The gameplay is simple. You wake up in a castle in 1839 with no memory of anything. Eventually, you find a note from yourself that gives you some direction. Spoiler: you are not instructed to leave. As you slowly make your way to the center of the castle, the horrors increase. At least I assume so.
I couldn’t do it. I am very confident in my manliness and all that, but, holy crap, this game kicked my tail. I never died or even really saw a monster, but I got to the point where I could not go forward. I was sitting under a walkway in a wine cellar with something walking around above me, and, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get myself to press the “w” key. So, I sat there for a few minutes, and then the thing above me grunted and I said “F@#% this!”
There are a few things that make this game so terrifying. First, the sound design is just the worst. It perfectly captures the sounds that you encounter when you are moving through a castle while being pursued by horrors beyond reckoning. In addition to the creaks and groans of the castle itself and the not-quite-human sounds of the things that pursue you, there is the ever-present sound of your breathing. That is the truly insidious part of the game. As your character starts breathing heavily, you either match him perfectly or stop breathing until your brain kicks back into gear. I was more stressed by this than I was by the terrors that awaited me. (That is a lie.)
Another thing that kept me well off the edge of my seat is the fact that you have no way to fight the monsters. There is nothing that you can do to them at all. There are no weapons. There are is no way to stop them. All you can do is run away and hide. Find a dark, quiet spot and turn off your light. Then, you just have to listen to them look for you and hope they don’t find you. Remember how good the sound design is?
The last thing that this game does that just destroyed me is introduce the notion of player sanity. Whenever something strange or frightening happens, your sanity takes a little tick. Fortunately, there isn’t anything strange or frightening in a gigantic castle that is inhabited by monsters that used to be men and things from beyond our understanding. (Note: sarcasm.) You also lose some of your precious sanity when you stay in the dark. Like when you are hiding from the aforementioned horrors from etc. This would be less of an issue if you weren’t wandering deeper and deeper into a dark castle with a limited supply of oil for your lantern and tinder to light candles. The only way to rebuild your sanity is to solve puzzles and progress deeper into the castle. As your sanity erodes, you start to hallucinate, and this terrifying world gets scarier.
If you are looking for a frightening game to curl up with over Halloween, you can’t go wrong with this one. Now, I am going to curl up into a ball, delete the files from my computer, and then burn my hard drive down. If this sells the game for you instead of making you want to run to the hills, check out some videos for Soma, an upcoming sci-fi-horror game from the horrible people who made Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I know I won’t play it.