Thursday, November 26, 2020

Amnesia: Rebirth review – a horror game pregnant with dread | Games


Of all this horror game’s many weirdnesses, the strangest is the button for looking at your baby bump. During moments of intense stress, Amnesia: Rebirth’s pregnant protagonist Tasi Trianon can self-soothe by looking down and talking to her unborn child. I can’t testify to the effectiveness of bump-based therapy in real life, but in the context of the game, it did little for my shattered nerves. Amnesia: Rebirth may not be the best of Frictional Games’ macabre creations, but the Swedish studio can still scare the last three meals out of me.

Set in 1937, Amnesia Rebirth is a roundabout follow-up to 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It tracks Tasi after her plane crashes deep in the Algerian desert. Waking up alone in the plane’s fuselage, she must venture alone into the sands as she attempts to locate other survivors of the crash, including her husband, Salim.

Frictional spin an ambitious tale that invokes body horror, cosmic horror, and themes of colonialism, as well as mental-health traumas such as bereavement and loss of sanity. It’s the studio’s most emotive game, and Tasi makes for a relatable and empathetic protagonist. Unfortunately, the story suffers from thinly drawn secondary characters; Tasi’s maudlin relationship with Salim is a particular weak point.

It isn’t only the story that feels underbaked. Amnesia: Rebirth blends light puzzle-solving with evading the twitching creatures who lurk in the game’s oppressive darkness, and though the puzzles are intelligently constructed (a lengthy sequence set in an abandoned Foreign Legion fortress is a highlight), they lack the elaborate tactility of Frictional’s masterful sci-fi horror, Soma. An amulet lets Tasi hop between dimensions, but despite introducing it with considerable fanfare, Rebirth makes little use of this gimmick, limiting exploration of the game’s other world to a handful of fixed points.

Rebirth will feel familiar to anyone who played The Dark Descent 10 years ago, but Frictional still know how to set up a damn good scare. A level set inside crumbling Roman catacombs had me feeling wrung-out with anxiety by its heartstopping end. Just because it’s curled up in the darkness, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the monster is dead.

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