First of all, there are very few new gameplay elements, like the sanity measure which is very annoying.
Second, the character is afraid of the dark to the point of resembling a 4 year old child.
Third, generic haunted castle setting.
Fourth, cheap scare tactics like flesh walls and severely disfigured atrocities.
Fifth, at least the creatures in Penumbra have scare potential because of their clever design and not out of being merely disgusting, disfigured, disturbing mutants.
Sixth, the "monsters" in Penumbra are clearly smarter and more challenging.
Seventh, in Penumbra you had at least one NPC to interact with in a non hazard/challenge way.
Eigth, Amnesia has what I find as excessive and not necessary ammounts of gore and violence.
Ninth, The message of Penumbra was fare more interesting.
Tenth, The architecture in Penumbra has a purpose beyond looking disturbing,
In my oppinion Amnesia is an step back in stead of further for Frictional Games, there are many ways in which the comparisson betwen Penumbra and Amnesia proves that sometimes less is more.
In rebuttal, having played all of the Penumbra games and Amnesia: the Dark Descent. Penumbra: Requiem need not be added to this as it wasn't meant to be a survival horror game but rather wrap up the Penumbra story line.
1. If something isn't broken there is no need to fix it. Overture had combat, of a sorts, but it was very clunky and, depending on how you look at it, could be used to break the tension of the game or intelligently survive. For my part, jumping on the boxes and attacking enemies was a smart way to survive but I see and respect the other position. The running segments, which I won't spoil, were fantastic but not a necessary feature in every game. Black Plague saw the removal of combat and persistent enemies in some areas, a fantastic idea that made things very tense. It also saw the removal of the running segments.
The sanity feature could be annoying in Dark Descent but it was very appropriate, forcing the player to manage time spent in the shadows and, when you think about it, to confront their fears while not becoming overly bold. The forced tension of not always seeing enemies but having them appear according to player behaviour was very important and should not be overlooked as a new feature. With that said, new isn't always better and refinement helps make experiences better.
2. This response demonstrates not being willing to accept and play the game on its own terms, an inability to allow oneself to be immersed in the game.
3. The setting is certainly a bit on the generic side, but it's not haunted. Paying attention to the story would help to make clear exactly what's going on, why those things are walking around as they are and how the whole thing got set up in the first place. It's understandable to say 'hey, guys, the whole gothic castle thing is a bit overdone' but it's another thing altogether to slam it with something demonstrating little attention was paid to the game's narrative.
4. Whether or not these things are 'cheap' is subjective, much like finding the gothic castle a bit overdone. Alexander was a really fucked guy and the narrative makes clear why what was happening was happening, something that was genuinely well done. It would be better to say why, exactly, those things are 'cheap' and not, say, something one saw coming. Again, it's important to understand just how crucial my response to the second point is and just how important the developers think it is: get into the game, let the game draw you into its world and be in the game rather than playing to beat it: experience it.
5. You are aware that a large worm, wolves and alien-like enemies with brilliant red cocks are what you are calling clever, right? There's no way to be polite about this and no one should be. The enemies in Penumbra fit in with the story and that was fantastic, the same with the enemies in Dark Descent, but to say that one is more clever than the other is a bit too subjective. It's...well, kinda stupid.
6. The enemies in Overture and Black Plague seemed that way because you saw them more and none of them could kill you with one touch, save for the running segment. It seems to me that this can lead to a false sense of one set being better than the other. For my part, I remember just how damned persistent those alien-like enemies were and I can see where you're coming from. But when you put some distance between them they seem a bit stiff, static, like they're running on a script. In Dark Descent enemies are seen with less frequency, something that doesn't lend to the player really learning how the enemies work (at least on the first playthrough).
One of my best memories is playing ring-around-the-pillar-and-don't-fucking-kill-me with one of the blade-wielding enemies toward the end of the game. It saw me from a distance and charged, forcing me to pray while running and ducking around pillars, eventually getting stuck behind just one pillar and trying my best to keep it on the other side. After a few minutes of circling, with me ducked under the mist, it seemed to lose me and walk away. That was tension that I never experienced in the Penumbra games.
7. I fail to see how having any NPCs to interact with is necessary. Were you bored or were you simply not as drawn into the story? There's no way to tell because you didn't bother to do anything other than bitch about what you don't like. In Black Plague, especially, I can see why you'd like the other NPCs. To avoid spoiling anything, the NPCs were placed in just the right places and were quite surprising, especially the 'combat' of sorts, and I can see why you'd think it was great for the story. It was great for the story, but it wasn't what they were going for with Dark Descent: it seems to me they wanted that to be a much more 'between your ears' sort of experience.
With that said, that persistent 'friend' with you in Black Plague...priceless, absolutely priceless!
8. The gore/violence is relevant to the story, demonstrating how fucked Alexander was and how far Daniel sank. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but it fit and it worked. If you find what was in Dark Descent to be too much, it may be that horror isn't for you. For my part, I prefer psychological horror to gore but the reason psychological horror works is because we have some experience with gore/pain/violence and can draw from that. I find that Dark Descent provided that and without going overboard.
9. The message of Penumbra was incredibly interesting, there's no two ways about it. It seems to me that anyone who pays attention to the story and finds the message lacking needs to play it again because they weren't paying attention; you're entirely right to laud it. But different stories carry different messages and, well, are different stories. It's not always good or even enlightening to compare them.
10. Part of what made the architecture of Overture and Black Plague so disturbing was that it was familiar, you could get into it easily because it was more modern and, living in a more modern age, we can easily transpose ourselves to that location. But don't get the architecture in Dark Descent wrong: it was functional, working as intended for a gothic castle. There was no crazy level design just because, it was all functional and well done.
In the end, Penumbra: Overture through Amnesia: the Dark Descent shows Frictional's growth in storytelling and game design. Not including Penumbra: Requiem for obvious reasons, all three games were brilliant and did what they did well with, of course, some questionable points here and there. Bashing Dark Descent as you've done, with no real explanation for your points of contention, demonstrates that you didn't pay careful attention and didn't immerse yourself in the game. It's worth going back through again, even playing the short but gripping Amnesia: Justine (especially if you're at all familiar with de Sade's work!), to get what you missed the first time.