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With Amnesia: Rebirth, Frictional Games wants to go beyond jump scares

(Image credit: Frictional Games)

Amnesia is returning with a new protagonist, a very different location and presumably plenty of opportunities to be chilled to your core. Frictional Games spent months teasing the reveal of Rebirth, which of course just ended up leaving us with even more questions. You'll have to unravel the mystery yourself later this year, but in the meantime I've squeezed some more details out of the developers. 

Set nearly a century after the first game, The Dark Descent, Rebirth traps Paris-born Tasi Trianon in the middle of the Algerian desert during a work trip, all alone and without modern conveniences, or even the conveniences of 1937. Being stuck in the desert will likely feel like a holiday, however, compared to what Rebirth has in store for her. 

"She’s not a soldier, or an investigator, or any kind of action hero," says creative director Thomas Grip, "just an ordinary person caught up in a horrible situation and, given this is a Frictional game, things are unlikely to get better for her any time soon."

(Image credit: Frictional Games)

This is an Amnesia game, so of course Tasi isn’t just lost in the desert—she’s also lost her memory. Frictional didn’t impose any restrictions on story ideas, but memory loss had to be part of it. Like her predecessor, Daniel, she’s also being stalked by creatures. Several of them. 

"It’s safe to say that Tasi is going through a shitty time in this game," says creative lead Fredrik Olsson. Frictional isn’t giving much away about the monsters, but they’ll each behave differently. And if they get you, or if you fail the game some other way, Olsson says there will be "tangible and long-term consequences."

Despite its penchant for making YouTubers scream, the first Amnesia took a restrained approach to jump scares. A glimpse of a monster, a door suddenly slamming shut—there were a fair number of occasions where you might have needed a fresh set of pants, but it wasn’t gratuitous. For Rebirth, Frictional’s making even more of an effort to not go for the easy scares. 

"Players are now very used to the simpler tricks, and generally all low hanging fruit that you can use to make a game scary," says Grip. “We tried to avoid all of that during this period of development and to twist player expectations when possible."

It’s not a kind of horror where there’s much left to explore, according to Olsson, who believes that games like Firewatch, What remains of Edith Finch, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and other not strictly horror affairs have paved the way for more emotionally resonant games with a strong narrative bent. Long-form, psychological, existential horror is what Frictional is aiming for with Rebirth. 

"I think possibly the other big influence on this game has been our own experiences of working on SOMA," says writers Ian Thomas. "It showed the studio that we could make games with a longer-form story, that builds up its horror over time rather than concentrating just on moment-to-moment gameplay. It freed us up a lot when considering how to put this game together."

Rebirth is directly connected to The Dark Descent and has sprouted from some of the first game’s unexplored lore, but it doesn’t have a story connection to SOMA. Structurally, however, you can expect some similarities. It won’t be scaring the pants off you straight away, instead building up the tension for the first few hours until it reveals just how up shit creek you are. 

(Image credit: Frictional Games)

"SOMA not only gave us the tools to do this, but also gave us the confidence,” says Grip. “It is very common that you want the core of the game to be easily describable as a moment to moment gameplay loop. It is much harder to digest when the core is spread across a longer period. I don’t think we could have done what we do in Rebirth without having done SOMA first."

Mechanically, Frictional’s still using the first Amnesia as a foundation—you explore, solve puzzles and hope that you don’t run afoul of a patrolling monster—though apparently it’s approached some things differently to give the formula a refresh. The specifics of the tweaks are still a mystery, but according to Grip the team’s also working to make the puzzles very different from one another and give monster encounters different twists. 

One of the more overt changes is the jump from haunted castle to a much broader locale. We got a brief glimpse of some of the environments in the trailer—some of which are places referenced in the last game—and Olsson says they’re more diverse than the studio’s previous games. Where The Dark Descent was more uniform, "in the way it was closed-in and basically the same environment evolving throughout the game." Rebirth shakes things up a bit. There will be larger open spaces, as well as the familiar claustrophobic, confined spaces, each designed to "play on different types of horror and feelings."

(Image credit: Frictional Games)

Through mods and official modes that defang the monsters, Frictional’s horror romps have been made more accessible for the faint of heart or players just in it for the story. These came after launch, as well as a hard mode for The Dark Descent, and it might be the same case with Rebirth. If it would make the game more accessible or accomodate a particular playstyle, Olsson says the return of Safe Mode "isn’t out of the question."

One thing that probably won’t be happening is a VR mode. The question of a VR version crops up whenever a first-person horror game is announced, but in this case Grip says it would be very hard to do and Frictional doesn’t have any plans for it. My heart probably couldn’t handle it in VR, anyway, even with the reduction in jump scares. The team’s still trying to give players a greater sense of being Tasi, however, which is why Rebirth is the studio's first game with a full, first-person body. 

There's still a shroud of mystery hanging over Rebirth, and one that Frictional is eager to maintain, though it does like to leave clues. Frictional has crammed references and teases into its videos, so rooting around for them should keep you busy while you wait for Amnesia: Rebirth's launch this autumn. 

Fraser is the sole inhabitant of PC Gamer's mythical Scottish office, conveniently located in his flat. He spends most of his time wrangling the news, but sometimes he sneaks off to write lots of words about strategy games.