Amnesia the Dark Descent is mainly a psychological based horror game that achieves its effect by mentally preying on the player's imagination and fears. In the horror genre, various means can be used to create this atmosphere of intense apprehension such as hostile environments, strange noises, eerie music and the suggestion of evil lurking in the shadows. In Amnesia, there does exist a real threat, but never quite knowing where it will come from keeps you mentally on the edge. The developers have done a very good job of building this tension while also giving the character lots of opportunity to avoid any actual physical harm. One never feels quite safe, though, and this atmosphere of suspense throughout the game is what marks this as a good addition to the genre.
The setting takes place in the year 1839 in Brennenburg Castle in Prussia, the home of Alexander of Brennenburg, who is the main antagonist of the game. Daniel, our character, awakens here with amnesia and slowly begins to explore his surroundings. Soon he discovers a note he apparently wrote to himself explaining how he deliberately erased his own memory. He also left himself instructions to descend into the Inner Sanctum of the castle and kill Alexander.
The story is quite interesting and slowly the pieces of this mystery are revealed in the notes and diaries Daniel finds throughout the environment. As he begins this quest, he soon finds himself being stalked by some shadowy creature attempting to thwart his progress. This is where the puzzle solving comes in. In order to accomplish certain tasks, Daniel must explore the many rooms of the castle, but he's not alone and other unsavory "things" are roaming around in the dark as well. When one is near, it makes noises, thus giving you the opportunity to run and hide, which is your only defense are there are no weapons in this game. As well as being eerie, the game is also quite disturbingly gruesome in some ways. It deals with the subject of torture and can be quite explicit in places. Although I'm not one to be easily spooked, there definitely were some places that were uncomfortable. Some people who are very sensitive to these things have found it difficult to play this game, so be warned.
One of the most used means to achieve the horror factor is to employ darkness, and Amnesia is a very dark game. You can adjust the gamma, but turning it up is said to "not be in the spirit" of things. You're meant to be roaming around severely handicapped by the lack of light. All of the screenshots had to be lightened, as the game is darker than represented by these and you will see by the official video just how dark it is. To help you, you can find tinderboxes to light the many torches and candles scattered throughout and you can also collect oil for your lamp. There is not an overabundance of these, so you need to determine where light is absolutely necessary. The darkness is also used to hide from the enemy, as there is no means of defense in this game. It's therefore strategic to leave some areas in the dark. If there is a closet in the room, leave a door open so you can access it quickly to hide should you hear those dreaded footsteps heading your way.
There is an inventory of sorts although there are not many items to be concerned with above tinderboxes, oil, and laudanum for health. The balance consists of temporary items pertaining to a particular puzzle. In addition, you have notes, memorandum and diaries. Also, aside from health, there is a sanity factor and if you've played Call of Cthulha you will be familiar with this tactic. Daniel's sanity meter will change if he looks at the monsters, stares at grizzly scenes or stays in the dark too long. He then runs the risk of losing control and passing out, indicated by everything going blurry and wavy. Passing out in the wrong place can be dangerous to your welfare.
This is a physics based game, which means you have to pull/push with the mouse to open drawers and doors, move debris and operate levers. You can also pick up items and throw them. Fortunately this all works very smoothly and fairly quickly as throwing things at monsters and slamming doors may save your bacon at times. You can also use this device to distract them, which works well on the water monster. The game is somewhat predictable however; if you do certain things, you will actually rarely meet up with a monster. Crouch, stay in the shadows, hide in closets and close doors after you. Run and hide when you spot or hear a monster coming.
Saves are automatic when you quit, or if you die you will be loaded into a checkpoint. There are very few controls and these are mappable and easy to use.
The closest like game to this would be Penumbra Overture, which is not surprising coming from the same developers. Amnesia turned out to be quite the success story for the small studio Frictional Games and sold much better than anticipated. It has allowed them to start developing another game.
JUSTINE is the free official downloadable content that was added later to the game by means of an update. It plays the same way as the main game with the exception of saves. There are no checkpoints and you cannot save in this. Dying means you will have to begin all over again. I suspect you will be doing this several times. There are also quite a few free, user-made mods available.UPDATE Nov 2015: Penumbra Necrologue is a total conversion fan-made mod that continues the Penumbra story after Requiem. Steam Penumbra Necrologue The mod requires Amnesia: The Dark Descent to play.