Title: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
System(s): Windows, Mac, and Linux
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Frictional Games (The Chinese Room)
ESRB Rating: “Unrated”
“The world is a machine; a machine for pigs; fit only for the slaughtering of pigs.” These twisted words serve to introduce one of 2013’s most anticipated indie titles: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Developed primarily by The Chinese Room, best known for their pretentious walk-a-thon Dear Esther, and published by Frictional Games, creator of the original Amnesia: The Dark Decent, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs aims to thrust players into a disturbing porcine-themed world of madness and explore the darkest depths of the human condition.
In Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, players take the role of Oswald Mandus, a wealthy man with a penchant for inventing, made rich by the spoils of the industrial revolution. In the early moments of the game Mandus is plagued by a nightmare in which he sees a vast machine roar to life to begin its dark machinations. He awakens suddenly to the cheerful cries of his children urging him come find them. Sickly and disoriented with fever, Mandus stumbles out of bed to begin the search for his beloved children, but things quickly grow tense as his mansion begins to violently shake from a tremor emanating deep below.
As Mandus makes his way through the eerily empty estate, he is accompanied by auditory hallucinations which allude to instances of his life that he struggles to remember, as well as the occasional phone call from a mysterious man who claims to aid him. The stranger tells Mandus that his children have found the entrance to a great machine that lies beneath the mansion and have become trapped during their exploration of this discovery. Furthermore, Mandus’ children are in immediate danger of drowning as these underground structures are flooding due to the failure of the machine’s bilge pumps. Mandus, still very ill and delirious, sets off to face the horrors that lie beneath and save his children.
Unlike its predecessor, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs takes a much more psychological approach to inciting fear within the player. Whereas the horror of the first game manifested itself through high stress situations combined with the need for meticulous resource management, A Machine for Pigs pursues a style reminiscent of classic horror title, Silent Hill 2, through its use of symbolism and disturbing imagery to bore its way into the player’s psyche and take hold. Subtle inclusions such as the early Mesoamerican-styled pig masks that continually show up and the abstract silhouettes created by each area’s structural design, further aid in the psychological trickery and add to the brand of terror the series is now known for.
The biggest strength Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs has is derived from its excellent design direction and immersion factor. Simple pieces of conceptual design shine through to create a disturbing world that feels strangely familiar. Perhaps it’s the famous paintings that adorn the walls of Mandus’ mansion or the common historical knowledge of the industrial revolution that create this effect; either way you get the odd sensation that you are merely revisiting areas you were once familiar with: a perfect fit for a game titled Amnesia. The items which give the game its amnestic feel are gradually removed as the game progresses and the narrative takes Mandus to locations he has no memory of. In this manner the player can truly connect with the character and feel, at least to some degree, his inner struggle.
Fans of The Dark Descent will instantly notice that A Machine for Pigs has done away or altered a few gameplay mechanics and options. The most noticeable of these is that you no longer have a menu in which you can view your health, sanity, lantern oil, and inventory; in fact, all of these mechanics have been altered as well. Your health is no longer represented by a meter but is now indicated by having the screen grow increasingly redder the closer you are to death with your vitality recharging slowly over time. The sanity mechanic that caused your screen to become blurry from lengthy exposure to darkness or from witnessing a monster is now gone almost entirely: save for a few scripted sequences. The effects of this change are twofold: for one, there is now no need to conserve lantern oil as being in the darkness leaves you unaffected, therefore The Chinese Room played a smart move by giving your lantern an unlimited supply. Secondly, you are now able to fully witness the creatures that stalk you without any negative side-effects. This can be somewhat problematic because it takes away some of the tension surrounding the creatures, in that you are now able to become accustomed to their form.
Part of what made The Dark Descent so terrifying was that you were never able to get a good look at the entity stalking you, which made its presence all the more frightening. To some extent, this mechanic is still present in A Machine for Pigs, but is tackled in a different manner by having the creatures appear only in the darkest areas of the game or off in the distance. Of course, with your lantern on you’ll still be able to see them quite clearly; the trade-off for this is they can also see you more easily and are much faster than you are, so it’s best to be careful where you shine your light. I suppose in this way A Machine for Pigs has its bases covered in terms of keeping the monsters in the realm of the unknown.
Because of the changes made to the original game’s mechanics, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is now a much more straight forward game. The sanity meter from the first title was an interesting idea in theory, but in practice was primarily frustrating. Also having to constantly open your menu to check the status of your health and lantern oil always broke the immersion so crucial to making the game frightening. I think these changes make Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs a much more immersive and terrifying game than its predecessor, as well as a generally better title overall.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is not without its flaws, but those present are quite minor and for the most part are necessary evils. The biggest issue reveals itself near the end when there is a jarring shift in the game’s tone. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll simply comment that it is at this point the game quickly transitions from a slow-boil psychological horror that works its way under your skin and disturbs you to your very core, to a type of terror more akin to your natural fight-or-flight mechanism. That isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with this approach to horror, it’s just that the shift is so sudden that it took me right out of the experience and for a moment the game lost its effect.
Another issue I had with Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was more of a technical one, which manifested itself by how much of a challenge it was to properly set the gamma for the best possible lighting. There’s the usual “adjust the slider until thing X is barely visible” but it always seemed like the game was too bright when I followed this, to the point where it seemed like everything was viewed through had a greenish-white filter. However, when I lowered the gamma to what I thought looked best, certain areas became much too dark to see anything clearly even with the lantern equipped. I even tried adjusting my TV to match the gamma correction’s default settings but still never quite found the perfect option and ended up fiddling with the settings every so often during gameplay.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs features exceptionally well written dialogue and a narrative that is complex without being convoluted. Dan Pinchbeck, creative director of The Chinese Room, has done a phenomenal job crafting a truly magnificent story and has shown himself to be one of the industry’s best writers. Of the documents and journals you encounter along your journey many are almost poetic in nature and are often quite profound pieces of literary genius. Take for example the following excerpt:
“I awake alone, to a house in silence. That missing sound of children playing is like a dark and fecund sepulcher, beckoning me to begin a descent to the loam where surely only bodies may be found. No matter. –my children call and I shall answer. I will find them.”
Much like the writing, the music and sound design is quite spectacular and perfectly captures the feeling of each narrative arc and aesthetic setting. My favorite feature of Dear Esther was the hauntingly beautiful musical composition by Jessica Curry. Though I’m not quite sure Curry managed to out compose herself in A Machine for Pigs, she has still done a wonderful job and has once again proven herself to be a master of her craft.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a truly amazing game that completely blows its predecessor out of the water. It’s a near perfect title that manages to draw the player into its world far better than most and completely entangles itself within their psyche, dragging them to the very depths of the human soul. It’s a game that takes a slow-boil approach to horror and doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares; rather, it disturbs your very core with its great use of symbolism and powerful imagery. The narrative is fantastic and flawlessly written, and is complemented by the spectacular soundtrack and artistic design. Though it does have a few very minor issues, it is by far one of the best games of the year and will almost certainly be the bar by which future horror titles will be measured. The Chinese Room has proven that they are capable of far more than a simple art-house game and I’m anxious to see what their next project entails. I can’t recommend Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs enough; go play it immediately.
Site [Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs]