Amnesia: Rebirth can be absolutely terrifying at times, which should come as no surprise since it’s the sequel to one of the greatest PC horror games ever made. It certainly helps that Frictional Games, the studio behind the original horror masterpiece, is back at the helm for the sequel. This alone might be enough to make gamers run to the Steam store.
Indeed, when Rebirth is at its best, it can unsettle and scare you as effectively as Amnesia: The Dark Descent did in 2010. But it doesn’t always hit the mark. Rebirth sometimes confuses tension with poor puzzle design and can feel a bit dated. For better or worse, the sequel plays quite a bit like its decade-old predecessor.
Amnesia: Rebirth begins with a literal bang, as your plane crashes in the Algerian desert in the 1930s. You play as Tasi Trianon, a young French woman who survives the crash with only fractured memories of her past. She sets out in this unforgiving land to find any other survivors, uncovering a few mysteries along the way.
Without giving too much away, I will say that Tasi’s journey is a deeply personal one, exploring themes of family, trauma, and loss. Early in the game, we learn something really important about Tasi that really raises the stakes, making her journey all that much more dire. Tasi is a very different, more relatable character than Daniel in The Dark Descent, and learning more about her story is a major motivator to keep playing.
While I initially found the desert setting intriguing, Rebirth never seems to take full advantage of it. In your first few minutes after escaping the plane crash, you’ll be told that you need to stay in the shadows to keep your fear meter low, but these outdoor areas rarely come into play later in the game, with Rebirth quickly trading them in for caverns and claustrophobic indoor areas.
It’s here that the traditional gameplay that made the original Amnesia a classic is on full display. In Rebirth, the dark is just as dangerous as the monsters that dwell within it. Spend too much time in shadowy areas, or look too long at the more gruesome parts of the world, and you’ll quickly find your fear increasing, leading to a game over. Though Rebirth replaces The Dark Descent’s concept of “sanity,” with “fear,” the mechanics essentially work exactly the same, although letting your fear get too high does result in some cheap jump scares, which feel somewhat out of place for the series. Matches and lanterns help keep the darkness at bay and your fear low, but those quickly run out, and then it’s a mad dash to figure out what to do next to make it back to the light.
Between The Dark Descent and SOMA, Frictional Games now has more than a decade of experience developing first-person horror games, and they’ve put all those skills to work creating an incredibly unnerving experience in Rebirth. The most effective horror movies are the ones that show you the least but always make you wonder what’s around the next corner, and that philosophy is at work throughout most of the game.
Running through the ruins of the Algerian desert world, I could rarely see more than a few feet in front of me. Objects would regularly move, nudged by something just out of view, and when ghouls did start to appear, they would quickly scuttle into other rooms rather than confront me head on. Maybe I’d run into them right away, maybe I wouldn’t see another monster for a half an hour. It’s that toying with expectations that so effectively creates a constant feeling of dread.
Adding to the tension is some fantastic sound design. Rebirth features a wonderfully creepy soundtrack that knows exactly when to kick in. And the constant, low chatter of voices while exploring the darker areas of the world adds so much to the overall creepy atmosphere of the game. Thankfully, voice acting is also much improved from The Dark Descent.
As great as Amnesia: Rebirth is at invoking fear, it still suffers from one of the main problems that plagued The Dark Descent: needlessly obtuse puzzles. When you’re fleeing from monsters or exploring creepy environments, Rebirth is a top-notch horror experience, but when you’re running around poorly lit areas trying to flip levers or find random objects with little direction, it’s a slog. Confusing level design can help make a game feel more unnerving, but some of the puzzles in Rebirth just feel like filler.
Another legacy issue is that Rebirth’s enemy AI is sometimes shoddy. Yes, the ghouls are very scary when you first encounter them from afar, but when forced to face them up close, there a little too easy to evade. But if they do catch sight of you, you can expect some truly scary chases sequences to ensue.
Between its engaging story and fantastic atmosphere, Amnesia: Rebirth hits all the right notes that made The Dark Descent an instant classic. Just don’t expect anything quite as genre defining as the original. Rebirth is a good horror game to get lost in this Halloween season, but this bout of amnesia feels much more familiar the third time around.