Amnesia: Rebirth Review
Amnesia: Rebirth is a 2020 survival horror video game developed and published by Frictional Games.
By: Stewart Leadingham (StewThePoo), on 11/11/2020.
Amnesia: Rebirth - Launch Trailer
Amnesia: Rebirth is the third game in the Amnesia franchise from Frictional games.
Their last release was the amazing title Soma way back in 2015, so horror fans have been excited to see what they've spent the last 5 years brewing up. Soma is one of the most expertly crafted horror games I've ever played (no jump scares) so my expectations going into Rebirth were sky high.
Word of warning before proceeding, this review will contain some mild spoilers. If you just want to know if its worth playing, skip to the rating.
I played the game on a normal Playstation 4. Took me 9 hours split over 2 sessions. I took my time with the game soaking in the atmosphere and getting stuck on puzzles. Getting all achievements will probably take 2 or 3 playthroughs, but all the core content is easy enough to experience with 1. There's multiple endings which can be easily seen thanks to a strategic save point the game creates.
In the aptly titled Rebirth you play as pregnant French explorer Tasi on a expedition to Africa in the 1930's (the pregnancy isn't just a side detail, It's a big part of the game). The opening of the game is extremely high-octane in contrast to the slower burns of previous titles, and the pace doesn't let up until a few hours in. Character models and animations in the first half of the game are convincing, but they get janky toward the end (Convincingly animating a breastfeeding baby cant be an easy task).
These key opening hours do a good job of setting up Tasi's relationships to all the other character, which is pivotal for plot points and understanding Tasi's motivations.
Speaking of story, the game delivers it to you in trademark Amnesia fashion. It's an even split between flashbacks, reading journal entries and Tasi talking to herself. Where Amnesia: The Dark Descent had you mostly rediscovering forgotten events, Rebirth has a more even split between active events and your memory slowly tricking back.
During loading screens the game displays these beautiful hand drawn sketches which show past events. They start off quaint and wholesome, but slowly degrade into eerie, expressive displays of Tasi's tragic life.
They're extremely evocative and I wanted to pay special mention to them. It's carefully curated details like this which show why Frictional are such esteemed storytellers.
Rebirths core gameplay still has you staying out of darkness to maintain your sanity. When you step into pitch blackness the screen will turn a blue hue so you still have the ability to see, but are aware that your health is now in decline. It's a clever and functional way to deal with purposefully embarking in the dark, but doesn't work as well in the otherworldly environments. There's an excess of illumination and bloom lighting in them, so areas which look lit, actually aren't.
To stay sane in the dark, you have to spark up matches (1930`s matches which have a shockingly short lifespan) or a oil lantern. Oil topups for the lantern are few and far between, and matches can be prematurely extinguished if you sway the camera and run too much. This forces you to move slower despite the frantic urge to rush to the next ignitable light source for safety.
One of the new gameplay mechanics is the inclusion of sunlight. It looks impressive even on the ageing PS4 hardware, as does shadows, flames and particles effects. You need to stay out of direct sunlight otherwise it will cook you alive. It's a clever inversion of the shadow sanity mechanic but it's barely used.
Interacting with objects in game still feels as good as it ever does. You can pick up, rotate and throw things and heavier objects will behave differently. This does a lot to ground the player and make everything feel realistic.
Making your way through the world is a well paced blend of linear, quasi-linear and more open ended environments, the pacing is faultless on the first playthrough (second time drags a little due to unskippable scripted moments).
You'll often be blessed with a open ended, safer outdoor area after completing a hyperactive cramped chase sequence. The game doesn't burn the player out with too much action, and its actually quite a while before you see your first monster. The measured pace helps the game stay fresh for its length.
Tasi's self narration helps a lot when traversing the world. She'd often remind me of the task at hand, or clue me in where to go. It's certainly helpful, but sometimes she'd react to things which I hadn't actually spotted myself first. Its the eternal curse of the first person protagonist but it doesn't hugely detract.
Aside from sun, shadows and exploration you also have puzzles to contend with. I'm not ashamed to admit I got stuck on a couple. However in retrospect, it was definitely me at fault. The game had enough clues in the form of notes, Alice's narration and environmental details so that feasibly you wont need a walkthrough.
Puzzles are always engaging thanks to the interactive physics engine, and they don't become repetitive. Some very mild niggles arise from fussy collision, I thought you couldn't enter the tank at first. But it was because I was looking at the cockpit from a dodgy angle. If only Alice had made an observation such as “I never got my tank driving licence, but how hard could it be?”.
There are 2 main enemy types in the game which I wont go into too much detail to avoid spoiling, but they both behave quite similarly to one another. Chase sequences in the game are well designed to take advantage of their A.I.
They're smart, but not too smart. Escaping is often an exciting game of cat and mouse. Environmental lighting and object placement helps subtly guide you in the right direction and baddies are never too far behind.
Aside from running away, you'll also have to sneak past clusters of foes. Making it through unscathed and then sprinting the last 10% is always a blast.
One key aspect your likely wondering is “How scary is it compared to former titles” well I can with all honesty say it's not as scary. It's just shy of the atmosphere of SOMA, and cant touch the overwhelming dread of dark descent. It does have its fair share of good moments, having a visible character model, realtime shadows and involved interaction with the world really helped to get me in a paranoid mood.
The areas you'll explore in Rebirth are quite varied. You'll be surprised at just how colourful this game can be, but it doesn't lose its oppressive bleak atmosphere.
On a technical level the game is no slouch. Its not coming from a 100 person development team, so given it's modest team the title is packed with originality and thoughtful design. Exploring the worlds is always compelling all the way to the end.
I love the futuristic aesthetics they've carried over from Soma. Some of the late game environments had me thinking of a reimagining of “I have no mouth and I must scream” which is no bad thing.
Music is unique and well suited. The foreign and cosmic soundscapes are downright intoxicating. Sound effects for the most part are good. The sound of your own footsteps changes depending on so many varying factors and shows phenomenal attention to detail. Only a few things miss the mark, drowning and burning in the sun sound very goofy.
Voicework however, is always high quality and appropriate. Not only is the acting perfect, so is the writing, the dialogue and delivery. Everyone puts in a stellar performance (Although it is a shame the aliens sound exactly like regular humans, could have done something cool there).
During my playtime I had only minor technical issues. There was occasional stuttering (usually to load in a enemy, which sadly spoiled the surprise) and pop-in on some environments. Likely less of an issue if playing on a PC which I'm inclined to recommend as the best way to play horror games is mouse, keyboard, dark room and expensive headphones.
Objects in some places would appear to shake and go invisible, but funnily enough there's actual instances of this happening in the game because of magic, So it could be explained away as that.
Loading times are a drag, but thankfully are few and far between.
The plot setup starts strong and it commits hard to its themes of motherhood and sacrifice, but sadly gets a bit too morally black and white to leave you with the same nihilistic aftertaste SOMA did. It's littered with jump scares so it feels a bit more lowbrow compared to the mature dark descent.
All that said, its very, very close to greatness. Horror fans can pick it up without reservation.