I’m conflicted on my feelings for Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. It’s brilliantly executed in its design, it’s a horror game that’s genuinely scary, and I’ve recommended it to several friends who I’m sure will love it. And yet there’s precious little game in the game. If you don’t enjoy just being creeped out as you wander empty locations, there’s no real point in playing.
The setup: you awake in your dark mansion in bed. Your bed is surrounded by a cage. You hear the voice of your children calling out, asking you to find them. Skulking about the halls, attics, and basements with little more than a lantern, you start to get mysterious phone calls explaining your children are in danger, and to save them, you must restart The Machine. There are monsters. There are no weapons, and your lantern gives your location away. You must run and hide to survive. The game is so dark (that is, dimly lit) and sound is so important to hearing the monsters that pretty much the only way you can play is in a dark room with headphones on.
Does that description make the game sound intriguing? It hits the mark of scary amazingly well, so well that I dreaded booting up the game, and found each creak of the floorboards and unidentified rattle down the hall deeply unsettling. There are puzzles in the game of the usual variety: machines to be repaired, levers to be pulled, fuses to be found. But the meat of the game is in experiencing the tone of it all, and having the story gradually unfold before you.
More of a visual novel than an adventure, A Machine for Pigs is like a horror version of Myst. The focus isn’t on finding solutions, but on the search. You’ll go through rooms and rooms that have, strictly speaking, nothing to do with the plot, but everything to do with the feel, which is what the game is really selling.
And while The Chinese Room has done a fantastic job of setting that mood, it’s the same mood for the entire game, all the time. There is no moment that is not going for 100% creepy, which becomes fatiguing. There are no moments of levity, no moments where your character can feel safe. The only variation is in whether a room makes you feel cautious or outright threatened.
Nonetheless, I can see how A Machine for Pigs would hit the sweet spot for horror fans, especially those with an affinity for Lovecraft. Its themes of madness and men transformed to inhumanity (both metaphorical and literal) can make for gripping gameplay. But I never looked forward to playing more of the story.
Category: Horror exploration
Developer: The Chinese Room
System Requirements: OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.8, High-range Intel Core i3 / AMD A6 CPU or equivalent, 2 GB RAM, 5 GB Hard Drive Space, Mid-range NVIDIA GeForce 200 / AMD Radeon HD 5000. Integrated Intel HD Graphics should work but is not supported
Review Computer: 2.2GHz 13″ Macbook Pro, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM
Network Feature: No
Processor Compatibility: Intel
Availability: Out now