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
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.