Games: Amnesia: Rebirth a horror show that has the write stuff for the Covid era

Amnesia: Rebirth, a timely reminder that, bad as the pandemic is, things could be worse
Neil McGreevy

Amnesia: Rebirth (Multi)

By: Frictional Games

IT'S PERHAPS harder to frighten gamers after eight months of being barricaded with – shudder – our families as viral death hangs in the air, but in a year when the only time you won't see pale masked ghouls is on Halloween night, it's more important than ever to give your console the trick or treatment.

And top of the shocks this hallow's eve comes with pedigree. The original Amnesia, Dark Descent, and its sequel, A Machine for Pigs, found particular fame through theatrical reactions from the YouTube set, as the games required a basket of kittens to offset the blanket of grief and fear they draped over players.

Third time down the hellhole is another period pot-boiler that mixes up the script for frights as cerebral as they are visceral. Kicking off with a plane crash in Algeria during the 30s, Rebirth kicks off in the searing desert sun – a bold departure from the gloom of previous games.

Playing as Tasi, part of an archaeological dig that rapidly goes Pete Tong, our plummy-voiced maiden, heavy with child, traipses through African caves, military outposts and the like, occasionally stumbling into otherworldly nightmares en route to its finale.

Despite the abject terror our cast find themselves in, they're keen to put pen to paper with gusto, and most of the plot is shunted along through a letter-littered landscape as Tasi pieces together scattered memories.

Essentially a walking sim peppered with obtuse puzzles – all collectathons and cranks – Tasi must solve myriad environmental puzzles while fighting off the gloom by ferreting out matches for candles and oil for her lamp. Linger in the dark too long and the encroaching madness will kill, and, being defenceless against the game's creatures, players must run or hide – though the old crouch-walk will let you slither by unnoticed.

Seemingly worried that the welling Lovecraftian dread wouldn't deliver enough thrills, its developers have peppered Amnesia with shadowy figures creeping from crannies and lashings of jump scares, where freaky-deaky images slash across the screen when your sanity slips.

High on ambition – all tendrils and foetus imagery – the only lumpy pumpkin in the mix is an avalanche of letters and journals to read, describing terrors that might more profitably have been put on screen.

One of the last horror games for the PS4 generation, Rebirth can't come close to genre high-point Alien Isolation, but just about manages to stay on the right side of dread thanks to its unique setting and strong protagonist, backed up by top-drawer thesping and sound design – even if, at times, it threatens to get buried alive in an avalanche of correspondence.

But if, as experts say, horror fans are better equipped to cope with coronavirus, it's a timely reminder that things outside your window could be a lot worse.

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