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Amnesia: Rebirth review — An ambitious but painful epic

Whether you want to sit through this gruesome and miserable but effective tale will be up to you.

Amnesia Rebirth Candle
(Image: © Frictional Games)

As I sat down to write this review for Amnesia: Rebirth, I wondered what it was going to look like. I spent around 10 hours with the game, and the two main questions — is it good? Should people play it? — don't have concrete answers.

This isn't surprising though. This has always been the case with games by Frictional, the company that first released Amnesia: The Dark Descent back in 2010. The studio makes horror games that like to trick the player into questioning what they're seeing or hearing, and that take away player agency. The Amnesia games (including A Machine for Pigs, which was developed by Chinese Room) and its 2015 release Soma are experiments in what taking away a player's ability to fight back or interact with does for both the narrative and gameplay. When all you can do is run and hide from the monsters, how willing are you to push forward? When being in the dark causes the game itself to distort, can you manage to hold it together yourself? Can you handle the gruesome, unforgiving worlds you're thrust into?

The Amnesia games aren't for everyone. That lack of agency, along with the bleak, hopeless stories the studio crafts, can't be described as "fun." I know a lot of people who attempted to play The Dark Descent and shut it back down after a few minutes. Soma sought to rectify this by introducing a Safe Mode that allows players to experience the game without worrying about monsters, but, unfortunately for many, Amnesia: Rebirth goes back to The Dark Descent's roots by creating something meant to haunt your nightmares.

Amnesia: Rebirth is the culmination of everything Frictional has been working towards since The Dark Descent. It creates a space that strips away your agency and is constantly out to get you, but it's upped to an even stronger degree. The game itself is much larger, both in terms of actual size and in ambition, so the opportunities to get players to opt out are only more varied. There are more monsters to run from and areas to run through. There are more frustrating puzzles to solve and obtuse pieces of lore to uncover. There are so many pieces that, in the end, you might wonder what it all culminates into.

Amnesia: Rebirth is a sequel to The Dark Descent, for better or worse

If you've played a Frictional game before, you'll know what to expect gameplay wise. The protagonist, which you play as in first person, has to make their way through an unforgiving situation and learn everything about what they're up against and about themselves as they go. In Amnesia: Rebirth, that takes the form of Tasi Trianon's story. While on an expedition to Africa with her husband Salim and a small group of others, the plane crashes in the desert and you wake without any memory of what happened to your group. Your first task is to just find out what happened, but quickly, it becomes so much more as you discover that something supernatural is afoot.

CategoryGameNameXXX
TitleAmnesia: Rebirth
DeveloperFrictional Games
PublisherFrictional Games
GenreFirst-person horror
Minimum RequirementsWindows 7, Core i3 / AMD FX 2.4 Ghz, 4GB RAM
Game Size50GB
Play Time8-10 hours
PlayersSingleplayer
Launch Price$30

This all starts off similarly to Dark Descent, minus the pitch black, gothic castle, but it quickly differentiates itself. Sure, you might have to run and hide from monsters and constantly keep reupping your stash of matches and oil to keep the lights on, but Rebirth swings larger. There are some new mechanics, including the introduction of a glowing compass that can reveal hidden passageways or portals in certain areas, and one other important element — pregnancy.

Amnesia Rebirth Baby

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

You see, Tasi is pregnant and the existence of said baby brings her comfort, so you can check in on the baby during frightful sequences to calm your nerves. The pregnancy plays a huge role in the story, and while relying on it as an actual mechanic feels trivial compared to how powerful and life-changing it can be, the game uses it to its fullest extent. I can't think of other games in recent memory that put you in the perspective of a character giving birth or having to breast feed, and considering breastfeeding in public is still taboo to many, this feels revolutionary.

So instead of a protagonist that just has to recover their memories and stop the evil that has overtaken their sense, Rebirth ups the stakes. While I'm tired of female characters' motivations being reduced to their children (it's unfortunately common in stories), it does its job here, especially with how the child's existence is weaved into not only the larger threat hunting the crew, but also Tasi and Salim's heartbreaking backstory, which is revealed as you recover your memories. It also gives the developers the chance to inject some body horror into the proceedings, even though the game is full of it elsewhere.

Amnesia: Rebirth is all about world building

Amnesia Rebirth Amulet Rift

Source: Frictional Games (Image credit: Source: Frictional Games)

As Tasi remembers more about her life and what happened after the plane crash, you learn more about the world Frictional is presenting, and discover it's the same one introduced in The Dark Descent. You can still play the games independently, but those wondering more about the expedition Daniel went on in the first game, or the magic that was powering the mysterious orbs and the Shadow will find a lot of answers in Rebirth. It takes its time to explain just about everything — where the orbs come from, what was going on inside the ancient tomb, and where vitae comes from. Soon the game becomes less about Tasi's quest and more about these revelations, before they both come together in the climax. The decisions Tasi has to make will impact everybody involved, including the unknown deity-like creature that follows you around.

Fans of The Dark Descent will enjoy the new story bits, especially because they manage to be both enlightening and surprising.

Fans of The Dark Descent will enjoy all of these story bits, especially because they manage to be both enlightening and surprising. Learning about the "ancient" civilization (and whether it's still ancient at all) is full of turns that can be horrifying and disgusting. One sequence, which you actually have some control over, forces you to make a decision about the life of another and going the dark route is one of the most disturbing images I've seen in any game.

But this is all to drive home the series' mythos. These stories have, for better or worse, always been about human ambition and denial. They're not always about madness, but they use instability to add stakes to characters' journeys and to show consequences to some of the more outlandish actions. They're all cautionary tales concerning overstepping our boundaries, stealing from other cultures, and what happens when we lose all sympathy for others in favor of power.

Rebirth absolutely continues in the path set by The Dark Descent. Tasi is forced to make tough decisions that could impact the lives of those around her, and sometimes that includes horrendous sacrifices. It sometimes suffers from going too far into a morality direction, giving players choices that they would likely never make, but it does allow you to roleplay Tasi in some subtle ways. This culminates in the finale where you have three possible endings (that I found). One of these could potentially be considered the "good" ending, but none of them are happy. Amnesia: Rebirth does here what the series has always done well: create a scenario that you can't escape from, no matter how hard you work. And if horror wants you to contend with some frightening experiences, then the game has done it.

Does Amnesia: Rebirth's ambition get in the way?

Amnesia Rebirth Fortress

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If this game can be called anything, it's ambitious. Frictional creative director Thomas Grip told the Washington Post how the studio felt a lot of pressure to follow-up on The Dark Descent. It makes sense, since that first title influenced a whole genre, directly inspiring probably thousands of games. A Machine for Pigs was dealt a lot of criticism at release for straying from the Amnesia formula (although it still fits well in the series for its dark atmosphere and how it tackles similar themes), and while Soma is basically "sci-fi Amnesia," it still wasn't a proper entry.

Amnesia: rebirth is constantly trying to one-up the player and throw something out they weren't expecting.

Press materials call Rebirth "the most ambitious game Frictional Games has done" and there's little to dispute that. The quote refers to the assets involved, but that same idea goes for every element — from the story it attempts to tackle to the different environments and monsters Tasi encounters.

It's constantly trying to one-up the player, throw something out they weren't expecting, and it works in a lot of areas. As I previously mentioned, the story starts out with a plane crash and goes into wild territory, from alternate dimensions to underground caves with dark secrets. However, by going hard, it offers up too much information. There are also a lot of notes to pick up along the way that either describe what happened to your group (and the sometimes intimate relationships between them) along with the people who got into the same trouble decades prior. Once you hop on over to the mysterious civilization, you'll also be treated to even more notes, but they're tougher to read.

This is one of the first problems with Amnesia: Rebirth. The game's goal to explain everything ensures it gets in its own way. The pace is slowed often by an area with a batch of reading material, and a lot of it can be obtuse. The side characters are tough to differentiate between since a lot of them only show up briefly, and unless you've dug deeply into the story from The Dark Descent, a lot of what you'll read won't make sense. You don't need to understand everything to play, but it helps with progression.

When you're not reading or running, you'll be solving puzzles. The game forces the player to break away from the consistent terror for a while to spin pillars and wheels or unlock doors. Most of the time, getting through a level involves putting an intricate series of moving parts in their proper place, whether that's fixing otherworldly machines or finding materials to make explosives. However, the levels can be so expansive that it's easy to get lost in what you have to do. There is a journal that keeps track or your goals, but it does this in the form of drawings, which can be tough to deduce.

Fans of point-and-click adventures probably won't find the puzzles to be too cumbersome, but when I run around a level three times looking for a clue, only to discover that I had to, for example, run a cable through a tiny hole near the ground that I could only see after removing metal rods, it goes a bit too far.

Bottom line: Should you play Amnesia: Rebirth?

Amnesia Rebirth Ghoul

Source: Frictional Games (Image credit: Source: Frictional Games)

Amnesia: Rebirth is a lot of what Frictional promised when it said it was finally making another entry in the series. It features a lot of what made The Dark Descent so important, but takes them to the next level. There are more monsters to run from, more world building elements to sink your teeth into, and more places for scares.

On a more story-driven level, Rebirth is also a wildly ambitious title. It seeks to explain a lot of what it introduced in The Dark Descent, revisiting areas only spoken about in that original title and expanding upon the mysteries of what helped a lot of the mystical elements come to be. This, in turn, creates a narrative that's dense but never dull.

It also continues the series' penchant for dark storytelling. The scares aren't just frightening; they're gruesome and tragic. The Dark Descent featured a lot of body horror but some of what Rebirth comes up with is nightmare-inducing, even for the toughest minds. You have to make some of the most morally revolting decisions in any game here, and where it leads is satisfying, but might leave you feeling hollow (although that seems to be the intent). Frictional creates horror games that stand out from the rest, and that continues in Rebirth.

All of this is to say that it's tough recommend an Amnesia game to anyone, and that's especially true for Rebirth. These are not games for those not ready for the type of horror they dish out, and that'll be especially true for this most recent release. It might not be as physically dark as its older sibling, but what awaits in the dark will still haunt you.

Carli is the Gaming Editor across Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. Her last name also will remind you of a dinosaur. Follow her on Twitter or email her at carli.velocci@futurenet.com.