Release Date: September 10, 2013Platform: PC and MacDeveloper: The Chinese RoomPublisher: Frictional GamesGenre: Survival Horror
We all know that the horror genre in video games has become a dying scene. With once true horror franchises turning more and more towards their action-oriented counterparts, 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a breath of fresh air for those of us who like a little scare with their gameplay. With countless “reaction videos” popping up on YouTube of people playing The Dark Descent and completely losing their cool, the promise of a sequel to one of the greatest horror PC games out there was simply just too desirable for most. Enter Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. This time around, we take control of Oswald Mandus, a wealthy London man living in 1899 who is plagued by haunting dreams of grinding machines and the vacant memories of two twin boys that he can never quite catch up with. In many ways, A Machine for Pigs can be seen as an easier, almost dumbed-down version of The Dark Descent for people who think they might want to get into the horror genre of gaming, but don’t actually want to be scared until they can decide if they really like it or not. With most of the core elements from the first game completely removed, and a few new ones added instead that just never take a firm enough hold.
What made The Dark Descent so utterly terrifying and unique was the fact that you were constantly running out of fuel for your lantern, forcing you to ration what little oil you had left by periodically switching off your light and knowingly casting yourself in the surrounding darkness. A simple idea, yes, but one of the most precarious and unnerving situations I’ve ever found myself in a video game to date. This also gave way to a great exploration component, as you would always feel the need to scour every room you came across for little oil refill canisters that might be hiding in cabinets or desk drawers. And of course, let’s not forget to mention the fact that your lantern would also attract the attention of those faceless demon monsters that roam the halls at every turn. Let me just say there’s nothing scarier than hiding in a dark corner, your lantern turned off, listening to nothing but your own terrified breathing, and praying to any higher being that the creature won’t find where you’re hiding.
Sadly, it pains me to say that none of these awesomely terrifying things about the first game make a reappearance here in A Machine for Pigs, and their noticeable absence from the game quickly falls under the category of “What were the developers thinking?” First of all, your lantern never runs out of fuel, so you can cast yourself in a comforting light for the entirety of the game’s four-hour story. Not only does this remove that sense of urgency and the clever rationing of your oil supply, but it also gets rid of any incentive to explore your surrounding environments: not that there’s really anything to find in these environments anyway, besides a handful of optional journal pages that thinly add to the overarching story. While the pig-man hybrid monsters in A Machine for Pigs are certainly disturbing (don’t even get me started on their guttural pig squeals), there are only maybe 3 or 4 direct encounters with these enemies throughout the entire game: a far cry from the constant threats and submerged water monsters from the first game.
The whole “survival horror” aspect of the game just seems like an afterthought here, and I made it all the way through to the credits without even dying once, and only jumping a few times at the cheap scares that would happen when the screen decided to rumble without warning, or something around my immediate environment would break. While in The Dark Descent, the name of the game was hiding, the emphasis here in A Machine for Pigs is decidedly running away. In the first game, you weren’t even allowed to directly look at the monsters as they approached you, as just the mere sight of them would lower your sanity and cause everything on the screen to go more haywire. In the sequel, you can stare at the pig beasts all you want, and if they start coming towards you, it’s mostly just a matter of outrunning them until they give up and go off somewhere else, instead of just finding a nice shadowy corner to take cover in and hold your breath until they leave.
But if the first hit was that A Machine for Pigs isn’t NEARLY as scary as its predecessor, than the uninspired gameplay and extreme linearity of your experience is the blood-covered nail in the coffin. Every level in the game follows a strict Point A to Point B scenario, with very little, if any, optional pathways or alternative solutions. On the rare occasion that you encounter an environmental puzzle, these can all be completed without really given then a second’s thought, and range from putting cogs and gears inside a broken machine (which are all neatly lying on the ground just a few feet away), to simply flipping switches and levers in any patterns that you choose to cause other close by doors to creak open. The controls and physics were always pitch-perfect in the ways you can open doors, and pick up and throw random items, but you’ll be using these so infrequently that you’ll often forget that’s even a possibility before long.
Your progression through the game world is also inconsistent at best, as the changes in environments don’t really feel connected with one another in any way, and as you move through the next loading door, your guess is as good as anyone’s as what kind of structure just so happens to have been built here underground at the end of this sewer pipe. You start off in a spooky old mansion (an early highlight of the game, no question), before moving outdoors to cobblestone streets, an old church, and then losing yourself in a same-looking network of dark sewers, bilges, and pump rooms. At least the sound design is still incredibly top notch, with distant sounds and haunting voiceover work that does wonders to craft an immersive atmosphere. However, the story is also a noticeable step down from the narrative of the first game, and while the inclusion of two hollow-eyed twins is surely a plus in any horror book, the twist at the end was obvious from the beginning moments of the game, and the dialogue and semi-flashbacks never do much to make you care about this characters or want to know more about their backstories.
Simply put, A Machine for Pigs is a hollow shell of what an Amnesia game once was, and what an Amnesia game should always be. The game is so non-confrontational, so incredibly easy and linear, that you’ll be able to breeze through it in under four hours, with maybe only a mere shudder or two. Despite an impressive sound design, the murky environments all start to blend into one another before long, and there just aren’t any of those shockingly stand out moments that you’ll want to run and tell your friends about with a timid hand covering your face. When I finished playing Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, I didn’t check under my bed for monsters that might be lurking about, and I didn’t avoid turning off the lights in my room for as long as I possibly could. I went to sleep, safe and sound, and didn’t have a single nightmare about a crazy squealing pig man trying to kill me in the night: and that’s exactly why this game falls incredibly short of what it could have been.
Story – 7/10Gameplay – 3/10Graphics – 6/10Soundtrack – 10/10Replayability – 2/10