My latest article is up on Popmatters: Amnesia and the Topography of Fear.
Although I generally consider myself a lightweight in the face of horror entertainment, believe me when I say Amnesia: Dark Descent is absolutely terrifying. One of the reasons I usually dislike horror, especially horror films, is that they too commonly rely on jump scares and gore. They aim to make people nervous and then nauseous. While there is certainly unsettling imagery in Amnesia, it does not induce fear with petty tricks. The mechanics and the narrative are genuinely unnerving and deeply mysterious.
The game actually feels like a playable story from H.P. Lovecraft, easily one of the most skilled horror writers whom you should all promptly read - preferably under the covers, in a dimly lit room, while a storm batters your window. Lovecraft was adept at making readers feel helpless and confused. His protagonists often wrestled with insanity, making rationalism seem like a hopelessly feeble protection against an imposing force. Lovecraft thrived on the unknown, skillfully skirting around mysterious anomalies, forcing readers to imagine incomprehensible monstrosities. My playing with light and darkness, by making a player's sanity deplete while looking at monsters, by allowing players to peak around corners, Frictional Games is constructing a similarly disturbing experience. I am certain it is no coincidence the game so closely resembles Lovecraft's story The Outsider.
I do not mention the sound at all in my PopMatters article, but the game's sound scape is absolutely fantastic. Mark my words, if Frictional does not win the IGF award for Excellence in Audio, I will eat my hat. Hiding in a closet, hearing the slow approach of some threatening nightmare, the creaky sound of the closet door as you peak out, checking for safety and a glint of comforting light, is enough to make you want to stop playing, go outside, and remind yourself Amnesia just a game.