Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs
The fear of the dark is one of humanities greatest assets.
Since the days of cavemen, it’s kept us huddled round fires and shuttered in at night. It’s laced the Earth in the yellow glow of tens of billions of streetlights, and it makes sure that we don’t go sticking our noses in places where they often don’t belong. Lest we see, or are seen by that which we would seek to avoid.
It’s no surprise then that the Amnesia games have made it their modus operandi to place the gamer into an ever more terrifying spiral of maddening descent, where the terror at the darkness is only multiplied by what the light stands to reveal. In The Dark Descent, the darkness was as much an ally as an impediment; as the constant trade-off between lit candles giving visual succour left players open to being seen by maddening monstrosities.
In A Machine For Pigs, the situation is bleaker. There are no candles, the few electric lights which can be activated are in places of little aid, and the only means of light, a hand-lantern, will draw the enemy straight to you.
A Machine for Pigs tells the story of Mandus, a man awoken in a brass-caged fourposter bed, with a hazy recollection of who he is; led onward by fear for the lives of his twin sons, who, he is told, are trapped in the depths of ‘The Machine’. Of course, this is Amnesia, so it wouldn’t be enough simply to have Mandus trot off by himself. He is led forth by fleeting glimpses of a pair of unsettlingly creepy whispering twins, who may or may not be his darling boys; a series of strange phonecalls from an oddly familiar voice, egging him onward, and what notes and letters can be found on the journey.
The machine is buried deep in the bowels of a huge Victorian meat processing plant. A plant which acts as a cover for the strange and terrible experiments which have gone on behind the walls. The notes and jumbled recollections which pass lead to some revelations and moments which will make most players’ flesh crawl with unease. While something dreadful and terrifying is stalking Mandus, and toying with him from the moment he awakens.
Unlike The Dark Descent, the mechanics of Machine for Pigs have been streamlined down to a bare minimum. The inventory and sanity effects of the first game have been removed, leaving a more immediate experience. This may be in part due to The Chinese Room, creators of Dear Esther, wanting to put more of their stamp upon this title, in this collaborative effort with the series developer Frictional Games. It’s a tightening up of the idea, which along with a narrowing down of the movable objects in thee game, leads to an experience where there is far less scope for distraction.
Of course, there are still enemies. As is the series style, the game has no weapons as such. The only gun in the game which can be interacted with is, knowingly, the switch to open a secret door. At first only seen fleetingly, the ‘enemies’, need to be navigated around, as the semi-porcine horrors snuffle and screech around haphazardly. Usually in places so dark that the need for light is great, but also fatal. Unfortunately, with the sanity effect removed, this simply leads to a scary but inelegant game of cat and mouse, where it’s all too easy to get lost, and wander into a foe, and death.
A Machine for Pigs is beautiful, compelling and incredibly atmospheric. Played in the dark with a headphones on, it’s one of the creepiest games of the year. The one thing it is not, is better than the original game. While the streamlining of the interface helps immersion, and the pacing of the game is far better thought out, the story simply isn’t as compelling, and it never quite hits those gut-wrenchingly horrid moments of abject terror, cowering in fear, afraid to look at something coming towards you. It’s the lesser child of a mighty parent, but itself something well worth experiencing.