Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Review – Not Kosher

While playing Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, I couldn’t help but think long and hard about haunted houses. Not real ones of course, but the ones that pop up every year around Halloween where old prisons and houses are rented out and converted into eerie exhibits for you to tour.

Sometimes these haunted houses will even go for a more elaborate approach and hire actors to don makeup and play the part of lost souls or ghoulish horrors. They poke through broken windows and partially closed doors to give tour goers a brief fright, but they always stay just out of reach. After all, the actors are given a strict no touching policy lest the haunted house be the subject of something far more terrifying: a lawsuit.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is much like those artificial fright facilities. The Chinese Room, developers of Dear Esther, has applied its own “look, but don’t touch” policy to the horror sequel; the resulting experience looks and sounds the part, but pulls its punches at the last moment.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs: – PC [Reviewed], Mac, Linux
Developer: The Chinese Room
Publisher: Frictional Games
Release Date: September 10, 2013
MSRP: $19.99
Steam Store: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

It is new year’s eve 1899 and the inventor Oswald Mandus awakens from frantic fever dreams about an ominous machine deep underground. He finds himself lying in a bed surrounded by thick brass bars like a cage, with the cage door hanging precariously open for an easy escape.

Though most of his memory appears to be gone, what remains are thoughts of his twin boys and the vague notion that they may be in danger. Thinking it may have something to do with the mysterious machinery whirring below the mansion’s foundation, Mandus ventures deep into the earth with only a lantern to guide his way.

That lantern is all you get in A Machine for Pigs, as I immediately noticed that the game offered no inventory of any kind. Managing matches and tinderboxes is a thing of the past thanks to an inexhaustible electric lantern, and puzzles have been reduced to only require carrying a single object at a time. That is, for the rare puzzle that needed me to carry anything at all.

The degree that I could interact with the environment was greatly diminished overall compared to Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Like a haunted house, most doors and cabinets were heavily locked shut, and even the objects that weren’t bolted down didn’t offer an option to inspect them.

Also just like a haunted house, I found that the artifice of it all and horror are not mutually exclusive: for the first half of A Machine for Pigs I was terrified. The buildup of tension was so effective that I could only play in short 10 to 20 minute bursts. A door would slowly open at the end of the hall as I rounded a corner, or a well-timed thunderclap would illuminate a shadow that didn’t belong to anyone.

And the pig masks. Those goddamned decorative pig masks had a knack for showing up everywhere, even in spots where I distinctly remembered there not being a pig mask a few moments before. It all creates a deeply unsettling atmosphere, complimented by expert sound work that made me jump at nearly every creaky board and steamwork machination.

In fact, A Machine for Pigs is almost too good at building up tension, to the exclusion of offering a release. Jump scares typically fulfill that role in horror with a quick shock to tell your brain that the anticipated danger has passed, allowing your system to reset in the momentary calm after the storm. Amnesia’s first half mostly avoids jump scares, instead opting for an oppressive feeling of looming dread. It is exhausting to be constantly on edge, though, hence the frequent breaks.

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8 Comments on Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Review – Not Kosher

SweetPea

On September 11, 2013 at 11:22 am

Ah, what a disappointment. I really believed they could pull it off.

Removing things that already worked perfectly in The Dark Descent makes no sense.

monotoy

On September 11, 2013 at 1:21 pm

interesting … I sort of felt the opposite.
first third I liked a lot, middle third I thought was so-so due to boring/slightly buggy puzzles, last third I found quite cool due to story actually. or, not necessarily the story as such but the feelings of dread and despair and no good way out of the mess.
Music I thought was awesome, storytelling too; but not scary enough sadly.

monotoy

On September 11, 2013 at 1:25 pm

and tbh, even though the sanity meter is gone, while I thought it was an amazing feature in dark descent, even there it stopped working effectively maybe 2/3rds into the game, so it’s a bit unfair for me to totally hold it against chinese room.

JC

On September 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I almost completely agree with the review and feel it’s final score of 50/100 is accurate, due to the disappointment.

Though I have to take issue with saying it’s as capable of scaring the user as the original, A Machine for Pigs simply doesn’t compare. Also saying that it can be as scary contradicts pretty much the rest of the review. No moment in A Machine for Pigs compares even with the top 10 in the original Amnesia, it’s just not possible, some of the reasons why were mentioned in the review (sanity meter, light source etc).

The quality as a game was also lacking, getting stuck on steps, being able to get behind a chair easily but then spending 2 minutes jumping to get back out, being able to tell when you’re safe simply because of the level design nevermind the lighting. As far as game quality goes only the audio seems up to par.

The Chinese Room doesn’t seem to have a good distinction between horror and things like gore, suspense and atmosphere. All the gore and suspense in the world doesn’t mean it’s going to scare someone and they aren’t required for that matter The Chinese Room seems to be a poor choice for an Amnesia game especially without tight reigns, they’ve pretty much made one of their usual games.

quicktooth

On September 12, 2013 at 12:02 am

You forgot the baffling inclusion of utterly blatant pornography. I guess they knew they had a stinker on their hands and thought they’d try their hand for a moment at simply manipulating their customers. I wonder if there was more than one spot in the game it occurred- I stopped at the secret peeping tom room adjoining the bathroom. Looks like my intuition about the game’s character (low, rubbish, dark descent was better in every way) was on the mark, in spite of my short time with the game…

Xcalibur

On September 12, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Well, A Machine for Pigs is disappointing, But I don’t agree with that score. Nonsensical story? I don’t think so, the story is pretty well written and interesting.

I think, the game is so close, yet so far from great. If it had the same heart as The Dark Descent has, it would be a 80/100, maybe 90/100.

I liked the story, I liked the atmosphere, I liked the sounds (voice acting inclueded), and the music was also good. Graphically, it improved a little bit, still it has low system requirements. Sounds pretty good!

But it’s really not scary. Making the lamp that was is just a huge mistake. The enemies are really funny instead of dangerous and scary. You can easily run away from them. Also, however, the music was good, it wasn’t that unsettling, scary like in The Dark Descent. I wonder if Mikko Tarmia could do it better. Basically I agree most of the cons (except the story part), but not the final score. It could get a 65-70 in my opinion. Still, not good enough. :(

Also, it’s very short. It had so much potential (because, lots of things were really done right in this game), but they get rid of the good things that worked before, and the game failed…

lol

On September 13, 2013 at 8:49 am

The game’s overrated anyway. Poor platforming and dodgy physics combined with an awkward camera and pretty boring backstory. People were blinded by how ‘scary’ it was.

BryanH83

On September 21, 2013 at 10:40 am

Just started the game and the first thing I noticed was that the cabinets were locked. This is an Amnesia game… The cabinets are the safe zone! This is bull!!!!1! *curls into a corner* ><,