Amnesia: The Collection is a bit of a fragmented experience. Made up of the innovative original release Amnesia: The Dark Descent, it’s unforgiving DLC Justine, and the Chinese Room developed Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Horror fans are bound to find a lot to live in this package, released on consoles for the very first time. Although the gameplay-heavy Dark Descent is a sharp contrast to the narratively-focused Machine for Pigs, together they make for two of the best, most compelling horror games of the last decade.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a near-legendary horror title, a modern genre classic that has influenced so many other titles, including the upcoming Outlast 2 and Resident Evil 7. Its emphasis on gameplay and tension in a first person perspective has inspired many imitators, but even after all these years, almost no game has managed it better. Taking on the perspective of a man named Daniel, players are tasked with uncovering the mysteries of a crumbling castle filled with roaming eldritch horrors. It’s a simple premise that gets more involved as the game goes forward, but the main focus of the game is always the tight gameplay. In keeping with the Lovecraftian themes of the game, players are forced to manage their sanity, which erodes in the dark or while looking at enemies. Along with a standard health system and the ability to light almost any candle in the levels with consumable Tinderboxes found throughout, it creates an engaging gameplay loop where every player choice can bring you closer to victory or death.
In many ways, the puzzle design of The Dark Descent feels almost like a spiritual successor to the original Resident Evil. Obtuse combinations of found items abound, with players almost entirely reliant on notes found in the environments to guide them on their way. While it may sound like an archaic way to introduce puzzle mechanics, it’s refreshingly retro, and always intuitive. Thanks to a pretty decent hint system included as well, I never felt completely clueless as I made my way through the horrifying abyss.
Even with the power of the Playstation 4, The Dark Descent really shows it’s age as a nearly 7-year old indie title. While listing effects, sound design, and overall aesthetic remain impeccable, the same can’t quite be said for the environments. Filled with blurry textures and the same objects throughout, the gameplay and story manage to save the experience from becoming monotonous, in spite of itself. But then again, no great horror game has lasted because of its visual fidelity. Still, I can’t help but feel that Dark Descent and it’s DLC could have done with a bit more of a facelift for their console debut.
Of the three entries in the package, Justine is the one I am most ambivalent about. Using the same engine and much of the same objects and textures as Dark Descent, Justine tells a Saw-esque story of a young woman who is forced to undergo a gauntlet of horrifying challenges at the behest of a sadistic, faceless voice over the loudspeaker. It’s much shorter than the Descent, and while the tight gameplay remains intact, it is unnecessarily hard and has no checkpointing system. This kind of punishing difficulty almost immediately turned me off, a regrettable design choice given the premise’s narrative intrigue. Still, fans of the hardcore are bound to find more enjoyment out of it than I did, and it is still an overall exceptional piece of horror.
In my opinion, Machine for Pigs is the real jewel in the Collection‘s crown. The Chines Room’s thematically dense horror adventure tells the tale of an early 20th-century industrialist trying to uncover the insidious secrets of a foreboding, massive meat processing facility while chasing after his two missing children. It’s an excellent, memorable story that delves deep into themes of greed and the toll it takes amid an industrial revolution in the heart of London. Filled with biting symbolism and incredible architecture, the focus on narrative is a stark contrast to the unfortunate lacking in gameplay.
Almost every gameplay mechanic in Dark Descent has been stripped out for Machine. The lantern now no longer requires oil and is instead an infinite resource. Health replenishes over time, and tinderboxes are no longer around, the light mechanics made obsolete by an everlasting lantern. Even the enemies are somewhat less threatening, due in no small part to the lack of stealth sections. All of these compromises were obviously made as a sacrifice for the purpose of creating a more compelling narrative, but it’s a sacrifice that is still regrettable. It’s also worth mentioning that the puzzle design is drastically worse than in Descent, which often relies on players to scour every corner of their environments to find the right item they need to progress. While the environments themselves are more varied and much nicer to look at, they can often be unintuitive to navigate, leaving me with no idea where to look more than once.
Machine for Pigs also suffers from several minor technical issues that were absent in Descent. Screen tearing occurs randomly throughout, and frame rate issues can completely break the immersion in the game, which takes place mostly in the bigger outdoor areas. While overall, it looks better and more polished than Descent; Machine’s ambitious environmental design is constantly undercut by the dropping frames, hampering what is otherwise an impressive experience. Given the age of the game and the fact that this is its first time on console, it’s a bit surprising that these issues weren’t cleaned up for the PS4 release. It’s by no means unplayable, but it is a bit of a bummer and takes away from the overall luster of the package.
One unacceptable oversight in the collection is the lack of an ability to play more than one title without restarting the entire game. At the main screen, players choose between the three games, but once they choose that decision is locked. There is no way to back out. It’s a small hassle, but after so many years of other collections and remasters offering this choice, it’s another small disappointment in an overall great collection.
Amnesia: The Collection is a slightly lacking compilation of great games. Technical issues, the lack of extra work in the console release, and a lack of any additional materials keep these gems from shining as brightly as they should; it feels like they weren’t entirely done justice. But putting all that aside, horror fans will find a lot to love for the price tag. Between the iconic, innovative gameplay of The Dark Descent, the slightly more hardcore Justine, and the exceptional storytelling of Machine for Pigs, there is a great, if slightly imbalanced variety of content.