Last, but hardly least - Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
This game is all about atmosphere. If you enjoy horror survival, then this game is probably for you. And that is what it is - surviving the horrors around you. This is not Resident Evil or Silent Hill. You don't have guns that ward off the monsters. There's some parallels to Eternal Darkness, the old Gamecube game that focused on sanity and evil - but even then combat was a bit part of the gameplay. In Amnesia, make no mistake - there is no combat here. If you engage one of the castle's horrors, you're dead and reloading the game from a recent save point.
No, this game is about an immersive storyline told largely through flashbacks and notes after you awake with no memory. The way the story is pieced together as you find notes - sometimes from yourself prior to your memory loss (reminding me of a movie I like quite a bit, Memento), serves to encourage exploration as you try to make sense of your dark surroundings.
The graphics look a bit dated at first, there's no powerhouse engine running the show - but they do the job and set the scenes. Darkness creeps in on you from every angle, and as you are exposed to unsettling sites (doors opening of their own accord, rumblings, things like that) - your sanity suffers and a sort of watery filter is applied to the proceedings. It makes your character's movements slow and awkward, and can make your adventure even more dangerous should you encounter a creature.
Light is your friend. It's sort of the opposite of the shooting game The Darkness where you want to snuff out light at every turn. Here, you want to light candles and keep oil in your lantern. These light providing tools are limited resources though, and without them it is not only hard to see your surroundings and possibly miss important clues - but your sanity levels drop as well. You have traditional health as well that you will want to monitor, and the downside of using light is the creatures inhabiting the huge, strange castle, are more likely to notice you when you are in or near light. That creates an interesting balancing act in some of the later stages of the game.
There's a real sense of being immersed in the world as well by manipulating objects. You can pick up and rotate objects, giving them a sort of tangible, 3D feel. You don't just click on doors and drawers - but click, and then drag your mouse as you simulate the act of pulling a drawer open or pushing a door open. It's a small touch, and sometimes a bit clumsy - but overall a welcome one that adds a sort of tactile sense to your actions.
The sound effects are fantastic. The voice acting is generally good, if not great, but the best parts of the game are when you are alone, clinging to a source of light, surrounded by darkness and there's a scraping sound nearby. Were those footprints? Is that my breathing or something else's? Is there even anything else there? Most of the time, no. Thankfully the game is paced in such a way that it doesn't bog down with lots of needless encounters, but you can't take for granted you're alone in those moments either. Just as soon as you do, you round the corner - and you're dead.
You will be solving a myriad of puzzles, and most of them are not too hard. The clues are laid out logically and what you need to complete a particular puzzle is usually somewhat close at hand, whether it's a key, or a book to pull or an object to throw at a crumbling wall - you don't generally get stuck doing a lot of backtracking to solve them.
It's actually a good enough story on its own, but all of these addition elements are very skillfully blended. I liked horror games and horror movies. I almost dare them to spook me - and most of the time they don't do much more than cause an occasional chill, but this game pulled me in effectively enough to keep me on the edge of my seat almost throughout. So how would I score the game? Probably an 8.5. It's not a terribly long game. I'd have to check my time, but I'd guess it rang in at a bit less than 6 or 7 hours. There's also not much to do once you've beaten it. There is a neat sort of 'director's commentary' you can listen to as you play the game, to hear what the developers had in mind during certain parts of the game. It cuts down on tension but offers some interesting insight into the game's creation.
I didn't record any video of this particular game - I played it full screen, which made recordings a bit harder to do, and quite frankly you just don't get the full effect if you're not playing it yourself - preferably in a dark room with loud sound effects.
Wrapping up the Potato Sack
I will be honest, this game was a huge part in my acquisition of the Potato Sack from Steam. I had been wanting to play it for quite some time, and while the $20 price tag was not in and of itself off-putting to me, I was waiting for it to go on sale. This particular sale was just the reason to acquire it when I did. I got a slew of others good games out of the deal in the process - overall it was a good investment for me. For about $35 bucks I got to play 13 different games, and probably spent about a hundred hours or so in total in doing so. Some of them were more obscure than others - I had never actually heard of Audio Surf or Killing Floor, while others like Amnesia and Super Meat Boy had received a good deal of acclaim from professional review sites and users alike. Some fare better than others, and with such a diverse collection of games, everyone's mileage will no doubt vary.
Since getting a new cpu this last Christmas (thank you dear!), I've had an opportunity to play a lot of games previously not available to me, and I've been enjoying it immensely. Steam is one of my regular websites to check now, looking for a good game at a good price. Some come out to be better deals than others, and while I'm not a huge fan of the digital rights stuff that requires I be online to play them, I have to say that overall I am very pleased with the service so far.
Thanks for hanging in there as I wrote up this large collection of articles - I've appreciated the comments and hope you enjoyed them as well!