Two things constantly ran through my mind as I played Amnesia: Rebirth – sequel to one of the finest horror video games of recent generations. One: why can’t I pick up this candle? And two: this lady is going to harm her unborn child.
As with most games, and certainly horror games, there’s a lot of disbelief that needs to be suspended. I wasn’t questioning why a spectral lady of local Algerian myth was attempting to help a hapless group of explorers after their plane crashed. I didn’t bat an eye when our protagonist, Tasi, pulled an amulet from around her wrist and began opening interdimensional portals in mid-air.
But why couldn’t I pick up the damned candle?
Because Amnesia: Rebirth focuses on light and dark, much like its predecessor – stay in the dark for too long and Tasi begins to hear and see things which may or may not be there. So begins the quest for matches and oil for a battered old lantern.
The game directs the player to seek out light, because as we all know, the darkness is where the monsters live. And the monsters are properly monstrous; grotesque humanoids devoid of any sense of their past lives as people, they roam and scream and search for Tasi. All Tasi wants is to find the other survivors of the plane crash, then get home with her baby.
The baby itself is a guiding bastion of normality. It keeps Tasi, and by extension, the player, grounded. Not only by reintroducing the ‘human element’ but by literally calming Tasi, eliminating her fear.
When prompted by a throb through the DualShock and a flash on the screen, I was told to hold the circle button, causing Tasi to rub her belly and talk to her child. The tendrils at the edges of the screen retreat and on we go to the next environmental puzzle under the sands of Algeria, in a Roman temple, or an otherworldly plane.
The bulk of the game is made up of great puzzles decorated at the edges by background lore, usually voice-acted brilliantly, creating a world which feels compelling. The overarching story of humanity is smart. As the story untwists itself, it reveals a beating heart of emotion, love, and empathy. It deals with the legacy of death and how to survive grief.
We’re shown early on that Tasi and her partner Salim had another child, a daughter, Alys. Through hand-sketched loading screen vignettes, we get the sense that Alys was ill, suffered, and through this, an attachment between Tasi and the player grows.
Tasi is the strength of the game, in many respects; as well as a great protagonist, she also drives an emotional story that soon outweighs the horror. In fact, it’s not long before the ghosts and ghouls become an annoyance rather than a hindrance.
The spooks do, however, keep hammering home the notion that horror is about survival and overcoming adversity, about sparking a light in the dark and facing your fears. And ultimately, Amnesia: Rebirth is a very good horror game indeed.
The player is never really shown many of the surrounding team members of Tasi’s expedition. We only see them in sketches from her journal, swirling into focus as they reveal story beats. This helps us to see them all through Tasi’s eyes, emphasising her emotions and grounding us as out-siders.
After months of gestation, Frictional Games delivers again.
Genre: Survival horror
Format: PS4 (tested) / PC
Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
Release: Out now