Horror in video games is a curious thing. Developers have to really immerse players, cause them to suspend their disbelief, and then treat them to a terrific scare. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is The Chinese Room’s latest attempt at turning white undergarments brown, with scares wicked enough to make grown men whimper. And so, with that said, let’s get on with the review!
The story takes place on New Year’s Eve 1899 in Victorian London. Players control Oswald Mandus, as he searches for his lost children. As the title suggests, Mandus suffers from a bad case of amnesia. His motivation to find his two sons, Edwin and Enoch, forces him to explore a variety of lurid locations, each growing scarier and more unnatural than the last.
Players will learn a lot about the story from written notes littered about the levels. While I’m not usually a fan of excessive exposition through reading in video games, the notes are well-written, and provide useful and genuinely interesting information. Half of the story is told within these notes, and so exploration is definitely encouraged for those seeking to know the full truth.
Taking around seven hours to complete; A Machine for Pigs weaves a compelling story that I won’t dare spoil — populated with excellently voiced characters and a world that would make Lovecraft himself proud.
As you guide Mandus through the game, you’ll often face problems that need solving in order to progress. Most of the time you’ll just have to pull a level or two, sometimes having to retrace your steps in order to find the item that goes into the item-shaped hole. This all sounds very basic, and it is. However, A Machine for Pigs gets away with this for the most part. Tasks may seem simple in theory, but in practise, with the sound of whispers, footsteps and the unnatural forever tormenting you; the game’s difficulty seems just about right.
In the previous game, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, players had to carefully manage the oil in their lamps, while also attempting to maintain their sanity. A Machine for Pigs abandons this gameplay mechanic entirely. You’re given a lamp, with unlimited power, and any notion of turning insane, simply is not present.
With unlimited supplies, players are free to explore without hindrance; a feature which will make some players happy, and others… not so much. Those who enjoyed the sense of fear and pressure evoked when running low on supplies in The Dark Descent, will find A Machine for Pigs a little disappointing in this respect. I feel that, perhaps, an improvement should have been made here, rather than a total abandonment.
The absence of oil and sanity management, at times made the moments in between scares drag a little. The Dark Descent‘s pacing was always an issue for me, and while A Machine for Pigs has definitely quickened things up a bit, I still found myself getting a little bored. This only happened a handful of times, but it really does spoil the experience, when you are actually wanting the monsters to hurry the hell up and jump you.
The enemies in A Machine for Pigs, therefore, needed to be terrifying. Thankfully, I’m happy to say that they are indeed pretty damn frightening. The more you learn about them, as you collect more notes and as the story progresses, the scarier they become. Part of the fear comes from being unable to fight back. If you alert an enemy, you have to run away; and yes, they are quicker on their feet than you are. After a few encounters though, I found myself feeling pretty comfortable. If an enemy saw me, I’d quickly retreat through the door I used to enter. Aside from a few moments, where turning and retreating wasn’t an option, enemies became a little too easy to handle.
The enemy AI also seemed to be a bit of an issue. It was more basic than anything, and reminded me more than once of the “stealthy” opening to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Sneaking past Pigmen who seem to have next to no peripheral vision, is just too easy in open areas. I remember that in The Dark Decent, enemies would be trickier. With less predictable patrol routes, you would be surprised by monsters appearing just as you checked to see if the coast was clear. Unfortunately, I didn’t experience any of these moments in A Machine for Pigs.
Ultimately, it is the fear of the darkness and the whispers within that truly make the game horrifying. The lamp you hold will flicker in the presence of monsters, which acts to both aid and terrify. As you enter darker areas this becomes more fear-inducing, as the flickering light propels you momentarily into complete darkness. This is where A Machine for Pigs excels and becomes genuinely scary.
Visually, A Machine for Pigs looks great, without being too demanding, and sounds simply brilliant. Horror games need a great soundtrack, to help build up that tension, before bringing everything crashing down as you are forced to experience a scare. Award-winning composer, Jessica Curry, has done an outstanding job. I simply can’t fault the audio at all, and if you play this game without headphones, you are definitely missing out.
Character models and animations were solid for the most part. I’d catch the odd hiccup in an enemy’s movements every now and then, particularly as they moved in to strike me, and I myself actually managed to get stuck in a wall. Minor points to make perhaps, but when you consider that enemy encounters are fairly rare, it would be nice for those few experiences to be free of twitches and glitches.
The menu system is perfect. It’s easy to change whatever settings you like, with more than enough graphics options, and ways to customise your experience. Notes and subtle hints are readily available with the tap of a button, and there is no HUD to distract you.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a game that all horror fans should play. The soundtrack alone will make you feel fear, with the visuals and gameplay certainly not taking much away from the experience.
However, pacing is still an issue for me. As with The Dark Descent, which got away with it as a new IP, the rare use of action sequences in an attempt to build up tension, can ultimately become tiresome. The removal of the oil and sanity management mechanic, without the addition of anything else to help keep the tension high, feels like a downgrade to me.
That being said, A Machine for Pigs will do its job just fine. It will ensnare you, tease and torment you, before throwing you… to the pigs.
Memorable moments of pure horror
Slow pace no longer builds as much tension
Removing rather than improving oil/sanity management mechanic
Enemies sound terrifying, but act stupid
Final Verdict: 7.5/10 (A solid horror experience, that will reward the more patient players).