I'll preface this by saying it'll probably be a spoiler heavy write-up, covering the first Amnesia game and Soma too. Soma, in particular, is one to be enjoyed without researching it up-front, so I'd recommend playing that before ruining it with my opinions.
I'm a substantial way through the new title in the Amnesia series, Rebirth. To be honest, I was too much of a mard arse to make it through the original Amnesia game in one piece, so I've instead caught up with the story through various write-ups and explainers on Youtube. I didn't bother with A Machine For Pigs at all–it wasn't a Frictional made game and, in all honesty, I couldn't take the name seriously. Rebirth, on the other hand, has been much more manageable and that might be because I've grown up a bit in the last decade, or because Frictional have turned their attention away from cheap scares and traditional horror tropes, for the most part. In any case, I feel like I've played enough so far to feel confident in some of my opinions about the game.
With all that said, I feel that Frictional today, particularly after Soma, does storytelling in games far better than they do actual gameplay. I don't see that as a criticism particularly, I just think that the scary monster aspect of their games hasn't necessarily caught up the same way. The mechanics have remained pretty much the same — stay out of sight of the scary monster and don't look at it — but the monster set-pieces have been so lacklustre that, if I wasn't 'killed' by crashing into cave walls in the dark while trying to escape, I just allowed myself to die to move on from the encounter (apart from Leon). If it wasn't for the story and the way it was being told, it wouldn't really be anything special.
I felt more or less the same about Soma, although the setting and story allowed for something a bit more unique. Given that Frictional released a game mode that removed the enemies entirely, it's as if there was a tacit agreement that the story worked just as well without them there, even though the enemies and their existence did serve a narrative purpose. They're all distorted creations from WAU taking its prime directive too literally.
The issue, as I see it, is that these monsters as they are can only serve as metaphors or consequences to the events in the story. They're not vocal, they look 'scary', and pretty much all they can do is attack on sight. They exist because of what someone else has done, and beyond that lack any further characterisation or personality in the narrative.
However, I don't think this is particularly important given the quality of the storytelling and writing offered by the rest of the game. They bring something new to the horror genre and while, of course, there are always going to be a few tropes in there to carry things along (such as the classic nightmare scenario of approaching your goal/destination only to have something block the way and divert you around it, repeatedly, something Rebirth depends upon a little bit too much I think), there's still a fair amount to consider beyond that.
Rebirth, in particular, takes the bold move of not only putting you in the shoes of a woman as the main, playable character, you also quickly discover she is pregnant. The way this introduced is utterly astonishing to me and when I realised it, that was a real 'oh fuck, wow…' moment. In short, you start the game as Tasi after going through some weird flashback thing, and she takes some medication to calm her nerves. A short time later, after falling on her ass in a cave, she complains about feeling bigger than her body, amongst some other things. The natural inclination is to think she's possessed by this creature with a weird mask, which pops up in the hallucinations, or infected somehow. It's not really incorrect, but very soon after she realises she's pregnant and you see the slightly bulging belly as she looks down. Now you've got a baby in the mix and of course, you're going to want to protect it. Bits of the story are expressed through the calming moments where you cradle the baby and Tasi talks to it.
Both Rebirth and Soma share one thing in common, and it's that they derive (or draw) fear from different sources than usual(and I can't help but think that Rebirth is a bit of a meta-commentary on that, with the whole fear-oblivion-hope cycle it explains). They don't take Lovecraft and try to imitate it or adapt it; they instead go for the carnal, existential fears that plague us in the now (losing a child, reincarnation) and put you in situations where those matter without beating you over the head with it, unlike the various indie horror games that attempt to explore mental illness, rape, child abuse, etc.
What I suppose I'm trying to say with this ramble is that horror is on the cusp of change again, as the current generation of horror writers seek to explore the issues we're more willing to talk about today with our loved ones, closest friends, and relatives. And those more sensitive issues that remain well known but generally unspoken. And I'm glad Frictional are taking the lead on that.
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