sunjammer's Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (PC) review

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  • 2 out of 2 Giant Bomb users found it helpful.
  • sunjammer has written a total of 16 reviews. The last one was for Destiny

A different approach

When it was announced The Chinese Room were handling the sequel to Amnesia, a horror game so hilariously hostile in its treatment of its players that it became more common to have seen people screaming at the top of their voices while playing it in a YouTube video than to have actually played it yourself, it struck me as a bit of a stunt casting in more than one way. I'm one of those that really enjoyed Dear Esther, both in its original mod incarnation and later as a retail product, but TCR is a truly odd group to task with any form of systems driven horror game. Where Frictional had evolved their formula of instilling fear through "frailty fantasy" from the first, fairly modest episode of Penumbra to a fine point at the time of Amnesia, TCR were mostly known for iterating on a fairly obtuse story with no actual gameplay beyond the player's curiosity to drive it.

Having now played through the game in a single sitting, I emerge both disappointed and satisfied. The wonderfully titled "A Machine for Pigs" is very much the processed essence of Amnesia strained through a healthy portion of Dear Esther, and while the game shows TCR is capable of wrapping their narrative technique around A Real Game™, it also shows them either incapable of or too timid to expand on the actual gameplay Amnesia brought us, liberally omitting mechanics that some would consider integral to that game's experience.

I was struck fairly early by the sense that this was a game that wanted its players to finish it. The story, concerning an engineer entrepreneur at the very end of the 1890s, descending through the bowels of a vast meat processing machine come power source he apparently made a fortune from but has little recollection of any involvement in, is doled out in copious amounts of voiceover, audio logs and found documents, requiring not a small bit of patience from the player. The original game was much more sparse in its narrative style, while this sequel has a lot on its heart and is not afraid of sacrificing gameplay to focus on the narrative. I'm of the impression that pretty much anyone with a bit of patience can finish A Machine for Pigs within 4 or 5 hours, depending on their willingness to actually take their time and explore and read. There are moments of required stealth and even some indirect combat, but these are so few and far between I could probably count them on a single hand. A Machine for Pigs is, in this sense, more an evolution of Dear Esther than of Amnesia.

The biggest loss, I felt, was the removal of the sanity mechanic. Amnesia had enemies so hostile the player couldn't even look at them. Spotting a prowling monster in a hallway would all but cripple your vision altogether, making the desperate scramble away from a thing you couldn't even describe a deliciously Lovecraftian bit of panic. This system is gone from the sequel, leaving you with sporadic encounters with enemies you can clearly identify as polygonal creations within the first couple of moments. As I was crouch-stealthing my way around a patrolling man-thing all the tension of the scene was drained away by the faint realization that its design was a tiny bit funny.

The actual horror, then, is left to the story. The good news are, if you're a patient person with actual empathy and imagination, there's plenty to sink your teeth into here. While the eventual political undertones (in some cases overtones) can be a bit overbearing, the detailing of the machine, its conception and its cruel purpose is satisfying in the same sort of way as reading about medieval torture methods on Wikipedia. The first time I read about Scaphism I was horrified not just by the method described but by the capacity of human beings to invent such a thing, and A Machine for Pigs gave me much the same feeling.

If you played Dear Esther you'll be well aware of the style of writing and voice acting at play here. The prose is somewhat indulgent, its most damning problem being that characters you are supposed to empathize with can come off as artificial at key moments, making some plot turns difficult to take without a raised eyebrow. TCR clearly love the written word, but they still have some refinement to do before it is conducive to a good game. It's mostly good to evocative and even great, though the player character's in-game journal rapidly became intolerable to me. The intent, I suppose, is to ensure players don't get stuck, but the way it reads frequently come off as clear instruction as to how to solve a puzzle, and I eventually simply stopped reading the journal.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a modest game with an interesting aesthetic made with great care. It's modestly priced, made by a very small team, and for what it is I'm glad it turned out the way it did. It may not be the ugly, cold and morbid game that Amnesia was, but it's fascinating to see Dear Esther's narrative stylings expanded to a game of this sort. I enjoyed my time with it, and for better or worse it's certainly a game more players are likely to enjoy to its conclusion rather than scamper away from, tail between their legs, about halfway through.

If you want a game that will make you physically ill with tension, you'll probably be disappointed, but if you want a more psychological bent to your horror, and to know what a machine for pigs is for, I think you should definitely check it out.

Good times!

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