Amnesia A Machine for Pigs created by UK developer The Chinese Room is the latest release to be produced and published by Frictional Games. Machine for Pigs is an indirect sequel to breakout 2011 horror game Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Frictional quickly established themselves as major competitors in the survival horror genre with this being their fifth title in the field.
We play Oswald Mandus, a wealthy industrialist in 19th Century London. The game begins with the player awakening in the Mandus Manor, trapped inside a cage. The action ramps up quickly, with Oswald following ominous children throughout the home. There are no timid openings and cliché spook tactics that populated the early stages of The Dark Descent. Machine for Pigs lets you know immediately that danger imminent and you could die at any point.
Amnesia A Machine for Pigs represents a divergence in the series with regards to level structure. Part of the charm of previous titles was the large, mazy world of darkness that allowed players to search for quest items, get lost and feel the growing stress. Machine for Pigs, however, opted for a more linear design. This hurts the game a lot; it feels like a safari with all the monsters on the opposite side of the safety rails. The result is a demonstrably less visceral experience.
Frictional truly understand the art of pacing their narratives. At the heart of horror is uneasiness and a powerful story is necessary to keep the audience captivated and playing. This is where the Amnesia series excels. The plot is doled out to us through flashbacks as well as notes we are required to find. The player is kept in the dark until the final chapter of the game; we are teased with hints but Machine for Pigs keeps its cards close to its chest.
Machine for Pigs utilises the same physics engine as The Dark Descent and the Penumbra series. Standard WASD controls are used for movement while the mouse operates the camera and allows players to pick up objects and interact with the world around them. This lends itself to the type of physics puzzles present in the game. Expect to waste a large portion of time hurling objects around the room.
The lack of an inventory simplifies the game in a negative way. The open-style levels of The Dark Descent allowed players to roam around and collect items necessary for overcoming the obstacles, all the while getting increasingly lost in their attempts to remain undetected. The need for one hand to hold Mandus’ torch and the other to interact with everything – including doors – meant that one could not open doors while holding objects. The consequence of this is puzzle items were never far from the destination and usually in the same room.
Overall, the gameplay is as smooth. There may be the odd occasion where you hit yourself in the face with the door you are trying to open but sneaking through narrow hallways and sprinting away from certain death both feel simple yet intuitive.
Sound & Visuals
This is where the meat of the game is. Frictional have poured a great deal of time and effort into making Machine for Pigs a truly memorable horror experience. They have stripped back a few gameplay elements (including the inventory, sanity meter, and large, open areas) but the resources have been very obviously reallocated into the setting.
The sounds of the game are superb. The monster alert music does not make your skin crawl nearly as much as The Dark Descent‘s but the monsters themselves have a battle cry that is sure to have you shaking in your boots. The roar of the eponymous machine does the game justice; it offers a sense of magnitude that serves to inspire both fear and awe. Startling horror games offer strong, piercing sounds to make us jump. Amnesia‘s approach is one focused on subtlety. That is not to say there are no startle elements: squealing pigs will run across your vision, lights will short out, unseen enemies will batter doors. It is, however, the slower, brooding noises, the faint footsteps that do most of the heavy lifting. They breed a sense of foreboding and dread that only enhances the eventual ‘scare’.
Unlike many survival horror games, Amnesia A Machine for Pigs is not an overwhelmingly dark game. Often the recommended settings leave the player stranded in the night, squinting at the small objects in the dull beam of a lantern. The early portions of the game are quite well-lit. This clear visage allows for little treats for the player that explores the environment. It allows the player to see the gritty, mechanical world of 1899 London.
Once the game has decided that the free run is over, the darkness sets in. This is where Machine for Pigs earns its stripes: there is no darkness-adjusted-vision. In the shadows, there is nothing but blurred silhouettes of large objects and pitch black. Pure darkness brings an interesting choice for players: Mr. Mandus cannot creep through the levels without his torch. Any source of light is a necessity, which increases the likelihood of drawing unwanted attention.
Frictional are experienced in the ways of scare. Machine for Pigs has learned some lessons from The Dark Descent: there is no more musical cue for when the monsters have left the area, and some tricks from the Penumbra series have resurfaced. The pigs, upon noticing you, squeal before attacking. While this gives you an opportunity for escape, slow players will find themselves swarmed by the army that gets summoned.
Unlike other horror games that announce the appearance of a monster with a shriek of a violin, Machine for Pigs only sometimes announces the release of a monster into the area. Players may not be in immediate danger but there is an ever-present feeling of dread. You might, at any point, be attacked.
Frictional understand that the most potent part of the terror is self-inflicted. The power of the imagination takes over and the small hints of danger are exaggerated to the point a pin drop could set off alarms in your head.
Machine for Pigs is a worthy addition to Frictional’s library of games but falls just short of The Dark Descent and Penumbra: Black Plague in terms of gameplay and terror. Machine for Pigs is definitely worth the purchase and could work as a transitional game to get from horror-shooters into the more frightening brand of games.