Amnesia: The Dark Descent first arrived back in 2010, and brought with it a new brand of survival horror. Much in the same vein of its previous work, Frictional Games threw players into terrifying situations as a completely helpless individual. Without any combat, the only hope for survival was stealth. Three years later the followup, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, has finally arrived. This time around Frictional handed the reins over to Dear Esther creators The Chinese Room, choosing to take the role of publisher. The end result is something which keeps a similar aesthetic, but also forges its own path, spinning a much more melancholic tale.
Machine for Pigs opens in the year 1899 as industrialist Oswald Mandus wakes in a feverish amnesiac state, only to find his extravagant mansion abandoned. After a few brief moments of investigation, the estate itself trembles as a mechanical leviathan shudders beneath his feet. With only scattered memories of a ruined expedition to Mexico and his own industrial-era ambitions, Mandus must find out what happened to his now missing children and discover what exactly he built in the floors below. This all plays similarly to The Dark Descent, except for one stark difference: the constant search for lamp oil is no more, as no reagent is needed to keep his lamp alight. It will, however, flicker when enemies are nearby. And while this may lessen the overall tension of A Machine for Pigs, it helps create an entirely different experience.
Much like its predecessor, Machine allows the player to swim in the industrial Gothic atmosphere, exploring lavish dining halls and harsh machinery, all while encountering the occasional blood soaked room or ghostly apparition. In fact, enemies are quite scarce until the game ramps up a few hours in, which allows the player to explore and discover the wealth of information provided through journal entries scattered throughout the game. It’s during these moments that The Chinese Room’s influence really shines through. From the get go, the story told is one of sadness, regret, and most importantly, guilt. Guilt over the horror Mandus is involved with, and how this drastically affected his family.
But as Mandus delves into the viscera of his hellish slaughterhouse, various horrors let themselves be known. Players will still encounter the occasional monstrosity, which upon seeing Mandus will give chase through the darkened corridors. The only escape is found in the dark corners and vents of the gigantic underground architecture, gasping for air as a shuffling construct’s guttural moans pass by. There’s never anything quite as in-your-face as the jump scares in something like Outlast, but as mentioned before, I feel this works in Machine’s favor.
The occasional adventure game inspired puzzle, mixed with the wealth of notes and journal entries allow for various lulls in the excitement. They give you time to drink in the varied environments, the stellar writing, and the absolutely phenomenal soundtrack. By the game’s finale, a rather fleshed out story is told, full of weird otherworldly twists and turns. But even with the the occasional dismemberment or murder, at its center is always a grounded story about a man and his regrets. While it may lack even more traditionally “gamey” mechanics than A Dark Descent, A Machine for Pigs still manages to tell a more fully realized story than many of its contemporaries.
A Machine for Pigs is, however, not without its faults. The puzzles encountered are sometimes extremely simple, to the point that no real thought is necessary. You’re presented with a problem, then run along the only available pathway until you stumble upon an obvious answer. It’s a route many have taken with this style of puzzle, as nothing brings a horrifying experience to a screeching halt like getting stuck on a glorified word problem. That being said, I can’t be too surprised considering The Chinese Room’s previous work, and its absolute focus on storytelling above all else.
I have a feeling some people will be disappointed with A Machine for Pigs. The game does retain some of what made the first Amnesia so great, but it strays far enough to become its own thing. Those only expecting another Dark Descent might leave unsatisfied, and it makes me wonder what it could have been without the Amnesia attachment. The Chinese Room created something pretty unique in the world of video game horror, and if your willing to sift through a more personal and melancholic tale, it’s worth diving head first into the abyss.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was developed by The Chinese Room and published by Frictional Games. A PC copy of the game was purchased by the reviewer for review purposes.