Amnesia: Rebirth is the latest entry in the Amnesia series. It cannot be argued how influential the series has become since its first entry, Amnesia: Dark Descent. And while Rebirth doesn’t seek to innovate the gameplay commonly associated with titles produced by Frictional Games, it does explore a different kind of theme altogether. Darkness is a persistent threat, and players are met with decisions that will leave them wondering if they ultimately did the right thing.
There is something all encompassing about the darkness in Amnesia: Rebirth. The distinction is how it swells around the player and creeps up the corners of your screen, and how you’re left scrambling over rocks and oddly shaped architecture when resources run thin. I’ve never felt something more complete and simultaneously frustrating in all of my years playing horror games. Never before have I had something like not being able to see beyond my own hand while wandering around the dark so well emulated.
However, with that level of darkness comes frustration, and with frustration comes a lack of fear. The dark isn’t something that you more or less continue to dread in Amnesia: Rebirth, it becomes something you start to accept. When matches become scarce and mechanics are poorly explained, exasperation mounts and you trudge through rocky corridors fearlessly in search of matches or light before dark veins begin to slither up your screen. These effects are persistent until you find the appropriate kind of light–usually found around statues of unknown origin–but for the most part aren’t entirely obtrusive. They’re just relics of a previous generation of horror game, action game, or any game really that thought adding screen effects as damage indicators were clever or clear in their presentation.
And like those games, it doesn’t convey what it seeks to clearly enough. You can wander around in dark, oppressive environments for prolonged periods of time before you’re pushing your buttons to struggle against the darkness that threatens to overwhelm you. And as I mentioned before, this becomes somewhat frequent if you mismanage your resources, which I unfortunately did fairly early on. Amnesia: Rebirth isn’t the best at saying what it wants you to do; eventually you just sort of learn by doing or by stumbling across things you might have otherwise missed.
Eventually things do become more linear, and fairly early on as well, which made exploration easier and the objective of the game far more clear. The addition of a compass you find later in the game also helps you locate specific areas that allow for some interdimensional travel, which I wasn’t entirely fond of, but that’s a matter of personal taste. Instead of damp, rocky corridors, I was quickly transported to another similarly oppressive environment carved out of green-black stone. The design of these later areas are vaguely futuristic in the way that cosmic horror often assumes that alien life might look like, filled with sharp, jagged edges, cruel machinery, and emotionless stone faces.
However, what separates Amnesia: Rebirth from other entries in the genre are its themes. Motherhood takes centerstage as players assume the role of Tasi Trianon, a woman lost in a desert looking for her companions. As you progress through the game, more of her memories become clear and you can flip through illustrations that begin to etch themselves back into her memory through her notebook. You quickly start to realize what the narrative is truly about as you stumble headfirst into unexplainable environments.
Similar themes have been explored tangentially with horror games like Haunting Ground (also known as Demento). But Amnesia: Rebirth’s clear focus is on what that entails exactly without the lurking suspicions left to the player’s imagination. There are three endings, all centered around this singular concept of motherhood and self sacrifice. However, the overarching narrative is bogged down by its descent into bleakness.
There are no good ends in Amnesia, and Rebirth doesn’t try to subvert that expectation in any way. Hope is like a struck match, bright and short lived. This is perhaps what fans of the series are looking for, however, as its predecessors were equally abysmal and hopeless. That being said, this won’t alienate new players looking for a different story. Amnesia: Rebirth offers an entirely new perspective that sets it apart from Dark Descent, even if it is a messy one. And while there are elements found of the original game that inspired subsequent sequels, they’re more like nods to what came before it and aren’t necessary to enjoy the full experience.
Mechanically, there is nothing that sets Amnesia: Rebirth apart from its predecessors, aside from how “game overs” function. Instead of the game ending when you run headfirst (either purposefully or accidentally) into one of the monsters found skulking around in the darkness, you awaken past the encounter. This alleviates one source of frustration and helps keep the game going without hitting any kind of brick wall. That being said, the monster design in the game is fairly standard and isn’t exactly standout. They’re scary in the most basic sense of the word, and players that are more versed in horror games or films won’t be impressed.
Accessibility features in Amnesia: Rebirth include the option to scale text, which I was extremely grateful for. The options are fairly standard, but do their job as intended and I was able to read subtitles clearly and concisely. This is incredibly important when it came to reading notes left behind by errant explorers or messages scrawled on walls by the deceased.
While Amnesia: Rebirth is mechanically the same as Dark Descent and Machine for Pigs, it is ultimately the narrative that sets it apart. Horror fans will want to give it a chance, despite instances of exploration that can oftentimes be frustrating, purely for what it has to offer. Ultimately it is more of the same, and that cannot be contested. However, if you’re looking for something easy to get through that will provide you more than a few hours of entertainment or even scares, Amnesia: Rebirth might be what just you’re looking for.
Amnesia: Rebirth is immediately available on the PlayStation 4 and PC.