This world is a machine. A machine for pigs. Fit only for the slaughtering of pigs.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent redefined horror gaming for me. I was immersed into a world where nowhere was safe, nobody could be trusted and every word was a potential lie. The horror had me hooked, but the story and the lore pulled me in deeper. To this day, I am unable to get enough of that world, so I was ecstatic when I heard, over a year ago, that a new Amnesia game was to be released unto this world.
I write this with the shrieking of pigs still fresh in my brain, having completed the game no more than 2 hours ago. That brings me to my first point about the game: A Machine For Pigs (AMFP), is very short. The Dark Descent (TDD) averages at a healthy 11 hours. AMFP took me, personally, 5 hours to complete, though has taken others as little as 3.6 hours. I feel like this was a risky move from Frictional Games and the China Room – an abundance of people have been waiting for the follow-up to the game that frightened the gaming community and will be expecting more than a four hour experience. I know I was.
I will admit to you, and to myself, that a voice in the back of my mind would not stop reminding me throughout the experience that this game was not being handled solely by my beloved Frictional Games, nor did it feature the writing talents of my endeared Mikael Hedberg, who wrote TDD and Penumbra – nevertheless, it was very easy to become immersed in the new world, the new machine, as it were.
The new main character is Oswald Mandus, a successful butcher and industrialist, and apparent failed poet. I say this because the amount of metaphors he uses when speaking is akin to every college kid who has ever tried to ‘find himself’.
There is no longer an inventory system, no longer a health indicator. When the player is at low health, the screen will tinge deep red and the player’s screen will ‘bob’, as though in water, until health is regenerated. The player can remain in the dark for as long as he so wishes, with no negative effects. The lack of inventory is an interesting choice by the creators. This means that almost no object can be picked up, even those that could be in TDD. The only things the player can lift are chairs (no, I don’t know why, either), or anything that is required to continue the story. This is distressing, which is both beneficial and non. Not beneficial, because this requires the player to manually hold the object, holding Mouse1 the entire time, and lug it around to where it might be needed. The distress comes when a player must, while holding an object, flee, or when he is in panic. This involves dropping the item, opening a door and retrieving said item, which in most cases will have begun to roll or fall away.
The lantern is now a powered lantern, providing a forward spotlight, and the absence of oil means that it will never run out of juice. Unless you’re in peril. You think I’m kidding? The lantern comes with a feature I’ve come to affectionately nickname a ‘flicker warning’. When an enemy is nearby, the player’s light will begin to flicker on and off unpredictably, until a safe distance is reached. This provides an early warning, taking away a portion of surprise, however mostly striking when the player believes he is alone or safe and cannot directly see any hint of danger, dawning panic. The first instinct quickly becomes switching off the light, leaving the player in further darkness, struggling to see the dangers through the unforgiving shadows.
Music proves to be less subtle in AMFP than in TDD. Very often, I would find myself noticing that my game was being accompanied by a soft piano, a sobbing violin or a soprano while exploring these nineteenth century structures.
To pick out a couple of flaws, I would have to first declare that this game is far from perfect in the sense that it is crawling with glitches – one of which had me trapped not three minutes into the game and forced me to begin anew to fix it. I was caught again by the same physics-related glitch when I started again, however was able to glitch myself back out of it. This is not the only issue I had, though with games so new, it is to be expected if not forgiven.
AMFP holds your hand. This was a problem for me. I worked my way through TDD, struggling past puzzles and struggling through various branched hallways and corridors, only to then be treated like I needed help this time. It holds your hand. Then it lets it go. Then it takes it again, and that is the most accurate way I can explain the gameplay. Sometimes the way to progress is literally signposted. Sometimes you can wander around for minutes, then realise where to go all of a sudden. However, around 50-60% of the time, the route the player came from is blocked. In the late nineteenth century, it seems gravity was considerably more forceful than it is now in the twenty-first century. Being unable to physically backtrack tells the player that, not only can they not re-explore the area they just left, but also that this is the way, because this is the only way.
So, this way…?
The enemies, the Pigmen, I had been itching to meet since I heard about them. Few things are more terrifying to me than the sound of a pig screaming and knowing this was my new enemy’s war-cry had me both intrigued and afraid. There are three main enemies, four counting-… no, never mind, you’ll know when you find it. The third, I treat as a boss character, seeing as he only appears in the final 20-30 minutes of the game and is considerably more aggressive than any Amnesia foe you have ever faced before. The other two, I found myself referring to as Brutes and Grunts, only afterwards realising that these were the names of the foes in TDD. Because one breed of Pigman is an underdog, a grunt, a lower rank, while the other is a brute, a higher-up, he asserts himself to the Grunts.
The Pigmen were extremely intriguing, at least, for myself. They are not completely mindless. They can be observed taking part in (mostly childlike) activites, displaying emotion and (as aforementioned) dominance, giving them a humanity that I would have absolutely loved to have seen expanded further into the story. It, however, was not explored, which was a shame as this could have deepened the player’s relationship with their enemy and even the game.
Something I can say about my experience with this game is that there was surprise and there was horror. But there was no dread, which is what I feel ultimately let this beautiful game down when comparing it to The Dark Descent.
All in all, I definitely enjoyed A Machine For Pigs and will definitely play it again in the near future to explore the alternate endings I just know are waiting for me.
I’m going to rate it a generous 4.5/5, because although I found disappointment in its length and parts of its story, this game did genuinely frighten me – a lot of times, which is ultimately exactly what I wanted when I loaded it up.