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How Amnesia: Justine Trades Jump Scares for Human Horror

Almost an afterthought, Amnesia: Justine is the most horrific entry in the popular – and YouTube friendly – horror game series.

Even if you’ve never played any of the Amnesia games, chances are you’ll have stumbled across YouTube footage of someone hurling themselves exaggeratedly out of their chair as they tackled Amnesia: The Dark Descent, or its direct sequel, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs. Both are solid first-person horror titles, though the latter relies a little too heavily on jump scares to be truly terrifying.

But the disturbing, and accomplished, entry in the series has to be Amnesia: Justine. It does away with the supernatural and instead plumbs the murky depths of the human psyche. And yet, until it was packaged with the first two games as the Amnesia Collection, which released on PS4 in 2016 and recently on Xbox One, it’s been incredibly easy to overlook.

The game slipped out as an update for the original Amnesia, with relatively little fanfare, and can be completed in half an hour. Since Amnesia: Justine features a permadeath mechanic, your first few playthroughs may end in failure. But even those attempts have a loaded meaning; one that won’t become apparent until your amnesiac protagonist frees herself.

Stripped of arcane elements and largely devoid of jump scares, you’re presented with a range of potentially gruesome tasks set by the titular Justine, a distressingly human antagonist. You find yourself reaching for some supernatural explanation, hoping that the next note you pick up will detail the demonic entity that seized her mind. But none ever comes; Justine is, ultimately, a monster of her own making.

Nor can the torments she’s chosen to put you through be written off as the products of a deranged or delusional mind. Horrific as Resident Evil 7 was, the game’s antagonists did at least, have an excuse for their actions, being influenced by a third party. But the recorded messages Justine leaves you exhibit a clarity, stillness and sense of purpose that goes beyond your average antagonist.

So when you encounter the evidence of her gruesome deeds, you don’t have luxury of being able to dismiss them as the product of some otherworldly terror or demonic entity. Without that safety net, Amnesia: Justine’s fear bites deeper than most of its ilk, certainly more so than the other two Amnesia games.

However, Amnesia: Justine’s crowning glory is how it makes you a party to this horror, testing your own mettle. Unsurprisingly, given your circumstances, the game initially casts you as a victim, your only responsibility being to escape Justine’s dungeon with your mind and body intact. Then you encounter Justine’s imprisoned victims and you’re given the choice of whether to aid them or dispatch them to speed your own escape.

Pursued by the monstrous “suitors”, intervention comes at a real cost; the time you could lose having to restart the game, thanks to the game’s permadeath mechanic . As a player, you’re forced to reflect upon how much risk you’re willing to take just to do the “right” thing. And, having exposed you to Justine’s deeds, is it even your responsibility to fix them? What do your actions say about your own state of mind, virtual as the consequences are.

Hopefully, with Amnesia: Justine’s elevated exposure, more players will be subjected to Justine’s twisted experiments. If you’re looking for more self-examination and less jump scares, you’ll find that Amnesia: Justine offers an unforgettable experience.

Weekend Editor // Chris has been gaming since the days of the Acorn Electron, which was allegedly purchased to 'help him with his homework'. You can probably guess how well that went. He’ll tackle most genres – football titles aside – though he has a taste for games that that are post-apocalyptic, horror-oriented or thought provoking in nature.