Amnesia: Rebirth feels like Amnesia: The Dark Descent having an identity crisis, trying to pack too much horror and too much plot into roughly six to eight hours of playtime. It is not a bad game, but it feels painfully mediocre, both as a Frictional game and as a sequel to one of the most influential horror games of the previous decade.
Few games can be dubbed “genre-defining”, but if you look for one of those in the world of horror, then Amnesia: The Dark Descent would undoubtedly be one of the first to come to mind.
However, though the original Amnesia may have influenced an entire decade of horror games, it also left Frictional Games with big shoes to fill. Redefining a genre once is obviously no easy task, and doing it twice is a very tall order.
As such, rather than try and reinvent the wheel for the second time, the developers over at Frictional Games took Amnesia in a different direction with Amnesia: Rebirth, and now we’ll take a closer look at this long-awaited sequel, its strength and weaknesses, and we’ll see just how it holds up overall.
Table of ContentsShow
Amnesia: Rebirth Story
Whenever there’s a sequel being made for one of your favorite games, “a different direction” is the last phrase that you want to hear. Usually, it implies that the new game will be drastically, if not entirely different from the one that it’s succeeding. In the case of Rebirth, it means that the developers put horror in the backseat and set out to create a much more narrative-heavy game.
Now, Frictional Games already took this sort of approach with SOMA, and they did an exceptional job with it. To this day, SOMA is easily one of the best horror games ever made, even though the enemy encounters are few and far between and even though the survival horror mechanics that defined Penumbra and Amnesia were completely absent.
So, what made SOMA so effective? Well, it had a masterfully-crafted tapestry of a story that did a great job at exploring existential themes that anyone could easily relate to, incorporating different design elements that complemented each other and ultimately made it a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable experience that sticks with the player long after the credits roll.
In contrast, Rebirth tries to tell a different, more personal story that has none of that staying power. Sure, it has its moments, but ultimately, it doesn’t really hit the nail on the head like SOMA did and it just ends up feeling forced and clumsily executed.
The game has the players assume the role of Tasi Trianon, a French drafter who ends up stranded in the Algerian desert with a number of other people after a plane crash. When she wakes up, it seems like some time has passed, her associates and her husband, Salim, are all missing, and Tasi herself is, of course, suffering from amnesia.
As is tradition with Frictional games, the story is largely delivered through flashback sequences that are triggered as Tasi revisits places that she’d previously been to, as well as through various letters and documents that can be found lying around in the environment.
Without venturing into spoiler territory, I can say that Amnesia: Rebirth tries to tell a story that is much more character-focused than SOMA, but there are several reasons why it never really delivers, and a lot of it has to do with the execution.
The biggest problem by far is that it isn’t as immersive as Frictional’s earlier titles due to an overabundance of exposition, and the game often wrestles control from the player in order to deliver it. This isn’t helped by the fact that Tasi is just a tad too talkative for a horror game protagonist.
A lot of the time, Tasi’s input doesn’t contribute anything to the story or the atmosphere. If anything, it takes away from it by taking away that feeling of isolation and loneliness that was crucial to building atmosphere in Frictional’s earlier games. It constantly reminds the player that they are simply controlling a character rather than helping them feel like they are the character.
Funnily enough, the game itself also seems bent on providing the player with way more information than is necessary. As mentioned above, it primarily delivers its story through layers upon layers of exposition, be it through the aforementioned flashback sequences or the plethora of letters and documents that you’ll find scattered across the different levels.
This becomes all the more evident in the Other World levels where it seems like the developers tried too hard with the world-building, saturating the environments with narrated memory capsules and electronic alien tablets that inexplicably translate themselves into English when the player views them, providing a ton of insight into how this alien society functioned.
While it’s not bad world-building by any means, some things are best left to the imagination, and that’s probably how the Other World should have been handled. Giving players only the bare minimum information and letting them piece everything together with the help of bits and pieces of environmental storytelling would have been far more effective in bringing an alien world to life – or what was left of it, at least.
Instead, all that exposition simply reduces the intriguing, exotic new world to something very mundane and entirely bereft of any mystery or sense of wonder. To make things worse, the game focuses a lot on its sci-fi elements and largely foregoes the Lovecraftian themes that were present in The Dark Descent, but it does feature some throwbacks that feel like little more than fanservice.
All in all, with the themes of birth, rebirth, motherhood, and its depiction of a world brought to ruin by a matriarchal autocracy, Amnesia: Rebirth seemed to have a good set of themes and archetypes to work with, but at the end of the day, none of it really “clicked”.
It doesn’t feel quite like an epic story nor quite like an intimate, personal one. There simply isn’t enough time for the player to develop an emotional bond with Tasi or any of the other characters, all the while, the journey meanders, builds up, and ultimately comes to an underwhelming conclusion without offering any particularly satisfying payoff.
Frankly, Amnesia: Rebirth feels like two different games crammed into one. There’s the Amnesia game set in the Algerian desert that has horror, exploration, well-designed environments, and environmental storytelling. Then, there’s the other, linear, narrative-oriented game set in a somewhat bland sci-fi world that feels both underdeveloped and overdeveloped at the same time.
As the game went on, I felt like I was being yanked back and forth between these two games as they struggled to fit properly into Rebirth’s campaign that can be played through in anywhere from six to eight hours. And so, neither of these games really end up delivering.
So, ultimately, the story of Amnesia: Rebirth felt like a linear, inadequately framed tale that simply couldn’t reconcile its narrative half with the survival horror half. Granted, the story does have its moments and is sure to tug at the heartstrings of even the most hardened players at certain points, but overall, it has no proper climax and no staying power.
Amnesia: Rebirth Gameplay
Unfortunately, it’s not only in the storytelling department that Amnesia: Rebirth drops the ball. As mentioned above, Rebirth seemed like it was trying to be two games at once, and this reflected badly on both the story and the gameplay.
At first, I was excited to see survival horror elements make an appearance. Treating light as a resource and having to keep an eye on your sanity played no small part in making The Dark Descent such an effective horror experience, so it was only natural to look forward to those gameplay mechanics making a return in Amnesia: Rebirth.
Now, the developers did state ahead of time that Rebirth wasn’t even meant to be a full-blooded horror game, but this didn’t change the fact that these survival horror mechanics felt like they were shoehorned into the game only to appease the fans of The Dark Descent.
Frankly, I feel like Rebirth would have been a better game if it had just been developed as a “walking sim” à la A Machine For Pigs, as it would have allowed more time and resources to be devoted to the story and the puzzles rather than the superficial resource management and chase sequences.
So, what exactly does the game handle wrong in this respect?
First and foremost, the monsters of Amnesia: Rebirth are completely and entirely underwhelming. There are two types of enemies in the game: Harvesters/Ghouls, who look like little more than your average zombie, and Searchers, emaciated ghostly figures who appear towards the end of the game whose appearance can be better described as surreal rather than scary.
You’ll find no grotesque designs like the original’s Grunt or Brute, and to make things even worse, most of the enemy encounters are scripted. The ones that aren’t simply require the player to run through a section of the map without being caught in order to get to a “safe” area where the enemies simply won’t follow – very much like in A Machine For Pigs.
What little tension originally stems from these sequences is completely nullified when you realize that there is essentially no penalty for dying whatsoever. If caught, the player will have the opportunity to break free with the help of some good, old-fashioned button mashing, and even if they are “killed”, they will simply respawn in another part of the map close by.
This happens due to the new “Fear” mechanic that replaces Sanity and that causes the player to completely lose control of Tasi once the fear builds up fully. But, as mentioned above, there is no penalty for having the Fear meter fill up and it’s much easier to reduce than Sanity is to regain in The Dark Descent, thus reducing this mechanic to little more than inconsequential fluff whose purpose is more narrative than mechanical.
Speaking of which, as I was playing through the game, I expected that accumulating too much fear by spending a lot of time in the darkness or getting caught by monsters would have an effect on how the story plays out i.e. that some endings might be unlocked or others locked away depending on Tasi’s total “fear score” by the end of the game. However, that didn’t turn out to be the case.
Then, we get to the light management, which is also largely superficial in Amnesia: Rebirth and feels more like a chore than anything else. The player has two sources of light at their disposal. First, there are the matchsticks, which replace tinderboxes as a means of igniting environmental light sources but can also be used as short-lived handheld sources of light, and then there’s the lantern that holds precious little oil this time around and runs out in a matter of minutes.
You’d think that having short-lived light sources would serve to build tension, but it ends up having the opposite effect. Instead of having to ration their resources as they explore the levels, the player will simply find more matchsticks and more oil spawning in the environment when they start running low.
Where The Dark Descent had hubs and required the player to think ahead, conserve lantern oil and light environmental light sources in areas that they intend to spend a lot of time in, Rebirth is a largely linear game that fabricates an apparent need for resources management when, in truth, your resources can never really run out and there is virtually no penalty if they temporarily do.
So, there really isn’t much to say about Rebirth’s gameplay mechanics. The level design ranges from mediocre to surprisingly good (the French Fort is easily one of the best levels that Frictional has created), and the puzzles make for a good bit of fun, too. However, the chase sequences and the pointless survival horror elements take away more than they add to the experience.
As I mentioned previously, I feel that Amnesia: Rebirth should simply have been a walking sim-style game like A Machine For Pigs was, since it was obvious that the developers cared more about telling a story than crafting a horror experience similar to the original Amnesia.
The way it is now, Rebirth is nowhere near scary enough to satisfy horror fans, and the horror elements will only feel like cheap padding to those who want to play the game for its story.
All things considered, Amnesia: Rebirth was a chore to play, despite the fact that it is a relatively short game. The horror elements felt forced, as if the developers felt obligated to include them because they were making an Amnesia game, and facing Rebirth’s ghouls never made me feel anxious or tense, for all of the reasons previously listed.
Sure, the occasional jumpscare still gave me a start, but enemy encounters felt like little more than padding that I had to get through in order to reach more puzzles and more story content, both of which were far more interesting in comparison.
The story sets an interesting premise and, as mentioned above, it had a good set of themes to play with and lore to explore, but neither the story nor the background lore left much of an impact. And although Alix Wilton Regan’s performance as Tasi was top-notch, there just wasn’t enough time to get to know the character, and that’s one of the main reasons why the character-focused story falls flat.
Ultimately, the concept works, it’s just the execution that feels sloppy. Rebirth is obviously more akin to SOMA than to Amnesia, and if only the horror elements had been toned down, the story been given more room to breathe, and if it focused more on atmosphere and dubious, environmental storytelling than on straightforward exposition, Amnesia: Rebirth could have been a much better game.
At the end of the day, Amnesia: Rebirth isn’t a game that I’d recommend to everyone. If you’re after horror, there are much better games out there, and if you’re after story, exploration, and puzzles, then there are also better games out there.
On the other hand, if you like the themes that the game explores or if you’re just a big Amnesia fan and want to see what Frictional did with the lore, then Rebirth just might be worth giving a shot. However, it simply does not feel like an Amnesia game in any way that matters.