Horror’s kind of my jam. Slasher and torture porn movies are a lifelong obsession, and most of my writing is built around the dark and unsettling. Survival horror games, however, are my favorite way to engage with the genre, and always have been. To me, there’s nothing quite like playing the role of somebody threatened and trapped by an encroaching darkness, whether that darkness be bloodthirsty zombies, psychological trauma, or a menacing Xenomorph.
I say this because, as a horror fan, I have long since written off one of the gaming’s most beloved horror titles: Amnesia: The Dark Descent. In my mind, it confuses jump scares and unnerving noises with actual horror, and its mechanics are among the most tedious in the medium. Naturally, then, I went into Amnesia: Rebirth with some trepidation – although Soma gave me a ton of faith in Frictional, I wasn’t too optimistic that this wouldn’t just be drawing from that same stagnant well.
And while I ultimately think that Rebirth is a stronger game, with more to say and better scares, it ultimately is just that: stagnant.
There’s no way around it, and I think it’s disingenuous to call this a spoiler: Rebirth is a game about pregnancy. I mean, it’s right in the title. If you’re in any way sensitive to discussions of child death or prenatal complications, I would advise you to steer clear of this game.
The plot follows Tasi Trianon, a French archeologist who crash lands in the Algerian desert. Tasi is fairly late into her pregnancy, which she hilariously (and preposterously) forgets about for the first portion of the game, which puts her and her potential child at severe risk. Therefore, she spends much of the game trying to avoid the sweltering desert sun, and traversing dark, dank caverns. But, naturally, said caverns are filled with all sorts of nasty surprises eager to drive Tasi to the brink of insanity – all fueled by a sinister and foreboding fertility goddess.
As you might guess for a game that a) takes place in tight crevices and b) is about pregnancy, Rebirth makes liberal and frankly hilarious use of yonic symbolism. There are approximately umpteen million caves and holes that are deliberately meant to resemble vulvas, with some even bleeding for extra edginess. It’s as unsubtle as it gets, to the point of feeling campy in many areas.
However, what’s not campy is literally any of the subject matter Rebirth handles. Serious issues, such as the brutal French subjugation of Africa and the heartrending trauma of child loss, deserve a certain degree of gravity when discussing them – or, at the very least, the camp should be used as an artistic approach, like The Slumber Party Massacre or …But I’m A Cheerleader! Here, however, the script fumbles at every possible turn and delivers a very ham-fisted approach to practically everything.
Aside from its fascinating and enthralling last quarter or so, in which the game’s interesting supernatural elements truly come to roost, this script rarely feels authentic in its approach. In many ways, it feels like an outsider’s view of its subjects, and the result is a plot that feels detached and lacking in pathos – not to mention a tad bit colonialist during later revelations.
If you played the first Amnesia, you’ll feel right at home in Rebirth on a mechanical level. This is, effectively, a more polished and less frustrating version of the same mechanics originated in The Dark Descent. Lots of walking with no combat? Yep. Easily depleted light sources tied to how much scary stuff you see? Absolutely. Physics puzzles that feel like a constant recalibration of your mouse? You bet.
All this being said… I actually really enjoyed the mechanical side of this game. Frictional has learned a lot in a decade-plus, and the result is a title that effectively delivers atmosphere and tension in spades. Jump scares are used sparsely, but effectively, and the main brunt of the game’s exploration is genuinely engaging. While never quite reaching the heights of something like last year’s Blair Witch or 2017’s Outlast II, this row of “walk in circles and try to survive” is perfectly serviceable if that’s your cup of tea. The added bonus of a magical compass-thing that opens portals is also pretty damn cool.
However, what’s not as hot are the frustrating and clunky environmental interactions. Clicking and dragging your mouse cursor to open doors, chests, and literally everything else feels clumsy and counterintuitive. Regardless of your DPI, the sensitivity never feels quite right, which results in a lot of failed attempts to open a box or go through a door. It’s not game-breaking, and it’s definitely an improvement on the system from Dark Descent. That said, I question whether or not that system even needed to return in the first place.
Overall, though, Rebirth is a mostly engaging traipse through modern horror gaming elements. While I don’t think it brings anything new to the table, it’s a decent genre piece that’ll give you some immersive thrills, haunting imagery, and memorable setpieces for a sufficiently spooky Halloween treat… after you’ve tapped your other options, anyway.
Reborn, But Not Refined
Amnesia: Rebirth isn’t necessarily a bad game. Yes, I do think the story trips on its own ambition, and is ultimately a shallow and cynical exploitation of vulnerable groups to deliver unearned kneejerk chills. However, it does house some fairly memorable sequences and clever level designs that merit checking out for genre enthusiasts.
Those thrills, however, aren’t quite enough to give this one a glowing recommendation. Its narrative fumbles consistently undermine the effective moments, and the clumsy environmental puzzles make exploring more irritating than it really needs to be. With a tighter script and more polish, this could’ve been a fantastic game that paralleled the trauma of child loss to the evil enterprise of colonial expansion. Instead, it’s one that insincerely mines trauma from a colonizer’s perspective… then asks you to do a half-hearted physics puzzle.
Ultimately, Amnesia: Rebirth may be a rebirth of the popular franchise, but it’s barely a refinement of it.
A PC copy of Amnesia: Rebirth was provided to TheGamer for this review. Amnesia: Rebirth is available now for PlayStation 4 and PC.
NEXT: Jackbox Party Pack 7 Review: Great Games, Unfortunate Timing
- Game Reviews
- Amnesia: Rebirth
Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.
She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.
Source: Read Full Article