Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

Posted by Jenny Rouse.
First posted on 01 September 2015. Last updated on 01 September 2015.
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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
The pig motif is ever present.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Much of the storytelling is done through journal entries.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
The horror atmosphere oozes in every scene.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Gruesome discoveries await.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Manpigs are deadly dangers.

Developer Frictional Games is no stranger to the horror adventure genre. The Penumbra trilogy—Penumbra: Overture, Penumbra: Black Plague, and Penumbra: Requiem—has been well received by critics and fans. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, released in 2010, has similarly been praised for its atmosphere and horror elements. The game tells of the story of Daniel, an amnesiac who wakes up in a castle in 1839 with only a note instructing him to kill the baron of the castle. Notes and journal entries scattered throughout the castle tell the rest of the game's rather generic but still engrossing story. Understandably, fans have long been clamoring for a sequel. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, released in 2013, is Frictional Games' follow-up to this popular horror adventure.

Co-developed with The Chinese Room (developer of Dear Esther), Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs tells a different story of Oswald Mandus, who wakes up in 1899 from a serious fever with no recollection of who or where he is. All Mandus knows is what a shadowy figure on the telephone tells him to do: go through the abandoned manor and adjacent factories and activate a mysterious machine in order to save his children. As Mandus explores around to try to fulfill his quest, he must avoid various swine like monsters called the Manpigs.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is not intended to be a sequel to Amnesia: The Dark Descent—this is because they are, in effect, the same game. The core gameplay mechanics are identical. Both games are played from a first-person perspective, aided only by a lantern, in an ominous environment filled to the brim with interactive objects and contraptions to examine and manipulate. Unlike Amnesia: The Dark Descent, however, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs has been stripped down to the bare essentials. Gone is the sanity meter, as is the inventory system (including the tinderbox and oil, so that the player is never in danger of being plunged into darkness involuntarily). Rather, the player is only capable of carrying a single item at a time. This, in turn, leads to a lot of backtracking in order to get multiple needed items to their intended destinations to solve the various puzzles the player finds along the way. As with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, the player is being stalked by mysterious beings. In this case, they are the Manpigs. Again, the player is unable to fight back and can only hide until the danger has passed.

The story in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is told in the same manner as that in Amnesia: The Dark Descent. While exploring the environment, Mandus will often come across notes and journal entries to fill in the gaps in his memory. Additionally, because the technology in 1899 has apparently come a long way since 1839, Mandus is also presented with clues from telephones scattered throughout the town as well as phonograph recordings. However, I have found myself more interested in Mandus' own personal tale rather than the game's overarching story, which is fairly obvious to any fan of the horror genre and has an overall social commentary about as subtle as a brick to the face. Perhaps I cannot fault the developer for recycling the same technique to tell the game's story, but I consider it a bad sign when the back story of the protagonist turns out to be more interesting than the overall story of the game in which the protagonist stars.

Unfortunately, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs simply cannot live up to the horror delivered by Amnesia: The Dark Descent. In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a sanity meter dissuades the player from looking at the monsters whenever they are close to stalking Daniel. The mechanic is extremely effective—just quick flashes of nearby danger. In Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, however, the Manpigs are almost omnipresent. This lessens their impact every time they appear on screen. In fact, it is all too predictable whenever Mandus gets a flashback or headache that makes the screen blurry for a few seconds and either the environment rumbles and shakes or a Manpig gambols in front of Mandus. Such a formulaic approach to horror does not work well, and when combined with the fact that the player is never literally left in the dark (due to the unlimited lantern light), much of the horror brought by the game's spooky atmosphere is dissolved with a quick changing of camera angles.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy about Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. There is enough of a story to keep the player invested. The game oozes atmosphere (be it the general dark horror motif, the gory slaughterhouse environs, or the gothic pseudo steampunk decors) and provides plenty of scary moments, though certainly not as consistently as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. The voice acting is great, and the music definitely fitting. For gamers who have not played either of these games, however, I definitely recommend Amnesia: The Dark Descent over Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. May I also suggest a dark room and headphones to up the ante?

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