Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Review (PC)

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the scariest game of all time, beating Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness, Clive Barker’s Undying, and 85% of Monolith’s games (even Blood!). It’s not up for debate. The vulnerability, the lack of weapons, the sanity meter, and replacing the ability to face nightmares with the overwhelming need to run and hide added up to an exercise in sheer bloodcurdling terror. Shadows were oppressive and monsters could loom out of them at any time, and often your own imagination was set against you… until you realised that those water splashes really were coming in your direction oh my god f***ing run!. So it’s rather perverse that we’d greatly anticipate the sequel Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, now being developed jointly by Frictional and Dear Esther developer The Chinese Room, since we’ll all have to buy new pants. I’m not washing that off again.

There is NO WAY I'm going down there.
The main area that A Machine For Pigs excels in over its predecessor is story, since as much as I loved The Dark Descent I can’t remember a single part of the plot other than it had a rubbish ending. This is far more involving. The hand holding the lantern belongs to Oswald Mandus, a prominent businessman in late 19th Century London, whose children are supposedly being held captive in the dark tunnels below his house and factory. Something is clearly amiss, as visions of his two boys haunt his every move, strange grunting noises echo upwards, and diary entries of which Mandus has no memory of talk of a great machine that will change the world…

Clearly things end badly and you’ll have worked out exactly what happened in that missing time hours before Mandus (who is far more chatty than The Dark Descent’s Daniel, and yes I did have to look that name up), but just how badly is something of a shock. I actually thought the game was going to end at the halfway point since the whole drive of the game was to get to a certain place, but then you get to see the aftermath of your actions and it becomes even more disturbing. And “disturbing” is definitely the right word. The ending’s also much better than The Dark Descent’s, and still doesn’t wrap things up in a nice little bow. Oh, and other than a couple of minor references the story is completely separate from the first game’s.

It’s hard to talk about the terrors of A Machine For Pigs since its entire purpose is to freak the player out and spoiling any moments would ruin those scares. That said The Chinese Room are very good at freaking the player out, from objects moving when you’re not looking, things caught out of the corner of your eye, noises in the darkness, the superbly creepy music, and those damn pig masks (or is it just one?) that follow you wherever you go. There’s even a F.E.A.R. reference involving a little kid evaporating like Alma followed by a scare on a ladder. The attention to detail in this ghost train ride is superb, and you have to pay attention otherwise you might miss some of the best moments. Did that taxidermy bird move?
That all said though, A Machine For Pigs is utterly lacking in the sheer unrelenting terror that characterized every moment of The Dark Descent. The loss of the sanity meter contributes to this since a large part of the terror in the first game came from the knowledge that you couldn’t even look at the monsters, let alone fight them, and while there’s a lot of panicky running away the Wretches/Man-Pigs here are just simply not as scary as the monstrosities of The Dark Descent. The game also wastes its most freaky monster by only having it appear briefly right at the end of the game. Even a short encore by Amnesia’s infamous water-based invisible creature can’t change the fact that while I was freaked, disturbed, and unnerved the entire time at no point did I want to run and hide or stop playing because I was so scared. In some ways that’s good because it allowed me to appreciate the game and world more, but Amnesia has a reputation for pants-soiling that’s just not upheld here.

Which is a shame, since the environments were far more interesting to me than The Dark Descent, going from a creepy Victorian mansion complete with hidden passages to a factory and even the streets of London, and although graphically it doesn’t look much more sophisticated than the original Thief: The Dark Project it’s surprising how good the game can actually look with stylish design. The Machine itself is a wonder, and although I won’t spoil that it has to be seen to be appreciated. A lot of effort has gone into designing A Machine For Pigs and it shows. Puzzles are almost entirely left behind however, as is the inventory or being able to carry anything permanently other than your lantern (you can pick up objects however as long as you hold the mouse button).

While this makes the game a purer experience than the first Amnesia it removes a lot of the actual gameplay, as this is much more of a linear ride. I compared it to a ghost train earlier and that’s really what it is – a walk-through haunted house funfair experience. A good one certainly, but even with a lot of exploration I’d reached the ending in around four hours. For £12.99/$19.99 I don’t expect a massive epic, but at least a few more absolutely scarifying moments should’ve been on the cards.
This is not going to be good, is it?
While undoubtedly completely less OH MY GOD RUN HIDE than the first game Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs manages to still be a worthwhile purchase thanks to The Chinese Room putting so much effort into maintaining a creepy, freaky atmosphere. It also offers a much better plot with a satisfying ending, and those damn pig masks (OR IS IT JUST ONE?!?) get me every time. However while The Chinese Room have attempted to make their Amnesia a purer horror experience they’ve merely succeeded in removing all the actual gameplay along with the first game’s brilliant sanity meter. Still, now that I’ve finished it I’m sad that the ride’s over, and that’s the mark of a fun game. Freaky fun.

Top Game Moment: The moment you reactivate the Machine and head up to the London streets, presumably to finish the game… nope.

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By Mindrax (SI Core) on Sep 18, 2013
I really need to finish Amnesia - The Dark Descent :)