Review: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

This world is a Machine. A Machine for Pigs. Fit only for the slaughtering of Pigs.

Every strange sound sparks a thousand terrors racing through your head. Each dark corridor nests horrors wallowing in shadow. Quiet moments bring no peace, they are instead preoccupied by a festering of doubts. Amnesia: The Dark Descent earned a well-deserved reputation as nightmare fuel, and its successor, A Machine for Pigs secures this legacy.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is without a doubt a scary game, but it’s more than the right combination of eerie sounds, grotesque monsters, and a spooky setting. No, the true magic lies in how everything works in concert to prey on your imagination, sparking just enough fear to set your imagination running wild. Moments of respite are laced with spikes of tension that facilitate a debilitating expectation for what lurks around every corner. This all rises to a crescendo when the imaginary fears become real, and the game of cat and mouse begins.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, does change up some of the staples set in place by The Dark Descent, but don’t think for a moment that this game has lost any of its bite.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
PC
, Mac (reviewed), Linux

Developer: The Chinese Room / Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
Released: September 10, 2013
MSRP: $19.99

“The year is 1899. Wealthy industrialist Oswald Mandus has returned home from a disastrous expedition to Mexico, which has ended in tragedy. Wracked by fever, haunted by dreams of a dark machine, he recovers consciousness in his own bed with no idea how much time has passed since his last memory. As he struggles to his feet, somewhere beneath him an engine splutters, coughs, roars to life…”

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, is set 60 years after the events of the first game, aside from sharing the same world and tone, they can be experienced independently of one another. You play as Oswald Mandus, waking up to an empty house, his children nowhere to be found. Mandus knows his boys are in danger, and he must brave the depths of an infernal machine that quakes beneath the earth to save his sons.

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Staying true to it’s namesake, our protagonist Mandus, begins the story devoid of any memory pertaining to the past couple of months. As you explore the dark corridors of the environment, discarded letters will offer context to the events that transpired before your memory loss. Each gives a glimpse into the larger story, while some double as clues to puzzles. Rarely are any of the notes specific, as they remain authentically entrenched in the setting of A Machine for Pigs. This leaves room to spur a curiosity that will contend with your fear of moving further.

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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, does a great job of drip feeding the narrative through environmental storytelling. Every local is absolutely dripping with atmosphere that reveals a piece of the backstory. This works to build a framework through exposure, that allows the story to avoid lengthy exposition that would drag the experience down, and ruin the immersion. The lighting is used to great effect, or better yet the lack of light. This is a very dark game, and at times it feels better to leave something hidden in shadow, than to reveal their hidden contents.  All these important set pieces and works to establish a proper mood in conjunction with the amazing soundtrack done by Jessica Curry.

“Everything works in concert to prey on your doubts, sparking just enough fear to set your imagination running wild.”

The sound design in A Machine for Pigs is just phenomenal. It creates an atmosphere that goes beyond eerie, bordering on surreal. Every little thing gives off its own noise that combine to give each environment a distinct sound. This is most clear in the deepest depths of the underground factory. Where every piece of machinery, both large and small work to make a tumultuous sound that reverberates throughout the steel bones of the surrounding superstructure. All the clanging, banging, and warping of stressed metal join into a single sound reminiscent of a beating human heart.

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The game plays from the first-person perspective, and you interact with the environment by clicking and dragging objects. Every chair, door, book, or cup, you grab, moves with an appropriate weight, giving the game a very tactile feel. This hands-on interaction is used to solve environmental puzzles, such as adjusting steam valves, mixing chemicals, and starting up a coal furnace. The puzzles are very intuitive, yet challenging. Difficulty ramps up as prowling monsters are introduced, and the puzzles need to be solved while they roam around.

At your disposal is a trusty lantern, used to illuminate the shadow riddled hallways. The lantern, while a great light source, makes it easier for enemies to spot you. It’s necessary to balance visibility, be it for you or the beasts that stalk the halls. The lantern will begin to dim and flicker sporadically whenever a monster is nearby, acting as an early warning system. This flickering did become a bit of a crutch though, as the lantern would start to sputter often before a monster was visible.

There is no way to fight any of the monsters in A Machine for Pigs. There are only ever two options, hide or run. Hiding will keep you safe for a time, but without the light of the lantern it’s impossible to see, so progress is halted. Running away is a tried tested method, but be wary you don’t make too much noise, lest you wish to have a squealing pig-man hounding after you. Both running & hiding have a proper time and place, the trick is in picking which is best in a moment of panic.

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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs makes some gameplay changes, removing most notably some staples of the previous game. Undoubtedly this will be a divisive change for some fans of The Dark Descent. Below are what will be absent from A Machine for Pigs, and how they’ll affect gameplay.

  • NO INVENTORY
    All the puzzles are designed to revolve around more central areas, with any necessary items being located nearby. This makes the shopping list style searches from The Dark Descent, that resulted in removing some kind of barrier to progressing.. Where the inventory acted like a glorified key holder.
  • NO OIL/TINDER BOXES
    You no longer feel punished for exploring too long. But I do personally miss the sense that I needed to search every nook and cranny to keep a steady fuel supply and the tension that came when your lantern had only a few drops left.
  • NO SANITY METER
    A lot of people might be upset with this one, but the way monster encounters have been set up, this works much better. Monsters no longer disappear after you hide for long enough, and where they spawn is be entirely randomized.  So you can hide in the dark indefinitely, but this won’t help you progress, as the monster will still be present.  The same principle is in effect for the lantern. You will never run out of light but, leaving it on all the time makes you easier to spot.  Any worry that removal of these systems will make the game too easy or less scary are unfounded. Just enough is changed to make the experience unique, and old tricks and veterans of The Dark Descent obsolete. The changes offer a fresh experience while maintaining the consequential aspects that made the first Amnesia so good. Instead of a player balancing their between monsters and resource management, the monsters are more dangerous, and your available tools have been altered to reflect the power shift.

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Score: 8.5/10 – Review Scale

At the end of the day fear is very subjective, and experience will differ from person to person, so I can only offer you my take. I felt A Machine for Pigs was less scary than The Dark Descent. It may simply be a case of the one you played first left the greater impression. It might be I have an unconscious bias against pigmen, who knows?. While I can’t pinpoint the reason, I’m confident in stating, The first Amnesia is the scarier of the two. On the flip side the story for A Machine for Pigs tells a much more personal story that avoids relying entirely on an ancient malevolent shadow for an antagonist the same way The Dark Descent does.

While A Machine for Pigs didn’t surpass its predecessor in the fear department, that doesn’t make it a push over. This pig is pack-in heat, and firing on all cylinders. This is still easily one of the purest horror horror experiences to be had in a game. The greatest challenge still remains in gathering the courage to endure the horrors, and take that next step towards the end.

As the first joint venture between The Chinese Room and Frictional Games I look forward to seeing the fruits of this relationship. While I respect the decision to remove some mechanics to put a more focus on avoidance rather than resource management, at times it felt like there was too little to do. Not asking for a return to form, but it would be interesting to see entirely new mechanics introduced, to keep players old and new on their toes.

This game is not for the faint of heart. If you feel up to the challenge, and have a strong bladder, pick up Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

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About Charlie Elmer

His journey began when he received his older sister's hammy down SNES. Now he's here, how he arrived is unclear, but that's not important. He now tests his mettle here as an aspiring wordsmith.