Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/amnesia-the-dark-descent-review-fb496fc80ae8
Whenever someone asks me what Amnesia: the Dark Descent is, I tell them it is the scariest game they will ever play. I stand by that assessment. I tried to play through it two years ago; I got an hour into the game, saw one of the monsters, and hid in a closet (in the game) until it went away. I decided to take a break and come back to the game a little later. Two years later I finally came back to the game and I have finished it!
Amnesia is scary not through jump scares and carefully scripted events, but through the oppressive and tense atmosphere that is constantly pressing in on you. This is the kind of scary that really affects me, because I tend to psyche myself up more than any scripted events will. It also means that you will only be scared if you let yourself become immersed in the environment; this is why I played in a dark room, alone, with headphones on whenever possible.
You play as Daniel, who wakes up in an old Prussian castle with no memories of who he is. You soon find a note to yourself that kind of explains the situation. Apparently there is a bad man named Alexander in the bowels of the castle, and you have to go down there and kill him. There is also a Shadow hunting you, breaking down reality; you cannot fight it, your only choice is to run and hide.
Lighting plays a critical role in this game. Not only does it determine how far you can see, but if you spend too much time in the darkness Daniel will start to lose his sanity, and then you can't trust the things he sees. To combat this you can light candles in the environment with tinderboxes and you can use your lantern. You have to be careful not to use too many tinderboxes or oil though, which adds another layer of tension.
You can get sanity back by solving puzzles and progressing through the game. Most of the puzzles force you to explore and find items in areas that you would probably rather avoid.
It took me seven and a half hours to complete the game. I am glad that it wasn't longer, because by the end I was starting to recognize the mechanics underlying the puzzles and monsters, and I was having trouble immersing myself as much as I had in the beginning.
Obviously if you don't enjoy scary movies you won't want to pick this game up, but if you do I highly recommend Amnesia: the Dark Descent. It is well worth the $20 price tag.