Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a most unsettling tale for both gentlemen and lady slaughterers
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a game of rare patience and intelligence. It's a horror game that is designed to tweak your understanding of how video games are “supposed to work.”
Most hardcore gamers understand some of the basics of how video games function, particularly horror games. Walk across this imaginary line and a monster pops out. Touch this object and a spooky voice cackles. Outlast, for example, suffered from a little too much adherence to that structure, and it became occasionally predictable.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs knows what you know about video games and uses that knowledge against you whenever possible.
Mandus or Madnus?
In Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, you play as titan of industry, Oswald Mandus, in the year 1899. Wracked with fever and sickness, you awaken in a bedroom to the sound of children goading you into following them throughout a mansion only to discover a massive industrial complex beneath the house.
From there you stumble about the grounds, without memory, in an attempt to save your children while having no clear idea of how much truth there is in what you're seeing and hearing. As with the previous game in the Amnesia series, there's no combat. You're left to run and hide from any creatures you may find.
It's not a game that wants to evacuate your bowels with pop-up monsters. It's much more interested in achieving a sense of place in this mansion/factory, and it does so remarkably well.
This is a place where you will never feel safe despite almost never actually being threatened. The pace has been slowed from its predecessor, The Dark Descent, and there are fewer enemies to contend with.
It's able to do this by making fewer enemies go a much longer way, and does its best to trick you whenever possible into believing there's an enemy nearby. You'll swear you heard footsteps just around the next corner. You'll see doors cracked open and assume there must be an unholy beast just on the other side. I shivered when the game's pop-up tutorial explained how to sprint, because… well, that's a pretty strong hint that I was going to need to run very soon. A Machine for Pigs was too smart for that, and there was no such need for running, but I was left looking over my shoulder every 2 seconds for the next half hour.
You'll also hear random bells and chimes throughout the game. They're the sort of sounds that in an ordinary video game would indicate that something had changed or an enemy was on the way, but almost without fail there ends up being nothing. Almost.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is able to do more with less by creating a sort of house of mirrors that amplifies, reflects, and distorts the fear you assume you should feel in this awful place. You spend so much time being startled by shadows that the genuine enemies end up being far more terrifying when they do arrive.
It's a game of highs and lows, though. There's some masterful work on display here, particularly in the scripting of scares. The overall mood and presence it creates is rivalled only by the likes of Bioshock.
The world is phenomenal, but occasionally the level design falls through a bit. On rare occasions toward the beginning of the game, I found myself wandering in circles for significant amounts of time, particularly after I'd just taken a break. There are journal entries to help you get your footing again, but it might have been nice to have something more than cryptic diary scribblings to regain understanding of the level layout after resuming the game. It happened rarely, but once you slow down and investigate the environment piece-by-piece, some of the magic wears off.
Similarly, the story is quite wonderful, but the manner in which it is told is confusing. It's chopped up and told through audio logs, phone calls, and diary entries littered throughout the game in non-linear order.
It's a fascinating, unique tale, but it's also quite difficult to grasp even basic information about what's going on. You can find yourself confused if you miss some information on your way through the game or forget to read your journal entries. And that's a shame too, because this is a work that has a lot to say, even if sometimes it's difficult to discern what it is.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs isn't afraid to do things significantly differently than its predecessor, and it winds up pegging a new focus for the series. The first game identified the massive potential in a combatless horror game, and A Machine for Pigs refines that formula by taking the focus even further away from danger. This is a game about creeping dread, and a looming, inescapable sense of what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here.
This makes it a title that is easy to recommend for anyone who loves games with a strong sense of place and story. To stick with the game's industrial-victorian themes: it's not so much a horror game as it is a most unsettling game.
If you want to be scared to tears, go play Outlast. If you want to experience a lasting dread that will stick with you long after you turn off the game then Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is the better choice. Either way, fans of horror are being well served.