Review: Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs
Despite glowing reviews, I was incredibly skeptical whenÂ Amnesia: The Dark DescentÂ was released only three years ago. Calling a game ‘innovative’ Â may sound cliche, but I was glad I overcame those hesitations and playedÂ Amnesia,Â as it truly innovated in the horror genre. Â With that in mind, I was excited to try outÂ Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, the full-fledged successor to the original that had started as a mod ofÂ Amnesia by Dear Esther developer The Chinese Room. DoesÂ A Machine for Pigs hold true to the tense horror gameplayÂ Dark DescentÂ carried out so well?
30 Second Review
+ Captures the creepy environmental terror of the first game
+ Piecing the story together through clues and exploration was fantastic
– Best elements ofÂ Dark DescentÂ were not included inÂ Machine For Pigs
– Lack of tension
– Couldn’t help but feel that the ending was a bit too vague
Awakening with Amnesia
At the start of the game you awaken as Oswald Mandus, tycoon and owner of the largest meat-packing plant in London. The setting is New Year’s Eve of 1899, and your memory is blurred with your recent return from Mexico. Â There are hints that the trip did not go well and that more time than you realize has passed since your return. Â Stumbling through your mansion, you begin finding clues, receiving strange telephone calls and take up the quest to find your twin boys. Â The halls are haunted; visions cloud your mind, and strange creatures will impede your path. Â Welcome toÂ Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs.
This Gameplay has Amnesia
When I fired upÂ Machine For Pigs,Â I was immediately greeted with a very familiar dark setting bleeding with sepia tones in the absence of light. Â Familiar environmental triggers are present, queuing ghosts and visions to appear at eerie times or roaring vibrations of loud machinery. Â Even simply getting to the title screen made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and I knew I was in for a very scary ride.
Then something happened as I began to progress into the dark underbelly of the lavish Mandus mansion: I began to miss the elements of the first game. Â Mandus carries a lantern, which means you are no longer required to keep a supply of matches or interact at all with nearby lamps and torches. Â Sure, your lantern will attract unwanted attention from the scary monsters inhabiting the dreary halls, but there is really no strategy or requirement to use lighting to your advantage. Â This is because the sanity meter that madeÂ Dark DescentÂ so incredibly tense is also gone. Â No longer does hiding in the dark have untoward effects on your character; you are free to stay there as long as you like to observe the walking patterns of nearby monsters. Â As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to hide in closets and crawl spaces to evade the monsters anymore; you simply crouch behind cover until they lumber away, and then you go about your business as if nothing happened.
I also couldn’t help but notice that the monster encounters were much less frequent and much less tense thanks to these factors. You are left a game that is just a simple exploration of a very dark and scary steampunk environment, dodging a few monster encounters and flipping switches to open deeper pathways, many times merely by the light of your lantern. To avoid story spoilers, I will not go into detail about how the story effectively removes any fear you have of the monsters. Â Within the first couple hours of the game the immersion evaporated like one of the spirits in Mandus’ visions, and I was left with a very dark and mysterious version of a game resembling something likeÂ Myst. Â
Obviously, I continued on, solving relatively easy puzzles and finishing out the story, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. Â Reading a developer blogÂ by publisher Frictional Games shed a little light on what the inspiration for these changes may have been. Â It states very little should detract from the narration of a game, meaning that repetition, unnecessary gameplay mechanics and overly difficult puzzles shouldn’t hinder the player’s experience. Â While I cannot disagree with those sentiments, I still question whether The Chinese Room went too far in its implementation of these ideas. Â With an honorable mention to the collaboration I had with Saving Content co-founder and editor-in-chief Scott Ellison, the focus on story seems to have left many more unanswered questions than you would think. Â I could have understood the trade-off of gameplay mechanics for story a bit better if the story wasn’t so confusing and didn’t hinge so heavily on finding many or all of the in-game collectible clues left around the halls. Finding a few more clues than Scott had found, we compared notes and still couldn’t make heads or tails of the plot. Open-ended story resolutions are not bothersome to me, but again, at the cost of gameplay mechanics I expected, it seemed like The Chinese Room simply cut off its nose to spite its face.
Machine For PigsÂ tells a very interesting story and provides a solid game experience. Â At the same time, I do think it suffers from changing the formula thatÂ Dark DescentÂ made great and leaving too many story questions unanswered. I can’t help but wonder if it would have been received better if it did not have to reach the high bar set byÂ Dark Descent.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the experience or have fun trying to decipher the story elements with a friend and fellow reviewer. While piecing the story together was fun, coming up short was not. Â I do think that the retail price of $19.99 is fair for the experience I had, but I cannot help but wonder if the game would be enjoyed more by simply waiting for a Steam sale. Â After much deliberation, I think that removing core elements and focusing on a story that didn’t seem to be fully delivered adds up to 5 piggies out of 10.