surroundings remains engaging all these years later but the game was clearly designed for a mouse and keyboard, making the Switch’s controls less than ideal for precision item choices.
Let’s Play a Game
The second game in the collection, Justine, is more of a brief addition to The Dark Descent than a fully-fledged sequel. It’ll only run you about two hours max but distils the puzzles, and depravity, of The Dark Descent into a tighter, harsher experience. Though it does liberally re-use assets from The Dark Descent, it manages to still create its own unique place in the series through a macabre plot and gameplay structure.
Justine puts the lives of three victims in your hands as your choices directly impact who survives this sordid Saw-esque ordeal. You play as the titular Justine who is suffering from her own bout of amnesia while being guided through test chambers by sinister recordings.
Given its extremely short nature, I won’t spoil much else but Justine is a particularly grisly bit of storytelling. Paired with a merciless death penalty which resets your entire progress, this add-on is swift, brutal and memorable.
Black Pig of the Family
Often considered the bastard child of the Amnesia series, A Machine for Pigs rounds out the collection. The game earns its outsider status, having being developed by The Chinese Room and leaning much more heavily into the Walking Sim genre than puzzle or survival horror.
The stripping away of mechanics introduced in the previous titles is worthy of lament but A Machine for Pigs’ strengths are too frequently ignored because of this. It’s a tighter narrative experience thanks to its focused approach and despite having the subtlety of a runaway train, is a genuinely unsettling experience.
On the eve of the 20th century, an industrialist named Oswald Mandus awakens from a prolonged bout of fever to discover he has lost his memory, and his children. Much like The Dark Descent, you’ll be playing as an unreliable narrator as you try to piece together what you have forgotten and where your two sons have vanished to.
The game, unfortunately, shares the same predictability as it’s predecessor too but the storytelling employed by The Chinese Room elevates the experience to something special.
As Mandus you’ll be roaming the grounds of your estate and factory, collecting recordings and notes left behind in an attempt to understand what exactly is going on. Goaded by depraved visions of swine themed horror, exactly what Mandus discovers may not surprise you but it remains a shocking conclusion to the series none the less.
It helps too that A Machine for Pigs is the most visually striking of the three games, utilising a striking art direction to offset the muddy textures plaguing the collection.
Ultimately the Amnesia Collection feels caught between essential and outdated. Its legacy in horror gaming is evident and as such, I genuinely believe it would be a disservice to the folks at Frictional and Chinese Room to not have newer audiences experience and appreciate their foundational work.
Yet the shortcomings of each title, which are predominately design quirks and visual degradation, are more pronounced than ever in 2019.
Time can be harsh or kind to a game, cementing some as timeless despite imperfections, but most fade into obscurity. The Amnesia Collection may wind up the latter, more of an exercise in academic appreciation of horror game design origins than actual must-play experiences.
Amnesia Collection was reviewed on Switch using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Amnesia Collection
Game Description: The prolific horror trilogy of Amnesia games finally arrives on Nintendo Switch, giving players portable access to The Dark Descent, Justine and A Machine for Pigs.