Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs

Post-Launch Review
Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs
Developer: The Chinese Room
Released: September 2013
Played: complete in 3h18min


In the year 1899, Oswald Mandus wakes up in is bed, wracked with fever. He does not remember why his manor is empty, nor the cause of the shaking and the racket of the colossal machine beneath. Haunted by nebulous memories of an expedition to Mexico and a campaign against the corruption of the Empire, Mandus delves into the bowels of the machine and the horrors within to save his children.

At Launch

Reviews were somewhat mixed but overall positive, averaging 72%. Reviewers enjoyed the bizarre and dark story, themes, and atmosphere, but complained that horror and gameplay were much lighter than the previous Amnesia game.

Post Launch

A couple of patches were released to fix some crash issues, improve performance, add video options, and fix some bugs.


I was a big fan of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, so I was excited for A Machine For Pigs. When it first came out I saw a lot of negative reviews, which disappointed me and kept me away from the game for a while. I finally got around to playing it, and I've decided that the negative reviews are only partially correct.

Like its predecessor, AMFP does atmosphere very well. The environments are convincing and mysterious. The music helps set the feel of the game's era, and also freaks me out a bit when, for example, the organ starts playing in the church and I'm not sure if someone is actually playing it or my character is imagining things or it's just ambience.
These screenshots look exceptionally dark but it's OK in motion
I love the way the notes and journals are written. The author's condescension and saviour complex leads him to refer to the unwashed masses as pigs. He also uses actual pigs in his work and meat processing. That means it's often unclear as to whether he's talking about pigs or people.

That confusion ties in well to your character's amnesia, which is the only real link between TDD and AMFP. The ambiguity of the notes mixes with the contradictions between your character's beliefs and the documentation around him (particularly as relating to his family). Throw in themes of sacrifice for the greater good, evil done in the name of good, and the moral struggle between what's right and what's best, and you get an intricate story with a lot of subplots, mysteries, and big concepts. The game also plays with your perception of what's real by emphasizing that the protagonist is fevered and ill, wracked with sickness and hallucination.
Where AMFP disappoints is in comparison to The Dark Descent. Taken in isolation, AMFP would be a strong game - but with the Amnesia name attached, I have some criticisms. 

AMFP is light on challenge. I wouldn't call TDD a challenging game - the puzzles were straightforward if you paid close attention to the notes and environments, and hiding spots were fairly common. But AMFP is even less intensive, to the point that many of the "puzzles" amount to nothing more than finding a missing piece, which happens to be in plain sight in the room down the hall. It's also very easy to avoid the monsters - hiding isn't even necessary with your sprint speed.
I mentioned in a previous review that I wish more games would be brave enough to forego action and traditional gameplay in favour of quiet exploration and discovery. AMFP would be a good example if it weren't so linear. Most of the time I think complaints of linearity range from unwarranted to willfully ignorant, but here I found it a little odd to unfold a vast mystery by walking into a room, reading a note, walking to the next room, reading a note, walking to the next room, etc.

But neither of those are major complaints. The big one is that there's a vital part of TDD missing from AMFP: sanity mechanics. I'm not talking about the noises and blurred vision - I'm talking about the risk/reward elements of regaining sanity in the light but also being more vulnerable to monsters, and even more importantly, the sanity drain from looking at monsters. In TDD the sanity mechanics actively discourage you from looking at the monsters, which preserves their mystery and horror. But in AMFP there is no such disincentive, meaning you're free to examine the monsters at your leisure (if they don't catch you, which they won't if you sprint in circles). Being chased by a strange creature is much scarier when you don't even want to look at it, and less so when you're constantly turning around to check how close it is, and in the process getting a clear view and seeing that it's just a misshapen pig. The idea and backstory of the monsters is much scarier than getting a good look at them.
So without the sanity mechanics, A Machine For Pigs is creepy and atmospheric, but rarely scary. I don't get the same sense of dread or terror as I did playing The Dark Descent. That said, I did still quite like the game. The environments help to emphasize the scale of the operation and the machine while also looking pretty good. It presents an intriguing, dark, disturbing story and mysteries with some clever ambiguity and morbidly interesting ideas and philosophy. A Machine For Pigs may not fill your expectations if you're looking for a traditional adventure or horror game, but if you play it with a mind for macabre atmosphere and story, you'll enjoy yourself.

Recommendation: play it.

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