I have trouble with most first-person games, in that they give me terrible motion-sickness and nausea. This, of course, puts Call Of Duty, Destiny, Halo, Doom, and most of the other big shooter franchises out of reach for me, but it also means I can’t play a whole lot of the horror games that have hit consoles in the last few years. That being said, I’m known to tough out the vomit-inducing spins that come with first-person horror games if the story is especially compelling (one example is the recent Blair Witch game that I reviewed here), and Amnesia: Rebirth fits that bill nicely.
Rebirth is the continuation of Frictional Games’ Amnesia series, and is preceded by The Dark Descent (and an expansion called Justine) and A Machine For Pigs. You really don’t need to be familiar with the other games to play Rebirth – I hadn’t played any of them – but I understand that there are allusions to the worlds you visit in this game that might enhance the experience a bit.
In Rebirth, you play as Tasi Trianon, whose plane crashes in the Algerian desert in 1937. After escaping the wreckage, she wanders the desert and the caves beneath it, searching for her lost partner and the father of her child, Salim, and for answers about why she’s there. Tasi’s story unfolds through beautifully-illustrated notes from Salim and other documents, while her dread and anxiety build through Rebirth’s carefully-choreographed and depicted environments.
There’s a lot of horror to mine in Rebirth. As you wander in total darkness, Tasi’s fear grows, bringing with it hallucinations of disturbing imagery. The fact that the game doesn’t have any mechanism for Tasi to defend herself – there’s no combat system or weapons – fosters a sense of helplessness as you progress. Rebirth makes it clear that this isn’t an experience you’re supposed to ‘win’, and in fact will happily punish you for playing in a traditional way. If you traverse Rebirth’s nightmarish environments with the idea that you’re going to slay monsters or explore every last corner for hidden treasures, you won’t last very long. This is a survival experience that emphasizes getting the absolute fuck away from the scary monsters and claustrophobic caverns that are thrown in front of you.
Rebirth’s main “weapon” against these terrors is self-care in the form of keeping yourself near a light source and, later on, with a dedicated button (circle on the PS4 version I played) you’ll use to check on the fetus in your pregnant belly. This is an interesting mechanic that’s certainly unique to Rebirth, and I applaud the developer for this depiction, and it’s representation of a pregnant protagonist in general. In practice, it works beautifully as a storytelling tool because it makes a run at simulating a motherly concern for the baby, though it’s effectiveness will vary from player to player.
Rebirth is quite simple when it comes to mechanics. Without any sort of combat system, all you have at your disposal is a handful of movement variants (crouch, run, jump), your compass, and a general use button for opening doors, lighting matches, and almost everything else. I appreciate the simplicity of these, but especially when it comes to actions like using matches, the controls felt imprecise and clunky. When those matches are in extremely short supply, having to carefully navigate the hitbox of touching the match to a candle or torch should be tension-building, but just feels frustrating.
Amnesia: Rebirth is a solid thriller that delivers some great scares and a longer-lasting emotional impact from a well-told story. It’s vibe is less a game than an interactive novel and I can’t think of any particular sequence that was objectively fun to play, to be honest, but the story is more than strong enough to keep you motivated to keep going. If you don’t have my particular brand of nausea-inducing brainworms, you might just love it.
Amnesia: Rebirth is available on Steam and PlayStation 4. We reviewed the PS4 version.