Significant spoilers ahead for Amnesia: Rebirth.
Amnesia: rebirth was my first proper introduction to the Amnesia franchise. I’m not sure exactly what my expectations were going in, but as a well established franchise I definitely expected to play a well polished and fun game with plenty of good scares along the way.
But what I can honestly say is that I’m disappointed. I had hoped for an intense and atmospheric experience but instead I got a walking simulator with lackluster story and gameplay.
We begin, as many horror games tend to, with a plane crash. This is where we’re first introduced to the cast of characters, including our husband Salim, before they disappear into the depths of your memories until further notice. We are also introduced to the idea that the main protagonist and the character we play as: Tasi, may have some mental issues by being given a sanity increasing drug. In my playthrough, this was never used, nor mentioned again.
After the plane crashes you wake up alone in the wreckage and are left to wander the desert. The wandering is continuously interrupted by flashbacks explaining who you are. This is one of my biggest problems with the game. Nothing is shown to you organically, the entire plot is presented in these flashbacks which just interrupt the few moments of intensity and ruin the momentum of the game. Instead of discovering the characters motives and personality as the game progresses, you are told everything in invasive flashbacks that you can't even interact with. Each loading screen acts as a little tidbit of lore which to me seems like even more of an insult. If the lore is limited to a loading screen was it even significant enough to warrant being there at all?
In the first dungeon we find that Tasi’s husband Salim is dead. It is at this point where Tasi decides to keep pushing on so she can return to her daughter, Alys. Tasi also remembers that she is pregnant with another child, and that she has a device which allows her to travel through rifts that appear in the world. Both Tasi’s pregnancy and the concept of rifts play together hand in hand. We can discover that fairly early on, traveling through the rifts distorts the passage of time, and after every dungeon that takes place in the rift world, Tasi’s pregnancy continues to develop. The unborn baby, which Tasi names Amari, is essentially an exposition device.
The game continuously prompts you to stroke your belly, which reduces your fear levels and prompts Tasi to say something. It could be about the situation she's currently in, something about her other daughter Alys, or something about her husband. In one of the later dungeons we learn that Alys passed away due to a degenerative sickness, which we are told through ancient machinery that Amari has too. It is in this dungeon where we truly learn the point of the entire game which then brings us up to speed with the unusual goings on.
After the initial crash, Tasi and the rest of the group travelled to a fortress where they met a goddess who offered them safety, in return for Tasi’s unborn child. Tasi refuses and the group is cursed to become the same ghouls which follow us throughout most of the game.
As the game comes to its climax, we manage to reunite with some of the remaining group members, Dr. Metzier and Yasmin. Yasmin then chases a now in labour Tasi, where she is saved by Dr. Metzier who helps her to deliver Amari. He then steals the newborn in an attempt to offer her to the same goddess who cursed the group. You chase him down and it is at this point where you are left with a choice. Leave Amari with the goddess and become a ghoul, or steal Amari away and return home, with the chance that you may still become a ghoul anyway. There is a third ending where you can destroy the place where the goddess resides, but ultimately you either give up, or keep your baby.
I actually like the concept of this story. I think that it is ultimately incredibly sad, but by being told in the form of a game, a lot of the emotional impact of the loss Tasi experiences is taken away because by the time we learn the true circumstances of the pregnancy, the player is no longer inclined to care. Having the story thrust at us constantly through flashbacks and loading screens does not make for a very interactive experience. It felt more as though I was being read a story as opposed to being an active part in it.
Amnesia:rebirth also has a huge tension problem. In the first dungeon we see the ghouls for the first time. They are fast, they are ugly and in the first few encounters they are actually quite scary. However this fear wore off very quickly after running into a few of them and “dying”. You don’t die in Amnesia: Rebirth. If an enemy gets ahold of you, you can attempt to struggle. If this fails you watch as Tasi fights to not become one of the ghouls as she runs back to the spawn point. There are no real consequences for dying and in some situations, it actually seemed to help progress the game. This is the same for every enemy in the game. If you die, you just get put nicely back to the moment before you encountered it, no item loss, no sanity drop, just a straight reset.
This with the continuous interruptions from the flashbacks make the tension in the game weak, if anything. There's no pressure to do well because regardless you’ll be told the story and push through to the end. There's no sense of urgency or danger at all.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the game for me are the puzzles you have to face in every dungeon. Most of my experience was walking around picking up matches and lighting torches until I eventually figured out what to do. As the game is set on a largely linear path, the puzzles you face are the one thing where by and large you are left to your own devices. Whilst in principle this isn't a bad idea, in practise Amnesia: Rebirth does this very poorly.
It’s one thing being set up to complete a difficult puzzle, it's another being left entirely alone to figure out something that should be obvious, but isn't. When being confronted with a locked door, I’d expect to have to find a key to unlock said door. Instead, I’d be expected to repair an elevator to get to the floor above, then fix and roll a cannon into the ceiling, allowing you to drop into the room below. This would have been a satisfying puzzle if there had only been some suggestion that the door was not the answer. Instead it became a frustrating slog wondering what the hell to do until you start randomly hitting things to see what happens and hope you get it right.
The puzzles in Amnesia: Rebirth all seem to hold this same idea which made most of the game incredibly frustrating. You’re expected to solve every puzzle completely alone with not even a nudge from letters, or Tasi thinking out loud. This does not make for a fun or intuitive puzzle, it makes the game unnecessarily frustrating to anyone playing through it for the first time.
Amnesia: Rebirth isn't a terrible game. It’s visually impressive, the story makes sense and it functions as it should. But I completely understand why long term fans of the Amnesia franchise are upset, Amnesia: Rebirth just feels dull. You walk and the game happens to you and once the game is over, there's no desire to play again, there's no satisfaction of finishing a good story because there was no tension building or stakes throughout the entire game. I’m definitely glad I played the game, but I don’t think I’d be returning to it anytime soon.