Amnesia: The Dark Descent is still a good horror game. Playing it for the first time six years after its initial release, it does feel a little dated, and it certainly doesn’t live up to it’s reputation as a horror masterpiece. However, it still largely succeeds in what it sets out to do. Even by today’s standards it’s an ambitious game, evoking psychological horror through a Lovecraftian story and mechanics of insanity, while also evoking physical horror through the threat of otherworldly monsters and limited survival resources. It wants to make you fear for your life and fear for your soul. It succeeds on both fronts, but ironically those success actually undermine the game as a whole.
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The Cat Lady was an excellent horror game that explored depression and suicide in a way that was nuanced, thoughtful, and scary. It used its supernatural violence to evoke suicidal thoughts in players (“It’s no big deal if I’m just going to be resurrected anyways”), while at the same time arguing against suicide as a means of coping or revenge. The climax had us playing as a woman who had already successfully killed herself, trying to talk a friend out of doing the same thing. The game argued for the importance of life, even as it wallowed in the darker sides of living, showing off a world full of pain, sadness, suffering, loss, grotesque people, and inexplicable violence. Life is full of evil, and we can’t handle it by ourselves. However, The Cat Lady seems to say that we can help each other through it.
I bring up the The Cat Lady for multiple reasons. For one, it’s kind of a spin off of Downfall. The latter game was the first one from developer Harvester Games, but the former was their first one on Steam. This year, Downfall was remade and released on Steam as well. It stars Joe and Ivy Davis, who live in the same apartment complex as Susan Ashworth of The Cat Lady.
I’ve killed a lot of people in video games. Mostly on purpose, sometimes accidentally. It’s usually for some greater good or for survival. It’s kill or be killed out there in these virtual worlds. Occasionally there is no greater good or even any good involved. Vengeance, anger, curiosity, boredom—these are all fine reasons to kill someone in a video game. It’s not a big deal. I’m not here to pontificate on the morality of it all, I’m more interested in the ease of it all. It’s just so easy to kill someone in a video game that it’s surprising when a game makes murder difficult.
When people describe a story as Lovecraftian, they’re often referring to one specific theme that permeated his work: the theme of forbidden knowledge. A Lovecraftian story usually involves a character learning some secret truth that is too horrible to fully comprehend and is driven to some awful fate by the knowledge. Learning the truth is horrible, but being ignorant of the truth is equally horrible. There’s no escaping the horrors of the world.
It’s a powerful theme, but also a pretty wide-ranging theme. Most Lovecraftian stories take this idea at face value, wringing horror out of things that are supposedly unimaginable—fear of the unknown taken to the extreme. But there are more ideas to mine from this theme than the concept of confronting “unimaginable horrors.”
When I saw Don’t Breathe in theaters (which is a really good movie by the way, highly recommended), there was something wrong with the speaker on the right side of the screen. It rattled when there was a low tone, as if a screw had come loose, and the deep bass sounds shook the speaker against its supports. It wasn’t anything that really hurt the movie-going experience, but it did serve to highlight certain changes in the score.
Most of the music consisted of low drones, drawn out for such an extended period of time that I eventually ceased to notice them. They became part of the background noise, an artificial baseline for what sounds normal—a fake silence. This made the scenes of actual silence stand out, since they “sounded” impossibly quiet.
The Final Station is a game that sees horror in all forms of silence. From the literal silence of sound to the abstract silence of answers, all of its horror and suspense is built around what’s missing.