Game Review: Amnesia- A Machine For Pigs
Two years ago a tiny indie game developed by a Swedish game development company called Frictional Games unwittingly created a game that took the gaming scene by storm. That little game is called Amnesia: The Dark Descent and not to long after its release became hailed as one of, if not the, scariest games of all time. Gamers long pining for a true return to survival horror gaming rejoiced with glee and Youtubers were quick to start a trend of creating videos of themselves being scared shitless by the game. Even myself, who has extremely tough skin for all things horror, found beads of sweat forming on my brow as I explored Brennenburg Castle and was genuinely unsettled and nervous while playing. To call the game anything other than a massive success would be a gross understatement.
On the other side of Europe, in the U.K., a development duo known as The Chinese Room were putting the finishing touches on a massive re-release of their famous Half Life 2 mod called Dear Ester. What Dear Ester is exactly is a tad difficult to explain and not make it sound drab and pretentious, but for the sake of argument it was basically a slightly interactive piece of high literature. You play in the first person, walk slowly around a beautiful island soaking in the vistas, and a narrator occasionally reads excerpts from a letter the character you control wrote to a woman named Ester. On paper, it sounds like it would make for one of the most dull exhibits of interactive entertainment ever (and to many who played it, it was), but once you get into the ‘game’ and see how the dynamic between the environments you traverse and the narration unfolds it becomes an experience unlike anything else out there. Nothing is direct and you must ponder the poetry of both the visuals and the words to piece together just exactly is going on. And since the game raises many more questions than answers it leads to much analysis outside of the virtual world, which in turn leads to the game really sticking to and impacting its player.
Since The Chinese Room got their start with creating their ‘interactive literature’ by using mods, it was only natural they started toying with the Amnesia editor which led to them crafting the Saw-like mod, Justine, for The Dark Descent which garnered much love from Frictional Games that they released it as official DLC. This led to The Chinese Room taking another go at crafting another, this time with ambitions set to max. As their mod grew and a demand for an Amnesia sequel grew Frictional decided to fund their mod in progress to be a full game and worked extremely close with The Chinese Room to see that their vision was realized. That would turn into what is now Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.
You may wonder why I’m taking the time to highlight the origins of both of these development teams and the game. Well, simply, because knowing the backstory will help one understand how and why A Machine For Pigs turned out the way it did. For those expecting a full on sequel to The Dark Descent, I’m sorry, but this isn’t it. Sure, the narrative and lore makes connections between the two as well as the unnerving atmosphere Frictional is known for. However any of the ‘game’ parts such as light management, running and hiding, and head scratching puzzles have been near completely removed in lieu of a splendidly strong narrative and story. You just basically follow a preset path and the world of A Machine For Pigs unravels itself around you.
As with Dear Ester, the game world and narrative work symbiotically crafting literature that I can best describe as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle if it were written in the style of a Harlan Ellison possessed H.P. Lovecraft and then painted out by a British version of Grant Wood (the painter of American Gothic). The depth and prose of the narrative is absolutely sublime and tackles some interesting sociopolitical ideals and philosophy while weaving a memorable and unsettling tale about, yes, a machine for pigs. And since the story and narrative is so important to this game I’ll just leave my synopsis of it as you play as a guy who wakes up without any recent memory and there is a machine, for pigs.
Gameplay wise, as stated earlier, there really isn’t much of it. The most taxing thing you will be doing is opening and closing doors, pulling a switch or two, or picking up a fuse and snapping it into a machine. That’s about it. Unlike The Dark Descent you don’t have to worry about managing the amount of oil in your lantern as you get an electric one with endless battery supply and since the sanity meter has gone the way of the dodo, you don’t have to worry much about whether to keep it on or off. You can pretty much play through the entire game with the lantern on with the exception of a couple of scenes where you may feel compelled to shut it off for a bit.
I felt the lack of any real gameplay allowed me to just sit back and focus on the story and let myself get sucked deeper into the atmosphere. Being able to sit back and really get lost in and soak up AMFP’s atmosphere was a real pleasure. Here is where the game gets most of its horror from. Looming fog, creaky floor boards, fearful breathing, series of increasingly insane oil paintings, and rooms filled with machines that hypnotically crank and pound and create this beautiful, living industrial music. At some points in the game the atmosphere likes to mess with you with a ‘did I really just see that’ and then you go to give another look and everything looks as it should but you swear you saw something. And with that you get to embrace the horror of questioning your own sanity instead of the typical jump scare or ‘OMFG something’s chasing me’ scare.
And working hand in hand with the graphical atmosphere is the games musical score which, through its minimalist yet effective approach adds another layer of depth to your diminishing sanity. From creepy children’s melodies to the blaring of steam horns to low-key drones to absolute silence, the music works tirelessly to keep you in a constant state of suspense, and does so admirably.
I honestly feel that any fan of psychological horror should check out A Machine of Pigs. It’s new, innovative, and refreshing take on the age-old genre and should thoroughly sate anyone who goes into the game with an open mind. This is a testament to the progress of gaming as a legitimate artistic medium and show true forward movement as to what can be done with interactive entertainment. That being said, if the idea of playing through a piece of literature with minimal gamey aspects or are just expecting more of The Dark Descent, you may want to steer clear and save the world one more angry diatribe on how A Machine for Pigs, Dear Esther, and like games aren’t games and are only for pretentious hipster and un-true gamers. Anywho, I absolutely loved the latest installment for Amnesia and can’t wait to see what the future of this franchise holds (I’m really hoping that another developer takes a crack at the series and we can see yet another view on what makes horror the series becomes something passed from dev to dev with each iteration). Peace Love and Metal!!!
Posted on September 19, 2013, in Videogames and tagged A Machine For Pigs, Adventure Games, Amnesia, Frictional Games, Game Review, Horror Games, Review, The Chinese Room, Video Games. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.