Amnesia, the famous independent horror game trilogy, is considered as one of the scariest game franchises ever – well, at least the first installment is. Developed by Frictional Games they made lots of youtubers who were streaming the gameplay popular and recognizable. Each of them tells an unique story and has a great bunch of creepy monsters and jump-scares, but what about the music?
The dark ambient and creepy themes are the strongest part of the soundtrack.
The first game of the trilogy, titled The Dark Descent, takes the player to some mysterious castle which most of the time is filled with complete darkness. We play as a young archaeologist who finds a strange orb during an expedition to Algieria and soon discovers that some kind of evil force follows him, killing everyone he interacts with. He has to defeat that force yet the cost will be high.
The game was scored by Finnish composer Mikko Tarmia and its soundtrack is based on live instruments samples. Unfortunately not all of the samples sound well, especially the orchestral ones. The dark ambient and creepy themes are the strongest part of the soundtrack (Darkness, Dark Water, Grunt’s Appearance). Combined with the sound design of the game, where we hear wind howling, some scratching noises, sand or small stones falling down, they give the player the chills. On the other hand, the calming, atmospheric tracks like Grand Hall or Daniel’s Room being played while exploring, greatly portray the atmosphere of a mysterious castle. This is quite a mediocre OST but having its good moments and good reception by the Amnesia fans.
While listening, we can easily imagine the vast desert environment and also the set of caves underneath.
The same composer wrote the music for the latest installment of Amnesia, titled Rebirth. The game plot is set in an Algierian desert after the main character’s plane crash, and is a continuation of The Dark Descent, as we find many references to that part, including the story of Tin Hinan, the legendary queen of the Tuareg, briefly mentioned in The Dark Descent yet becoming a character in Rebirth. The story and voice acting are much better than in the first game.
The music is better as well. The soundtrack has lots of space and fresh air, compared to the rather tight-spaced and closed compositions for the first game. While listening, we can easily imagine the vast desert environment and also the set of caves underneath, filled with dangerous creatures. The caves related themes are hair rising, full of high pitched, unsettling sounds (Beneath Al-Mamaru Fort, Sneaking in the Darkness Part 1 and 2), while the chase sequences contain well arranged orchestra and tribal percussion sounds (Run Tasi!, Escape from Ghouls’ Nest). Mikko Tarmia made a huge progress when composing this soundtrack and it was one of my personal favourite OSTs of 2020.
You may feel quite shocked by simply running the game and listening to the main menu theme.
Finally we have the second installment of Amnesia – A Machine for Pigs. This part is highly underrated yet it is my favourite one of the series. Set in a huge Victorian mansion connected to an underground factory, the game’s plot is the most demanding and interesting among all of the three games. The story of a broken meat industry potentate who seeks his missing children, combined with the steampunk environment, the atmosphere of 1899 London and all the fears regarding the technical progress many philosophers and common people had those times, is what makes this installment of Amnesia unique.
The term unique refers to the music as well. Jessica Curry outdone herself in this score, creating haunting, screeching soundscapes of bowed and hit metal instruments like waterphone and more, which perfectly merges with the steampunk, industrial world of the game. You may feel quite shocked by simply running the game and listening to the main menu theme (New Year’s Eve), full of unbelievable dissonances. Another track worth to mention is Mors Praematura, featuring the soprano singer Joanna Forbes L’Estrange.
This music is very demanding in reception, and as I am used to contemporary music experiments, I believe it was quite hard to bear for the regular gamers when the game was released. The soundtrack also contains melodic parts (Ever Mine, Dieses Herz), as well as child’s singing performed by the composer’s son (Can You See Us Daddy?, Fever Dream) but even these parts are coherent to the game’s atmosphere and creepiness. This soundtrack confirms the genius of Jessica Curry as a composer, as she managed to combine both the contemporary noise and the melody in a unique, creepy way.
Each of the Amnesia games represents different approach to the music. It is refreshing and always interesting to hear what a certain composer’s way is to represent horror. Indie game developers are mostly open to experiments, and that is what makes their soundtracks really amazing.