Amnesia: Rebirth originally released in October 2020. It’s recently received a major update which added Adventure Mode – an option to play through the game without monster encounters or darkness effects. How does Frictional Games’ third instalment in the Amnesia franchise feel without its shuddering ghouls?
Rebirth is a lonely experience. Although the desert and the dead alien world protagonist Tasi flits between are visually very distinct from each other, they are equal in desolation. At times they will be narrow and claustrophobic, darkness clinging to every corridor. Then they will be horrifyingly bright, wide and empty – you can look in any direction for miles without seeing anything remotely reassuring.
By stripping away the threat of death by monsters and darkness, Rebirth‘s horror becomes more contemplative. You’re given more time to feel the solitude that so often bears down on Tasi as she wanders the desert in search of her missing husband, filling the yawning gap in her memories in bits and pieces. Now, most of the other people you meet are dead or hostile in one way or another, elements of an inescapable, hopeless atmosphere.
For all the dead alien worlds and human madness, Amnesia: Rebirth is emotional horror above all else. The addition of Adventure Mode, in my opinion, makes that ring out a little clearer. The solitary atmosphere and storyline are far greater achievements than the gameplay itself, which all too often boils down to repeatedly dodging monsters as you figure out puzzles. Adventure Mode substitutes these chase scenes for more puzzles, and at times I felt like it was similar in tone to The Room (The puzzle game series, not Tommy Wiseau).
There are still times where you’ll be lost and clueless, fumbling around in the dark. Light sources can be hard to come by, and run down quickly when you do have them. Without the looming threat of enemies, these sequences lose a lot of tension, but at the same time they’d be massively frustrating in the original mode. It’s really down to how you prefer your horror, and it’s really cool that Frictional Games have made Rebirth playable in both ways.
I feel like my main issue with Rebirth in either gameplay mode is that it seems more adventure than horror. It’s a dark adventure, sure, but there were times playing The Dark Descent where I genuinely felt frozen by fear. The invisible monster that can only be tracked by footsteps splashing through water was a small part that was super memorable, and there just really wasn’t anything even close to that small encounter in Rebirth.
The story is good, it hits poignant emotional beats – especially if you’ve got a kid in your life – but a lot of the potential for horror falls flat with the addition of the alien dimension Tasi hops in and out of. If you were given small, fleeting glimpses of it, it’d be a little more tense. This is one area where Rebirth really benefits from Adventure Mode, working as a dark, gruesome exploration of loneliness and anxiety. While the new mode does improve the game in some areas, it still doesn’t make it as memorable as The Dark Descent.
Bear in mind that the first Amnesia game released for PC over ten years ago, and it inspired a wealth of changes to the horror genre. That’s a hard act to follow by any means, so maybe it’s harsh to expect Frictional Games’ return to the franchise to be just as genre-defining. But whether you’re playing in Adventure Mode or not, Rebirth is a decent story wrapped up in spotty gameplay and mediocre horror at best.
Amnesia: Rebirth – Stuck in the past?
I found Rebirth much more enjoyable in Adventure Mode. The story takes on a much more organic, slow-burning kind of tension whilst cutting out some of the frustration I felt trying to solve puzzles with monsters slobbering down my back. Even these changes don’t take away from the fact that Amnesia: Rebirth is just, well, forgettable. By taking us to the places that monsters come from, we’re removed from the terror. Evil is no longer infecting the places we go to feel safe. Glimpses of dead worlds and alien architecture can be terrifying, but walking through them as we do in Rebirth borders on sci-fi.
It’s worth playing, if you like the Amnesia franchise or enjoy dark and emotional storytelling. Just don’t expect another Dark Descent from it.