Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, the much anticipated follow-up to one of the most beloved and scariest titles in recent memory, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, has a handful of great things going for it. Sadly, the game has a few glaring faults that take away from what otherwise, would have made for a spectacular horror game. Developers The Chinese Room, of Dear Esther fame, managed to create a game that oozes atmosphere and manages to tell its story in a meaningful way – even if that story isn’t much to write home about – but also fall short when it comes to delivering on the crux of the horror experience; the scares.
A Machine for Pigs pits players in the role of Oswald Mandus, on New Year’s Eve 1899. On a day that is normally rife with celebration and champagne, Mandus’ evening is anything but festive. The industrialist has returned from a somewhat disatrous expedition into the lush jungles of Mexico. Upon awakening from his feverish and haunting nightmares, Mandus hears the unmistakable sound of an engine rustling to life, and the cries of his two children to come find them.
Mandus’ initial quest to locate his children is simply A Machine for Pigs’ first cog in the narrative machine. With Mandus’ motives first focused on his family, players begins their search of his absurdly large mansion. Filled with strange pictures – heavy with symbolism – and dozens of doors, locating the children is no easy task. Throughout the exploration, Mandus maneuvers throughout his home, the sound of a machine echoing constantly, and mysterious pig-faced masks appearing everywhere.
As he continues to search for his children, the narrative opens up through diary entries and mysterious telephone calls from a strange voice – urging Mandus to search further and further, moving deeper into his home and the factory nearby. All is not right, that much is apparent from the game’s outset, and Mandus must constantly descend further towards the machine’s sounds to uncover the truth behind the behemoth machine under the ground.
Uncovering the machine – and Mandus’ – secrets is one of A Machine for Pigs’ strongest suits. While the game’s narrative does start relatively slowly and borders on the trite side, the game’s plentiful audio and writtenrecordings that can be uncovered offer more insight into the world about Mandus. On the eve of the new century, the world is rife with change, and deep below the ground, in the massive machine, these changes become more and more apparent.
Delving further into the narrative would take away from the game’s experience. A horror title is no good without some form of driving force to urge players to go further, and spoiling the game’s tale is unjust. Suffice to say that Mandus has a lot to learn about the strange machinations that surround his descent and that the truth is anything but what he expects.
While a horror game is no good without some semblance of storytelling, it is also no good without any scares. A Machine for Pig, for all of its immersive atmosphere and sound design falls flat when it comes to outright scaring players. The Chinese Room has done an amazing job at keeping players on their toes early in the game, as the constant banging and sounds of footsteps seem to be constantly getting closer every second. For all of the industrial atmosphere and anxiety-inducing sounds, players are rarely in danger of suffering a major scare, however.
Mandus is aided by his trusty lantern. Gone is the need to manage your light that was so popular in The Dark Descent, instead giving players an electrical source of illumination that never runs out. This light is a nice touch in the fact that it perfectly illustrates the time period in which the game takes place, but does little to aid in any sense of fear the player might feel. Sure, the light might flicker here and there, but after the first few times this looses its effect.
Similar to the safety that constant light source provides, is the puzzle solving moments in A Machine for Pigs. In each area, Mandus must solve various puzzles in order to advance his journey. These puzzles never force players to think too much as the solutions are never too far from reach or require any cognitive thinking. These puzzles also force a sense of safety when encountered. Mandus is virtually always free from his pursuers when attempting the puzzles, allowing the game to fall into a somewhat formulaic approach.
Explore. Hear scary noises. Continue exploring. Puzzle. Hear Scary Noises. Continue on to next area.
This is not to say that players will be absolutely unstartled by A Machine for Pigs, as the game does have some ares that may prove shocking to the faint of heart. Enemies are unfortunately few and far between, and while they may not seem like a threat after an encounter or two, the first instance of seeing the horrific pursuers is perhaps the game’s crowning horror moment. Sadly, what should have been an initial upswing of scares is the pinncle of spookiness in A Machine for Pigs.
Dearth of scares aside, exploring A Machine for Pigs borders on excited and repetitive far too often. After the initial mansion opening, Mandus explores few locations other than the machine infested underworld below his factory. Areas begin to feel very similar after a while and many assets are reused liberally, often forcing a feeling of little actual progress on players. Each time you enter a new area, it will feel fresh, making initial exploration interesting and engaging, but similar to the game’s scare structure, exploring soon feels stale.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is by no means an unfullfilling experience. Despite its flaws, the game still manages to deliver an interesting narrative that feels predictable in a desirable way. The writing is strong enough to keep players interested and the game’s sound design is brilliant enough to keep players on their toes. Fans of the genre will find a lot to love in A Machine for Pigs even if it isn’t the scariest experience ever created. Unfortunately, the game is very short. A full run through A Machine for Pigs falls under four hours, which will surely shorten if subsequent playthroughs are on the menu.
[schema type=”review” name=”Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs | Review Summary” description=”The Awesome: Haunting sound design, Interesting storytelling | The Not So Awesome: Lack of scares, Constant lighting, Repetitive areas” rev_name=”Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs” rev_body=”Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs suffers in the scares department, thanks to its often formulaic game designs, but manages to draw players in with its near-perfect sound design and interesting method of storytelling. While by no means the scariest game ever created, horror aficionados will find plenty to enjoy.” author=”Ray Porreca” pubdate=”2013-09-18″ user_review=”6.75″ min_review=”0″ max_review=”10″ ]
The Author received a copy of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs on the PC for the purpose of reviewing