Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the kind of game that, despite the passage of time, manages to retain a huge level of impact. The title, which was developed by Frictional Games and released in 2010, is for many people a prime example of what a survival horror game should be. You have no weapons and no way to defend yourself against forces beyond your understanding. You're kept in the dark both literally and figuratively about the story, wandering around trying not to succumb to death or madness. It's a game that uses sanity as a mechanic to increase scares and to add to the underlying tension. It's no wonder its influence is still felt to this day.
The Dark Descent was followed by two official titles: Justine, a short DLC, and A Machine for Pigs, which was a proper yet unrelated sequel. All three have been available on PC since release, but Amnesia: Collection has been slowly rolling out to all platforms since.
With the release of Amnesia: Collection on the Nintendo Switch, the games are now finally available on every current platform. Whether that was necessary is for another article, but having it on yet another console gives players the ability to replay one of the best horror games of a generation, along with the other two.
But beyond just diving into Amnesia again, is the collection worth picking up? Let's take a look.
Scares on the go
Replay the best horror game of a generation
Bottom line: Amnesia: Collection brings together one of the best horror games ever made with its two sequels in one complete package that you can take on the go. However, wonky controls and the lack of mod support keep this from being a must-buy, even for horror fans.
- Access to an influential horror game
- Runs well on Switch in handheld and docked mode
- Terrible controls
- No mod support
- Needs headphones for full experience
- A Machine for Pigs is just OK
What can you expect?
The Amnesia collection comes with three titles: The Dark Descent, Justine, and A Machine for Pigs. The Dark Descent is the one that started it all — a survival horror game with an insanity mechanic that both darkens and distorts the screen and provokes hallucinations when you're faced with darkness. To counteract it, you need to find oil and tinderboxes to keep the candles and torches lit and your lantern on. The constant search for light, which runs parallel with your mission to discover what you've forgotten and to take down the mysterious Alexander of Brennenburg, creates a push and pull that wears on the player since they must solve increasingly complicated puzzles and climb deeper into unnameable, Lovecraftian lore.
This isn't a review for The Dark Descent, so I'm not going to bore you with a complete breakdown of why you must play this game. Regardless, the game is essential for horror fans. For one, it's a masterclass in narrative tension, utilizing the titular amnesia to present an unreliable narrator, named Daniel, who has already lived a life that the player is not privy to and must rediscover it for himself. This works to string the player along and encourages them to uncover more secrets about the castle, the creatures that inhabit it, and a mystical orb. The pacing, however, keeps the player in the dark both literally and figuratively, allowing for the lack of knowledge to add to the terror. The game is also a great example of how different lighting levels can be used to provoke multiple horror responses, and how using light itself as a resource to be coveted can raise the stakes tremendously.
Either way, this is something you should — no, need — to play.
As for the other two titles in this collection, your experience might vary. Justine was free DLC for The Dark Descent that took some of the themes and a couple loose plot points to create a whole new story surrounding an unnamed woman who's trapped in a dungeon full of puzzles. The game differs from The Dark Descent by forcing the player to make life or death decisions concerning torture victims you find scattered throughout the levels and the choices you make affect the ending.
It's a short experience that takes about an hour to play, and your satisfaction depends on how much you buy into the puzzle-solving and how much you know beforehand about the affects your choices have. It's still a decent horror game, even if the ending is predictable.
Then we come to A Machine for Pigs. This 2013 Amnesia entry, which was developed by The Chinese Room instead of Frictional Games (although the latter helped to publish it), is an indirect but full-fledged sequel to The Dark Descent. It features a new character and a new setting but keeps the atmosphere, themes, and puzzle-solving. It's a fine game on its own, with an interesting story that unravels in a typical Amnesia fashion and a gothic steampunk aesthetic that leaves the player feeling unsettled and distanced but integrated.
However, making the jump from The Dark Descent, which is a puzzle game centered around picking up and combining objects, A Machine For Pigs feels empty. Usually, puzzles require you to pull levers in the correct order, or to pick up and carry objects from room to room. You no longer need to collect oil for your lantern, which takes out a huge tension builder. There are also fewer threats, and the music, which works to set the horror tone, can be overwhelming and obnoxious.
Together, the three games offer an intriguing package for horror fans, or just game fans in general.
Amnesia: Collection: The good
You can guess from my gushing about the first game in the series that one of the huge benefits of purchasing this collection is gaining the ability to play it all over again. The original game is almost a decade old at this point (oh no), so it's likely you've played it already, but a second go at it never hurt anybody. I was surprised by how many things I had forgotten since my first playthrough.
However, the biggest draw to this collection is the ability to play them all consecutively, which highlights how the three are intertwined and creates a narrative of the Amnesia franchise as a whole. You can track it from beginning to end, seeing, for instance, how the game and its brand evolved into Justine and A Machine For Pigs, which is something only a collection like this can do. It puts The Dark Descent into a whole new light (pun intended) and allows you to pick out the themes and ideas that resonated with creators.
The Switch, in many ways, is a great platform for Amnesia, at least in theory (more on this later). The console doesn't need powerful internals to run either of the three titles and the older resolution isn't too distorted on the smaller screen in handheld mode. The Switch speakers don't do the audio justice in any case, but you can slap on a pair of headphones and become immersed anyway. The games even look decent when you dock the Switch and play on your TV, although you might have to adjust the settings on your display to fix some motion smoothing.
The games have been released on every platform gradually, with the last version of the Collection hitting the Xbox One in 2018, so having it finally released on the Switch feels like a great end to the saga.
Amnesia: Collection: The bad
The biggest risk with ports is that one control scheme doesn't successfully pass over from one platform to another. What might work on a PC with its more precise mouse and keyboard might not work with a controller. That's, unfortunately, the case here.
As much as I wanted to enjoy the Amnesia collection on the Switch, platform limitations and wonky controls made that tough to do. You'll probably run into the most issues with The Dark Descent, which relied on pointing and clicking to pick up items, pull levers, or open doors. This works fine on PC where the mouse can more accurately hone in on what you want to interact with, but it's sometimes impossible with the less precise Joy-Con controls. I struggled constantly trying to click on the correct drawer or to approach an object at just the right angle to pick it up. If you didn't have the cursor over the object, you couldn't interact, and that's made all the more difficult with the Switch's screen being as small as it is.
This is less of an issue in the other two titles. Justine is a much shorter game so there's less time to get frustrated (also a lot less to pick up). While you have to interact with doors and levers in A Machine for Pigs, there's no inventory system and fewer narrow drawers to open, so it's less noticeable. I also noticed a few places where the cursor appeared to lock in slightly to the interactable object, but I can't confirm if this is a widespread feature.
The control inputs themselves take a bit to get used to as well. This might come down to personal preference, but hitting "B" to jump and "A" to crouch doesn't make sense to me. Yet, this is what you have to do here.
Another issue I had was with switching between the three titles. When you open the game up you can choose to play one of the three, but if you're already in one, you can't switch to another without closing out the game and restarting. If there's a way to more easily switch, I couldn't find it.
However, among all the technical problems, there's one thing sorely lacking from the Switch collection: the ability to play with mods. Amnesia built up a huge community on Steam where people used the format and themes to create their own stories. All you had to do is upload it and you can play it within game. It's not surprising that there wouldn't be mod support on the Switch — that's not what the console is known for — but since the custom stories have become such a huge part of the Amnesia experience, it's a disappointing omission. When you're playing all the games together, you're supposed to get the full Amnesia saga and without the custom stories, that's not exactly possible.
Should you buy it?
Amnesia: Collection is an easy way to play the whole saga, and that in itself might be worth it to you. The Dark Descent has been readily available on PC since 2010 and it can run on just about any computer, but having it on the go just gives fans another way to play. Unfortunately, the Switch just might not be the best console to use. Controls are finicky, headphones are almost a requirement, and without mod support, you'll miss out on a huge element that makes the series so important in 2019.
However, for $30 you get three titles, two of which are full games, and having them all in one place is enticing. Plus, you can take them with you and share in the terror, and who doesn't love playing horror games with friends? Even if the other two titles don't live up to the first, it's still a comprehensive package.
It's a trade-off. On the one hand, you get one of the best horror games ever made and can play it wherever you want. On the other, you have to pay for that experiment on the Switch with terrible controls. If you can get the games on PC, I'd skip this. Not everything should get a port to the Switch, even if you have the best of intentions.
Scares on the go
Replay the best horror game of a generation
Amnesia: Collection brings together one of the best horror games ever made with its two sequels in one complete package that you can take on the go. However, wonky controls and the lack of mod support keep this from being a must-buy, even for horror fans.