Game Review: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
By Liam Cairns - September 2013
But that is really the only negative criticism that can be said because A Machine For Pigs is frightening. Truly, truly frightening. When you finally reach the end, you really feel as if you have just been through a living nightmare. Nowhere ever feels safe and there are moments in the game that are authentically disturbing. Your muscles will tense and your breathing will get heavier. The Resident Evil franchise should look on with envy.
This reviewer's personal favourite moments are entering the chapel to the sound of organ music only to find that there is no one there, sneaking past the enemies in the holding pens (a scene not out of place in a Saw film) and finally discovering the true nature of the ghosts that stalk you. This is definitely an experience not for the faint hearted.
The story is certainly a key feature in this. Oswald Mandus's journey to save his children from the horror's of the past is told in a very compelling way that never feels overly sentimental. It adds a poignancy to the horror that is very rarely seen in modern survival horror. It makes the ordeal even more suspenseful as failing has such a greater cost. Not to give away any of the plot but the ending is surprisingly powerful and resonates with the player far more strongly than The Dark Descent's ending.
The level and sound design are genius. The levels are more sprawling meaning that there is always more than one passage to explore. Back tracking doesn't feel cheap but fills the player with dread having to sneak past a previous enemy one more time. The empty rooms and dead-ends make the environments feel as if people once thrived here, that this place was genuine but now reduced to a ghost town. There is a wonderfully gothic atmosphere here that breathes life into the game.
The sounds of ghostly voices, distant footsteps and inhuman grunts are all rendered crystal-clear and set you on edge. They make you feel alone and, yet, like you are being watched all at once. A scrapping against a wooden door can stop you dead in your tracks, afraid to carry on for fear that you might find out what it is. The sound of music boxes and pianos playing by themselves will root you to the spot. It is highly recommended that you play A Machine For Pigs with a decent pair of headphones to really get the most out of the sound design, for it is terrifically executed.
The voice acting is of a high standard and fits perfectly with the overall aesthetic of the game. It can be considered a step up in quality from The Dark Descent which some critics found to be a bit melodramatic. A small piece of trivia about the game is that some of the screams were actually recordings sent in by the public during the game's development, and The Chinese Room have certainly selected the best.
A Machine For Pigs may not be the most challenging game on the market but it is a great horror game. A full purchase can be recommended especially if you are a fan of the survival horror genre and want something fresh. At about 4-6 hours long at £12.99, you easily get your money's worth. In a world of mediocre horror franchises such as Dead Space and Resident Evil, it is so refreshing to find a game like A Machine For Pigs dedicated to delivering clever, effective scares. When it comes to horror in the gaming market, the Amnesia series is still the king.
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux Publisher: Frictional Games
Developer: The Chinese Room Retail Price: £12.99
Sure, you can use the lantern all you want, but the light will flicker rapidly when enemies are nearby giving away your position. Yes, the darkness won't affect your sanity but, unlike The Dark Descent, your eyes don't adjust the dark, leaving you trapped in pitch blackness. And yes, no insanity meter means that you can look at the enemies to your heart's content, but they are hideous to look at and incredibly vicious. Not that you can get a good look at them anyway, given that most of the time they are only glimpsed in shadow.
That being said, the game is a little on the easy side. The puzzles are not especially taxing which, sadly, feels like a step down from The Dark Descent's challenging, well designed obstacles. Most of them can be summed up like this; “Oh no, this engine/equipment is missing a part. I must find it to open the next door. Oh wait, here it is!” Rinse and repeat.
In 2010, Swedish developer Frictional Games released Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a first-person survival horror for the PC. The game put players into a situation where weapons and combat were non-existent, the main character's sanity draining away the longer they were exposed to the darkness and horrific imagery encountered throughout the story. It is regarded by critics and fans as one of the most frightening games ever made.
Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs is the much anticipated follow up to The Dark Descent and, as such, there was always going to be pressure to repeat, and possibly outdo, the nerve-shredding horror of its predecessor. Developed by The Chinese Room (creators of Dear Esther) and published by Frictional Games, A Machine For Pigs has spent more than a year in development with the intention of bettering the original.
The plot this time takes place in 1899, in a mansion/abattoir hybrid instead of a Germanic castle. Oswald
Mandus, Victorian entrepreneur, awakens in a four-poster bed, a cage surrounding the outside of the bed, the door to it opened by someone (or something).
Leaving the room, he finds the rest of the house deserted. The lights are out, there are strange noises coming from the attic and there is blood on the floor. Oh, and the ghostly figures of children flitter in the corner of his eyes only to disappear into the darkness. And to make matters worse, the sound of machinery can be heard coming from the conjoined slaughterhouse nearby. In order to solve the mystery of where his missing children have gone (and to also discover what is actually going on) Oswald must venture into the depths of the machinery that power the abattoir. But be warned; the nightmare is only beginning!
A Machine For Pigs takes a lot of cues from the original, sticking relatively closely to the tried and tested formula. Like the previous game, you have no means to defend yourself other than your lantern and your wits. There are the environmental puzzles that must be solved in order to progress to the next area. And there are the abominable monsters that lurk in the darkness, waiting to tear you limb from limb.
This is not to say that A Machine For Pigs is just a clone of The Dark Descent. The game is very fresh indeed, building upon the formula of the original, adding its own tweaks to give us a brand new experience. Fans of The Dark Descent will notice a few changes to the gameplay mechanics. The lantern is battery-powered this time and never runs out of juice. The infamous insanity effect, that would turn the protagonist's brains to mush if left unchecked, is now gone. Some gamers may find these changes disappointing as the limited oil and insanity motif was what added to the atmosphere of the original, but rest assured these changes come with their own moments of suspense.