Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Review
"The world is a machine. A machine for pigs."
After the shocks and scares of a horror game, the credits roll, we take off the headphones, and walk away. I expected Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs to be more like Frictional Games' Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a game I look back fondly on and remember the scares that had me screaming in the dark. The Chinese Room manufactured a completely different beast. I could not put it behind me after getting up from the PC; the story of Mandus and his machine festered in my mind, haunting me for days with its questions of humanity, machines and beasts. The game will not make you jump out of your seat, but it will slither its way into your body and gnaw at your soul like few other games are capable of.
Man of the Machine
Wealthy English industrialist Oswald Mandus wakes up from a horrible fever on the eve of the 20th century. Unaware of how long he has been bedridden, he sets off to search for his two children who are trapped in the bowels of his meat processing plant, egged on by a mysterious voice who instructs him to restart the factory which has fallen silent.
Mandus’ journey is claustrophobic and oppressive: the bourgeois mansion he lives in appears grand and spacious but is cluttered and stifling with its numerous paintings, fine decorations and thin hallways. The pipes and machinery close in as you descend into the depths of the machine. The first time you step outside, the feeling of fresh air and space disappears as you see the houses of London clustered close together around the smoke stacks of the factory. The set pieces can be explored a little, revealing fine details upon closer inspection. It gives the world a sense of life and purpose even when the rest of London sleeps and the pipes and steam are your only company. Most of these areas appear large but are confined by numerous locked doors to keep you from straying off the predetermined path. The linearity of the game is frustrating when you want to explore more, which benefits the controlled narrative rather than the player who wants to get lost in the dark. This lack of interactivity will put off some people but it adds to the feeling of being pushed along a conveyor belt to the slaughter.
The game heavy-handedly lays out the themes of humanity, beasts and the industrial revolution early on, but the game further complicates and builds upon these concepts through flashback dialogue, phonograph recordings and journal entries scattered apart. Mandus writes his thoughts in a journal, musing on the situation at hand or what he is thinking. It clues the player in on what to do if the situation is not clear but serves the greater purpose of getting inside Mandus’ head, giving him a voice and personality compared to the voiceless Daniel from Dark Descent.
For a game that focuses so much on its narrative it is worrying that very important journal entries can be easily missed. Usually pages are conspicuous but there are those which are acquired from either exploring or rifling through drawers. When the environments become smaller and the player has already learned that there is not much reward in straying from the path, pages will be missed by those just wanting to advance the story. Pages are especially in danger of being overlooked when stuffed in drawers. In Dark Descent the incentive to look through things was to find tinderboxes and oil to light the darkness that gnawed at your sanity. Without an inventory to fill with items there is nothing but possibly finding pages in drawers, making it easy for players to either forget to check or leave them to the wayside.
There is no inventory except for Mandus’ electric lamp, but unlimited light is not a boon. The lamp will flicker on and off when a pig creature is nearby. They roam the factory floors and if you do not turn off the light they will let out a high pitch squeal and give chase. You can lose them by hiding in the shadows and sneak by them the same way. The monsters are hideous when gazed upon but there are no consequences to looking at them like in Dark Descent, and having them revealed early makes them less of a mystery. Although they are powerful figures in the game, they do not offer an immediacy of danger. After a few early sections, which are easily survived by sneaking or running past them, players realize that the pigs are not everywhere. One can waltz through segments without worry of falling victim to a monster, until the next planned jump scare comes around, of which there are few. What makes the creatures truly terrifying is not the panic of knowing they will bury their snouts into your ribs when they catch you, but rather what they represent.
The pacing comes to a halt whenever a puzzle rears its dull head. Thankfully they are not dense like some of the more complex puzzles from Dark Descent, but instead are too simple. They do not require more though or effort than fetching a fuse, fetching a candle, or placing cogs in a machine that are right next to said machine. These brief moments of interactivity are jarring in their execution, neither engaging nor blending with the rest of the world or narrative.
A Machine for Pigs is not terrifying; it is horrifying. It will not have you screaming whenever a monster spots you, but the scares manifest themselves out of the sublime story that will remain with you far longer than any jump-scare could. The Chinese Room has created an experience worthy enough to stand amongst the great horror titles like Silent Hill 2. Like those games, it has some flawed mechanics, but the experience is far more memorable than the occasional frustrations.
- Horrifying story.
- Complex themes.
- Claustraphobic environments.
- Simple puzzles.
- Enemies do not pose an immediate danger.
- Journal pages can be missed.