Genre: Horror Adventure
Release Date: 1996
Platform: PC, Mac
Note: Original publication date unknown
Looking for a creepy, elegant thriller? Look no further!
Before playing Amber: Journeys Beyond, I would not have thought it possible for anything on my PC to actually scare me.
Lots of adventure games take place in haunted houses, museums, mansions, etc. Superficially, perhaps, Amber might sound like just another one of those.
Roxy's in Trouble
Here's the not-exactly-revolutionary setup: Your overeager paranormal researcher friend Roxy has been exploring a haunted house and needs your urgent help. You drive to the house ... and a ghost suddenly appears in the middle of the road causing you to drive into a lake.
After making it out of your car it's time to ... dum dum dum ... go ... into ... the house!
Not at All the Same Old Thing
Believe you me, at this point you very quickly realize that Amber is not your average haunted house game.
What makes the difference? First of all, instead of cheesy "scary music" a la Shivers, Amber bravely forgoes any traditional soundtrack at all. The only sounds you hear are "real life" sounds. Therefore, entering this silent, dark house that you know good and well is haunted is literally a hair-raising experience. Each footstep on the wooden stairs, each creak of an opening door or slide of a drawer, each chirp of a cricket, makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Putting it Together
Your first task is to get Roxy's ghost-hunting equipment working, and this involves an entertaining series of challenges. Clues exist around the house, especially in Roxy's office. Once you are technologically operational, things get even scarier, because your special devices are able to amplify and record spectral sights and sounds. This entire prologue to the game is truly scary, and I frequently laughed at myself for getting so scared.
Once Roxy's Amber device is working, it's time to experience three different ghosts that haunt the house and the surrounding property. These three stories comprise the meat of the game.
Putting Them Together
Each ghost story is unique, and each has a distinctive graphic style, down to the framing of the view window. Each is sad and creepy and has interesting problems to solve. Your overall goal is to help the spirits come to grips with a difficult truth about their own deaths. In fact, one major puzzle involving rescuing a teddy bear is one of the most absorbing and satisfying projects I've ever worked on in an adventure game.
The three stories are quite sad, and they deal with difficult subjects such as suicide, murder, perversion and drowning, but for some reason this is not a depressing game to play.
Some have complained that Amber is too short, and that criticism may be valid. But I suspect that no matter how long it was, I would not have wanted this beautiful, scary, and elegant game to end.
Amber is the first game that actually felt like I was exploring the haunted house myself.
Amber has beautiful graphics and an elegant, uniquely chilling atmosphere. However, it is short and may be too grim for some players. That being said, this one is a must-play for those in need of an elegant scare!
Final grade: A-