Review – Amnesia: Rebirth
The first person hide and seek horror game genre has been a fast growing one ever since the release of Amnesia: Dark Descent. A transformative survival horror game that propelled the genre’s popularity, especially among streamers. Since 2010, the genre has seen an oversaturation with games trying to recapture the horror where games like Outlast have succeeded. Meanwhile, others like Outlast 2 and the Remothered franchise couldn’t come close. Now Frictional is back with their first game since 2015’s story telling masterpiece SOMA. Can Amnesia: Rebirth possibly live up to such high standards?
Awakening from a crash in the Algerian Desert, our protagonist is suffering from amnesia. As she wakes up and gathers her surroundings, she remembers only two things: her name is Tasi and she is part of an expedition team looking for ruins. As she begins scrambling around and searching for clues as to what happened to her and the rest of the expedition team, it becomes clear that a lot of time has passed since the crash and she can’t remember what happened. So she must retrace her steps and discover the horrors that Tasi and the rest of the crew have already encountered.
It’s clear that Frictional have taken what they have learned from SOMA in terms of storytelling; my personal favourite sci-fi horror story in recent years. Amnesia: Rebirth‘s story is a lot more narrow in scope and focuses almost entirely on the struggle of Tasi. She suffers from conditions that make her violent and uncontrollable in stressful situations as well as suffering from the fear of the dark and dead bodies. Tasi’s struggling with her inner demons and other conditions make for a much more personal story, whilst touching into some darker themes that I won’t spoil here. It can be hard to care about a main character in a horror game, but they did a really good job here.
You will also see worlds collide from the remains of a long lost civilization, which feed into some of the more Lovecraftian aspects of the Amnesia universe. The world building is stunning. There are plenty of journal entries to discover that really flesh out what has happened to both Tasi and this ancient civilization.
Considering this takes place over one hundred years after the events of Dark Descent, don’t be expecting a true follow up. This story very much is supposed to stand on its own and it does so very well, but the connections here are meaningful and deepen the world of Amnesia in surprising ways. It’s a shame the ending couldn’t make the landing and just feels a little bit rushed with very little meaningful closure. Even the multiple endings don’t offer anything substantial and feel like they are just there.
Since this is an Amnesia game, how are the scares? To get it out of the way; if you are expecting the same relentless horror presented in Dark Descent then you will be disappointed. Instead, this very much feels like it sits between SOMA and Dark Descent. I has a greater emphasis on story telling and puzzle solving, with the traditional horror being more in the background at times. That’s not to say there’s no scares; Rebirth is packed with them and for the most part it works really well. Rebirth does an excellent job building the tension without much happening. Seeing something move out of the corner of your eye and excellent lighting keep the fear coming without any immediate threat.
Monster encounters are much more scarce than Dark Descent, but more impactful than they are in SOMA. Often being brief but terrifying encounters that force you to quickly think on your feet. In one instance, a door was blocked by a number of objects and as a ghoul barrelled towards me, I needed to quickly unblock the door and run. It was a terrifying moment and these are scattered throughout. It’s a shame there wasn’t more of them that made use of some of the game’s physics, instead often relying on simply hiding in a corner waiting for it to pass. It doesn’t fully utilize the game’s mechanics in the same way the puzzles do.
Outside of the monster encounters, there’s plenty to fear. Bringing forward the sanity system from the original, there’s been some changes. The fear system does a fantastic job keeping you on edge, even if there isn’t an immediate effect. You can reduce Tasi’s fear by staying in the light or using her lantern or matches that she keeps handily on her. The lantern is exactly how it was in Dark Descent; you need preciously rare fuel to keep it lit, but it provides the best light.
Matches on the other hand are a new addition that provide only brief respites from the darkness. Moving too fast will put them out, but matches can also be used to light up lanterns that are scattered. Resources are scarce enough to make you consider when is best to use them, but never rare enough you can feel trapped. I consistently had enough matches with thorough exploration of the environments, whilst trying to keep the lantern stocked up enough for long hauls in the dark.
When you aren’t running or hiding from monsters, you will be exploring beautifully crafted environments, discovering secrets, and regaining Tasi’s memory. Plenty of notes (and bodies) scatter the rooms in an old run down fort. This provides the game’s best section with some genuinely fun yet simple puzzles and an environment unlike anything we’ve seen Frictional attempt. Then as you progress, you will see more of an ancient civilization and explore their downfall. These later sections are weaker than the opening fort section with less interesting puzzles and level design, but they still manage to be interesting.
Visually, this game is running a further modified version of their HPL Engine (Yes, The H.P Lovecraft engine) and I’m actually impressed with the results. Environments are beautiful to look at, packed with tons of details that really flesh out the world and what’s happened in these locations. But the real star of the show is the lighting that propels it to the next level. There are a few rough edges here with some low quality textures, particularly in rocky environments, and some of the character models aren’t up to scratch, but these are minor complaints in an otherwise excellent looking game.
Then we have the sound design that is really strong throughout. What makes the story brilliant is due in part to the voice acting performance with Tasi. She is a believable and very likable protagonist, and the voice actor does a great job. Elsewhere, the sound design does a fantastic job keeping the tension with the whispering winds and creaking inside the fort. I was constantly on edge expecting something to happen.
Amnesia: Rebirth is a return to Frictional Games breakthrough franchise. It might not be as terrifying or tense as the original game and this will surely disappoint some fans. But for me, there was enough horror mixed into the top notch storytelling to provide one of the best survival horror experiences I’ve played in years. Tasi’s journey is one that I will remember, even if the ending falls flat.
Even with some of the more dated aspects of the engine, Amnesia: Rebirth manages to look stunning.
Amnesia: Rebirth combines horror and exploration, but feels a little bit dated.
Excellent voice acting and sound design that really immerses you into the experience.
With its top notch storytelling and terrifying scares, Amnesia: Rebirth manages to build on what Frictional does best. Although, a couple issues hold it back from true greatness
Final Verdict: 8.5
Amnesia: Rebirth is available now on PC and PS4.
Reviewed on PC with a RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600x and 16GB RAM.