Fear takes on many forms. The most common we see in video games is that direct sense of your own mortality being threatened. Forcing you to embrace the moment where you’re staring down your assailant and you have to fight for your life. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs forgoes that and instead ops for a more “traditional” tale of horror where you’ll find yourself paranoid of what’s lurking behind every closed door and a tension so thick you could choke on it. It’s not what I expected going in, but it succeeds in creating a haunting environment that had me begging for more by the end. I’d say that’s most definitely a success.
A Machine for Pigs has you take the role of Oswald Mandus, a deprived industrialist, who awakes alone in his house being summoned by his two sons. Nothing is explicitly stated, but the feeling of unease creeps in immediately as you notice that the traditional curtains framing your bed have been replaced with thick iron bars covered in grime. Doors and cabinets are sealed with elaborate locks, windows are barred to the outside and it seems that almost every room can be spied on from behind the walls.
I’m hesitant to go any deeper into the plot since really stating anything more than “these people exist” is a spoiler, and the story is the key component in A Machine for Pigs. A good portion of it will be explained to you as Mandus explores deeper into the world created, but you’ll still have to search for the discarded documents and abandoned voice recordings to fully understand everything going around you.
The story itself does have a few downfalls. Parts where it seems to be needlessly complex are followed by moments where things are laid out in an almost insultingly obvious matter. However, these are usually overshadowed by the brilliant imagery presented from the dialogue and the absolutely masterful use of the environment itself to build the story. The world itself shakes underneath the weight of your actions, and it’s impossible not to feel completely enveloped in the environments around you.
The monsters you’ll find within A Machine for Pigs are terrifying to be sure. You have no way of combatting anything you’ll run into, and you’ll have to resort to hiding in a dark corner, praying that they didn’t see you. The only warning you’ll have that they’re even in the area is a flickering of the lights, and there are plenty of false alarms to keep you on your toes. While there aren’t as many encounters as I would have liked personally, each one of them is extremely tense as a result.
One major change you’ll find from The Dark Descent is that the inventory system has been completely scrapped. As opposed to having to juggle flint and puzzle pieces, you’ll be limited to whatever you’re holding in front of you at the moment. This does simplify the game a bit, but it comes with a pretty heavy cost. The traditional puzzles are all but gone in A Machine for Pigs since there’s simply no way to implement them, and the ones you will encounter essentially boil down to “pick this up, carry it over there.” It’s not the worst mechanic ever introduced, but it does remove part of the experience.
The other negative to come out of this is the news that A Machine for Pigs won’t be able to handle custom stories written by other gamers. This was a core component of the original Amnesia, and I’d go as far as saying it was worth the cost of the game on its own. Considering how twisted the collective hivemind of the internet can be, this is a real loss to the franchise.
Developers The Chinese Room have definitely shown their fingerprints throughout the game, and that’s something that not all gamers are going to enjoy. The aforementioned removal of the inventory as well as the notable absence of the sanity bar leaves you wandering the dark corridors alone with your lantern. On the flipside, it allows the developers to have your undivided attention on telling their story without having to worry about more traditional gameplay mechanics. There’s simply less distractions here, which makes for an engrossing story but perhaps not always the best game.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a pretty stellar game in its own right, but it it’s simply not a very good Amnesia game. While it does have issues and problems, the largest obstacle it has to overcome is the fact that people will be expecting a new take on The Dark Descent’s formula, and that’s simply not the case here. A Machine for Pigs is related to its older brother in name only, and that’s something I highly suggest you accept before sitting down behind your mouse and keyboard.
If you’re able to accept this as a standalone product without holding it up to the standard of its name bearer, you’re going to find a game absolutely dripping with a fantastically haunting atmosphere that will creep into your head. I don’t know if this will keep you awake the same way that The Dark Descent was able to, but it really doesn’t need to here. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is less of a slasher film and more of a Lovecraft-esque novel brimming with suspense and a haunting sort of paranoia. You’re less likely to run screaming from your desk here, however, this unique look into the darkness is definitely worth the price of admission.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game that was given to us for review purposes.
A Machine for Pigs may only share a name with the previous Amnesia title, but manages to offer a uniquely haunting story that can creep under your skin. There may be less gameplay here, but there is a hell of a lot of tension to be found.