The quality of Amadeus, an Amnesia mod by Swedish creator Reminiscity, becomes clear when I step into the main hall of the old house where the story takes place. It’s a beautiful, grand room, with cold moonlight pouring through stained-glass windows, glass domes in the ceiling, a velvet-carpeted stairway, and eerie oil paintings hanging on the walls. It’s probably prettier than the main game’s Brennenburg Castle, which is quite an achievement for a free mod.
Inspired by Christopher Nolan’s wonderful The Prestige and, curiously, the work of TV mind-wizard Derren Brown, Amadeus tells the story of Cornelius Campbell, a magician trading under the name The Amazing Alduin. Cornelius’ career has come grinding to an undignified halt, and where once he was able to fill the biggest theatres, he now struggles to attract even a meagre audience. This is what tips him over the edge, sending him spiralling down a path of madness as he does whatever it takes to become popular again—even if that involves something unsavoury. Which, this being a mod for Amnesia: The Dark Descent, is a distinct possibility.
Clocking in at four-to-six hours, depending on how cautious a player you are, there’s a significant chunk of game to be found here. And it has the production values you’d usually expect from an in-house Frictional project, with surprisingly decent voice acting, bespoke animations and some stunning environmental art. Early in the game I wake up in a cell and find myself walking through an underground cave network, with waterfalls and shafts of light spilling through cracks in the rocks. It’s a really impressive space, and I’m not surprised when I learn that it took Reminiscity over three years to complete this mod. I’m sure he feels well rewarded: the game has received a parade of enthusiastic 10/10 user reviews on ModDB, and was also voted as that site’s Amnesia Mod of the Year for 2017.
As a studio, Frictional encourages modding, and released a level editor to allow Amnesia players to create their own custom stories with relative ease. This, however, means there are a lot of mods out there and many of them are, honestly, pretty rubbish. But Amadeus is striking in that almost every aspect of it feels professional. The pacing is magnificent, leaving a good amount of tension-building space between the scares to really make them count. And that’s something that eludes even the creators of big, commercial horror games with Hollywood movie budgets. Reminiscity seems to understand the importance of restraint and subtlety.
Although the mod does stick closely to the Amnesia formula, it also mixes things up a little—and makes some changes for the better. Some of you will disagree, but I always thought the sanity-health-lamp management side of Amnesia was a chore, and got in the way of the story. So I was glad to discover that Amadeus gets rid of the need to constantly hunt down laudanum, sanity potions, and tinderboxes, making it feel more like divisive sequel A Machine for Pigs—which it also borrows some assets from. That will turn some hardcore Amnesia fans off, but for me it gives the story and atmosphere room to breathe.
Amadeus does fall flat occasionally, however. Although I do appreciate the decision to create original monsters for the mod, I never found any of them that scary. A lot of the puzzles are cleverly designed—particularly the one that involves playing a tune on a piano—but the difficulty of some of the trickier ones left me frustrated rather than challenged. And there’s a general feeling of front-loading, with some of the later scenes lacking the finesse of the opening hours. But in light of everything else it does well, I’d still recommend it, flaws and all. Especially since it costs absolutely nothing to play, providing you own an up-to-date copy of Amnesia.
Designing horror games is difficult, and for every one that nails it, there are a dozen that sink into cliche and lazy jump scares. Other mods for Amnesia shoot themselves in the foot by relying on things leaping out of the shadows, or sudden loud noises, too much. And that’s why Amadeus stands out: it knows when to hold back, teasing you, keeping the tension tight like piano wire. If you want to play for yourself, Amadeus is available on ModDB and installation is as easy as dropping a folder into your install directory and running a .bat file. Eight years later, it’s great to see Amnesia still firing modders’ imaginations.