Amnesia: The Dark Descent

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Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Developer(s) Frictional Games
Publisher(s) Frictional Games
    Designer(s) Thomas Grip
    Jens Nilsson
    Programmer(s) Thomas Grip
    Luis Rodero Morales
    Writer(s) Mikael Hedberg
    Composer(s) Mikko Tarmia
    Series Amnesia
    Engine HPL Engine 2
    Release date(s) September 8, 2010
    Genre(s) Survival horror[1]
    Mode(s) Single-player

    Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a survival horror video game by Frictional Games,[2] released for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux platforms. The game features a protagonist named Daniel exploring a dark and foreboding castle, while avoiding monsters and other obstructions as well as solving puzzles.[3] The game was critically well received, earning two awards from the Independent Games Festival and numerous positive reviews.[4]

    Originally released independently as a download, the game has since been published in retail by 1C Company in Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as THQ in North America.[5][6][7] A collection of five short stories set in the world of Amnesia, written by Mikael Hedberg and illustrated by the game's concept artists, was also made available.[8] In addition, the game's soundtrack is available for purchase and a free content expansion called "Justine" has been released as well as many fan-made expansions and stories for its unique "Custom Story" gamemode.[9]


    In a similar vein to the developer's previous games, Amnesia is an adventure game played from a first-person perspective. The game retains the physical object interaction used in the Penumbra series, allowing for physics-based puzzles and interactions such as opening doors and fixing machinery.[3] Few in-game objects are operated by toggle; to open a door, for instance, the player must hold down a mouse button and then push (or pull) the mouse. This gives the player stealth, allowing them to peek out a barely-opened door or open it slowly to sneak away, but also adds to the player's sense of helplessness, as it is now entirely possible to attempt to push open a "pull" door whilst danger approaches from behind.

    In addition to a health indicator, Daniel's sanity must be managed. Being in darkness too long, witnessing unsettling events, or staring at monsters will reduce Daniel's sanity, causing visual and auditory hallucinations and drawing the attention of monsters. Light sources help restore sanity, and if none are available Daniel may use tinderboxes to ignite candles in wall sconces and candelabra, or deploy an oil-burning lantern found near the beginning of the game. However, the number of tinderboxes and the amount of oil available are both limited, and standing in a light source also makes the player more noticeable to monsters. The player must balance the amount of time Daniel spends in light and shadow. Sanity is fully restored once Daniel completes an objective or progresses the game's story. It may also be restored by staying in the shadows until Daniel passes out, but this leaves him extremely vulnerable to any nearby monsters.

    If a monster spots Daniel, it will chase him until he's out of sight. If spotted, Daniel must flee, as Amnesia does not give the player access to weapons. Daniel must find hiding places or barricade doors with rocks, chairs and other obstacles; however, monsters are capable of tearing down doors in their path and kicking obstacles out of the way, and move extremely fast once they have spotted their prey. Players can also choose to hide Daniel in the shadows, at cost to sanity. Monsters who lose sight of Daniel will search for him for a time, but will eventually leave and vanish.


    In late August 1839, Daniel, a young man from London, awakens in the dark halls of the Prussian Brennenburg Castle with little to no memory about himself or his past.[2] All he can remember is his name, that he lives in Mayfair and that something is hunting him.[10][11] Shortly after awakening, Daniel discovers a note written to himself, from which he learns that he has deliberately erased his own memory, and that he needs to descend into the Inner Sanctum of the castle to kill the Baron, Alexander.

    The exploration of the dark depths of the castle is also a journey into his own erased past as he unravels the mysteries of Brennenburg Castle, he also finds himself hunted by a dangerous unearthly presence that manifests itself as a corruption that is slowly covering the castle in fleshy, acidic growths, and bizarre monsters against which his only defense is to flee. These events are linked and pertain to why Daniel came to Brennenburg.

    Daniel was once a part of an archaeological expedition to Africa, in an attempt to excavate a tomb called "The Tomb of Tin Hinan". He came across a mystical orb buried within the ruins of the ancient temple, and brought its broken pieces back to England where he successfully assembled them. Daniel started to seek information about the Orb's history from a geologist and a professor. However, he began to be plagued by nightmares, and several people who came across his path, and that of the Orb, died horribly at the hands of the "Shadow" that appears to follow his footsteps. Desperate and despairing, he received a strange letter from a Prussian baron named Alexander, who promised protection if Daniel would sojourn in his castle.

    Daniel had no other choice but to flee to Brennenburg. As he arrived at the castle, he was greeted warmly by the baron, Alexander of Brennenburg and his servants, who appeared to be very pleased by Daniel's arrival. But the young man was unaware that the enigmatic deity had silently chased him to Brennenburg. Alexander knew this, and promised Daniel that they would banish the cosmic beast forever. Alexander told Daniel all he knew about the Orb's power. Daniel asked Alexander about the letter he sent in response to Daniel. Alexander simply said that things could be done, but at a price. Alexander showed various parts of the Brennenburg castle to Daniel, including the archives, a refinery, a prison where he kept the "criminals", a bottomless pit called the Chancel, and the Inner Sanctum itself, where they could permanently banish the Shadow.

    During their visit in the Inner Sanctum, Alexander began to tamper with the Orb, thus enraging the Guardian, whose fleshy residue appeared in the Sanctum. Alexander quickly covered the Orb and the Shadow disappeared. He told Daniel that they had very little time to banish the Shadow. They must quickly start the Warding Ritual before it would be too late. However, Alexander's promise of salvation was a lie. It was revealed then that he is actually an otherworldly life-form who has spent centuries in Brennenburg, attempting to open a "gate" back to his own world. To do this, he needed a substance called "vitae", which can only be harvested from the blood of agonized humans. He also needed a usable Orb. As such, Daniel was a boon to his efforts: Alexander employed him as his personal torturer, replacing his former servants who became the monsters Daniel flees from, and claiming that the vitae would fuel a ritual to banish the Shadow from Daniel's presence forever. Daniel initially embraced this role, particularly when Alexander told him that the humans he was seizing are vile criminals. In order to produce enough vitae, Alexander and Daniel fed the prisoners they tortured with an Amnesia potion, which made them forget the method of their torture, and ensured that they will be just as terrified the second time around, without becoming accustomed or resigned to the pain (Damascus rose is alluded to as either one of the ingredients of the Amnesia potion, or as a flavoring that Daniel perhaps added to the mixture to disguise its taste). As the experiments continued, however, Daniel's faith in Alexander was shaken, and finally shattered when he murdered a little girl in cold blood following her escape from a prison cell.

    Alexander saw that the event had taken a toll on Daniel's mind. Taking the Orb with him, Alexander sealed himself in the Inner Sanctum, leaving Daniel to be brutally maimed by the cosmic guardian. Despondent over how far he has come, and furious at Alexander's trickery, Daniel chooses to drink the Amnesia potion himself so that he can atone for his sins without the burden of crippling emotional trauma, leaving but a note to his new self to murder Alexander. The new Daniel found the note his former-self left, telling him to kill Alexander, but also to escape the approaching Shadow as long as he can. As he started to travel in the castle, he realized that his former-self's warning was right. This beast, the Guardian of The Orbs, follows his footsteps, as do the terrible monsters patrolling in the corridors of Brennenburg. Daniel eventually manages to find the Inner Sanctum buried deep below Castle Brennenburg. He breaches its defences with a newly assembled Orb and the help of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, an alchemist that Alexander has kept imprisoned in Brennenburg for centuries with the use of strange alchemy. Agrippa, who once studied Orbs with his student Johann Weyer, explains the purpose of the Shadow: it protects the Orbs, slaying anyone who threatens to abuse their power. He mentions also that Weyer managed to travel to Alexander's world using the power of the Orb, and begs a favor: that Daniel separate Agrippa's head from his body with the help of a tonic that will ensure his head will remain alive, and then take it with him.

    There are three possible outcomes to the confrontation with Alexander, depending on Daniel's actions at the Inner Sanctum: he can fail to prevent Alexander from returning to his home world and be killed by the Shadow and trapped in eternal darkness, though Alexander thanks him for his "sacrifice", and tells him that what he has done will not be forgotten and he will be celebrated forever; he can destroy the device creating the Gate, causing the Shadow to kill only Alexander while allowing Daniel to escape with his life, content to be leaving Brennenburg having redeemed himself and knowing that Alexander has paid the price for his sins; or he can follow Agrippa's advice and toss his head through the portal, where the Shadow still kills Daniel along with Alexander, however, Daniel is saved when Agrippa finds Daniel, saying that he deserves so much more, and then calls upon Weyer to help him save Daniel, promising the latter that "it will be all right."

    Amnesia: Justine downloadable content


    The player takes control of an unnamed female character, who awakens with amnesia in a dungeon cell, accompanied only by a phonograph. This phonograph contains a recording by a woman named Justine, who tells the player character that she is the subject of a psychological test. The player character is then allowed to escape, or die trying.

    The player character is presented with several puzzles to solve. In each, she has the option of simply abandoning the puzzle and walking away, but doing so will cause an innocent victim contained within (a doctor, a priest and a policeman) to die. She is also stalked by the Suitors, three monstrous characters whom Justine (through additional phonographs) reveals to be her own former paramours, now twisted by physical and psychological torture. The player character may also collect notes scattered throughout the testing environs, which give additional background information on the Suitors and Justine herself.

    The game's exact ending depends on how many puzzles the player has chosen to solve, and thus how many victims survived. However, all of them proceed along roughly the same lines: after surviving the puzzle sections, the nameless female discovers a phonograph dangling from the ceiling, which causes the walls of the chamber to begin moving inward as though to squash the protagonist. She passes out, but awakens unharmed and begins to congratulate herself. The protagonist is Justine, who staged the entire experiment to see if she still had any compassion for humanity within herself. Armed with her new-found knowledge, she moves forward into the ending sequence, in which any surviving victims thank her (not realizing she does not intend to free them now that her memory is restored) and, if all three were saved, Justine makes a declaration she herself is still alive.


    Work began on the game while Penumbra: Requiem was still being developed, with the company working on both projects at the same time.[12] The game was first known under two working titles: Unknown and Lux Tenebras. It was not until November 13, 2009 that it was announced as its current title, Amnesia, with the release of the game's website and a game trailer.[13][14] Initial designs of the game varied considerably from the final game, with the developers interested in reintroducing more combat elements similar to those utilized in their first commercial title Penumbra: Overture. The developers soon discovered that they encountered many of the same problems and difficulties that plagued the combat in that game however, and the design was further changed to be more similar to the style set out by Overture's sequel Penumbra: Black Plague.[15]

    On February 5, 2010 it was announced that the game had reached the alpha stage of development on all platforms.[16][17][18] Two weeks later the developers released a new teaser trailer that showed actual game-play footage, and the developers began accepting pre-orders for the game through their website. Also revealed was that the game was at that point being tested on all three intended platforms. It was also announced that the game would be released simultaneously for all of them in August 2010.[19][20] This was later rescheduled, and the game was then expected to have a September 8, 2010 release.[21] It was then later announced on August 27, 2010 that the game had officially gone Gold and would soon be ready to sold.[22] On September 3, the games demo was released containing selected parts of the gameplay and story. It was then successfully released on September 8, 2010.[23]

    If the game reached 2000 pre-orders by May 31, 2010, Frictional promised it would release extra content for the game. The goal was finally met in early May, after the pre-orders were offered at a discount made available until May 31. This was done due to the success of Penumbra: Overture as a part of the first Humble Indie Bundle.[24] The extra content was revealed to be commentary,[25] and they explained in the comments section of the same page that its intended function was similar to that of Valve Software's commentary system that began in the Half-Life 2 series.[26] The authors cite "Soul Made Flesh" by Carl Zimmer and older horror movies such as The Haunting as being inspirations for the mood and style of the game.[27]

    Thomas Grip, one of the games main developers, would later write up a post-mortem of the game titled "The Terrifying Tale of Amnesia" for The Escapist, where he outlined in detail the process of the game's development, mostly focusing on its ever changing design and the financial problems that plagued the developers for most of the game's development.[28]


    Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Original Soundtrack)
    Soundtrack album by Mikko Tarmia
    Released May 17, 2011 (2011-05-17)
    Genre Video game soundtrack
    Length 34:41
    Label The Sound of Fiction

    The game's music was composed by Mikko Tarmia and released for download on May 17, 2011.

    Downloadable content

    On April 12, 2011 Frictional Games released an extra free level for owners of the Steam version of Amnesia. This additional campaign is set apart from Brennenburg Castle. Justine was released on Steam as a way to promote the upcoming release of Portal 2, as getting 100% on the campaign (all of the collectables, all of the analysis and making correct choices) unlocks a message from fictional company Aperture Science. The content was made available for all of the games supported platforms and versions as part of the Amnesia v1.2 update on May 17, 2011.[8]

    Custom stories

    It is possible to create custom stories for Amnesia that can then be loaded in the game.[29] Various tools for the HPL2 Engine have been released that allow the creation of own levels, models, particle effects and materials, using an interface similar to Valve's Hammer Editing Software.[30] Game logic can be implemented using the AngelScript scripting language.[31][32][33] A prominent example of a custom story is Penumbra: Necrologue, a fan-made sequel to Frictional's earlier Penumbra series.


    Aggregate scores
    Aggregator Score
    GameRankings 86.10%[34]
    Metacritic 85/100[35]
    Review scores
    Publication Score
    Adventure Gamers 4.5/5 stars[36]
    Eurogamer 8/10[37]
    Game Informer 9.25/10[38]
    IGN 8.5/10[39]
    PC Gamer (UK) 88%[40]
    Igromania 8/10[41]

    Amnesia: The Dark Descent has received critical acclaim with consistent praise given for the ominous atmosphere and horror elements. John Walker of Rock, Paper, Shotgun even went as far as to say that "I think it is safe to say that Amnesia is the most successfully frightening game to have been made."[42] X-Play added Amnesia to its top ten PC games saying "There are a lot of so-called "horror" games out there, this one is no joke. You'll be rocking back and forth and crying in no time".

    Frictional Games did show some trepidation over the game's initial sales after the first week,[43] but were encouraged by continued sales throughout the first month after the game's release, with Frictional recouping all the expenses from creating Amnesia by early October 2010.[44] By the beginning of January 2011 the developer reported that nearly 200,000 units had been sold, declaring in response that "With these figures at hand, we must confess that it gives us new confidence for the PC."[45] The game kept gaining sales and in July 2011 it had sold almost 350,000 units.[46] At the 2011 Independent Games Festival Amnesia won awards for both "Excellence in Audio" and "Technical Excellence" along with the "Direct2Drive Vision Award" which included a $10,000 prize.[4]

    A year after the original release of Amnesia, the developers revealed that they had sold around 391,102 units and were continuing to sell about 6000 units per month. They also released details about how much money each platform generated for them by analyzing the sales from their online store, with 70% of sales coming from Windows users and 15% coming from users of Linux and another 15% coming from users of Mac OS X. Frictional did however note that their store was the only place anyone could purchase the Linux version of the game, whereas the Mac OS X and Windows versions could be purchased from other sources, meaning that the total percentage of Linux sales is actually considerably smaller compared to other platforms taken collectively. Observing that their own Mac OS X sales did not go down from their own store even as services like Steam picked up the game for that platform, meaning that it did not steal customers from their store but instead opened up a new market, they decided this makes a good incentive for other stores to support Linux as well.[47] As of September 2012, the game sits at an estimated 1.4 million sales.[48]


    An indirect sequel called Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was released on September 10, 2013,[49] developed by The Chinese Room and published by Frictional Games. The Chinese Room is known for its Source mod Dear Esther, which was later released as a standalone game to critical acclaim. Dan Pinchbeck, writer for The Chinese Room, has stated of the new Amnesia game: "It's not a direct sequel, in terms of it doesn't follow on from the story of Amnesia. It doesn't involve the same characters. The game will be set in an alternate history in the same universe."[50]


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    4. 4.0 4.1 . Indie Rock: 2011 IGF Winners Announced Rock, Paper, Shotgun, March 3, 2011
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    23. Scary New Horror Adventure Available for Linux Linux Journal, September 13, 2010 (Article by Susan Linton)
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    29. In The Games Of Madness: Editors are out! Frictional Games
    30. Tools – HPL2 Documentation Frictional Games
    31. Amnesia: The Dark Descent – Addons Mod DB
    32. Amnesia: The Dark Descent – Mods Mod DB
    33. Finished Custom Stories for Download Frictional Games Forum
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    42. Wot I Think: Amnesia – The Dark Descent Rock, Paper, Shotgun, September 7th, 2010 (Article by John Walker)
    43. One week after the release of Amnesia Frictional Games Blog, September 15, 2010
    44. One Month after Amnesia's release Frictional Games Blog, October 8, 2010
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