In case you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere and haven’t ever used Youtube, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a cult phenomenon. An immersive first-person horror game with some creepy genuine scares, the game instantly became viral thanks to word of mouth and hundreds of playthrough videos featuring players all over the world screaming at the top of their lungs. Amnesia frequently topped lists featuring the scariest games available, and it was for good reason. The game however came out three years ago, and since then players everywhere have wanted more Amnesia.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Developed by the Chinese Room / Published by Frictional Games
Available on the PC.
*Review code provided by Frictional Games
That’s where The Chinese Room comes in. Developers of the unique first-person storytelling experience Dear Esther, they worked on what was supposed to be a simple expansion to The Dark Descent. Instead, it turned out to be a full-blown sequel called A Machine for Pigs.
Is this newest Amnesia good enough to stand alongside the cult classic original and be immortalized by hundreds of gamers everywhere, or is it doomed to be one hell of a pigsty from the start?
In A Machine for Pigs, you play as Oswald Mandus, a man who awakens to mysterious rumblings emerging from the depths in a mansion located in London in the year 1899. Suffering from amnesia (it had to happen), all he recalls are faint memories of an enormous and terrible machine, and the need to find his two missing children: Edwin and Enoch. A terrible foe is also tracking down Mandus however, so with the help of a mysterious individual known as the Engineer, Mandus must find a way to reunite with his children while defeating the pursuing horror.
One of A Machine for Pigs’ strong suits is definitively the storyline, which is expertly crafted by the Chinese Room. Already veterans at creating superb storylines and immerse gameplay, the developers do a great job at subtlety conveying the frightening storyline through phone calls, flashbacks, letters, diary entries and monologues. The quest to find your children is a long and twisted one, but you’ll always be motivated to keeping going thanks to an excellent yet insane tale.
Amnesia: A March for Pigs plays very similarly to its predecessor, which is a good thing, while bearing some slight improvements that make the game a much more concentrated experience. Players still navigate the dark environments from a first person perspective, and must manipulate their surroundings with physics-based mouse movements. The need to push or pull a door is still here, and puzzles usually require the flipping of switches or objects that must be carried and placed in certain spots.
What’s new here is that your lantern no longer requires oil and flint to use, and that you no longer suffer insanity from hiding in the darkness or staring directly at your pursuer. Additionally, most puzzles don’t really require any difficult physics-based manipulation other than the aforementioned switches. This makes the game very streamlined and simple, which is a good thing for newcomers to the series and those who enjoy the plot, but could be a bit disappointing from those who wanted the bit more interaction or tension that frantically filling a lantern or moving from hiding spot to hiding spot provided.
Thankfully though, the scares are still present thanks to the game’s horrifying setting and the grotesque new foe. As you can pretty much guess thanks to the game’s trailers or title, the environment is a very freaky thing. Everything is damp, dark and/or empty, and you’ll frequently run into pools of blood or stains, large machinery that will have you running for the hills, creepy passages behind walls, and a number of terrible places that you wouldn’t step into in real life. The world of A Machine for Pigs is the closest thing to a walk-through haunted house, and you’ll be frequently pausing the game in order to catch your breath and remind yourself that it isn’t real.
In regards to the new enemy, the Manpig is fast, ferocious and scary as heck. Having it chasing you around is not something you want, so hiding is thankfully as simple as gaining some distance from the creature and crouching into darkness or preferably a place that is well out of reach. The Manpig will search for you and occasionally pause in place to bait the player out, but overall avoiding it is quite simple. That doesn’t make it any less terrifying though, as the squealing and the grinding of its dragged weapon is enough to give you nightmares.
Unfortunately though, it’s with the Manpig that A Machine for Pigs somewhat falters. Why, you might ask? It’s because the moments you actually encounter this monstrosity are why too few. You’ll spend most of the game time wandering about, waiting for this thing to appear or creep out right behind you at any given moment, only to keep passing stage after stage without ever really having an impact on you. Only occasionally will you have to sneak around and avoid it or confront it directly; the rest of the game is just moving forward. And then the game’s final act is a big letdown, as the only saving grace is the fantastic story.
Overall, The Chinese Room’s Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a fantastic sequel to The Dark Descent. The bizarre yet fantastic story and truly frightening moments trump the lack of enemy encounters and straightforward gameplay, and the simplistic gameplay really makes it accessible to all. While it isn’t as fresh as its predecessor was, it’s still a worthwhile ride into a world full of madness and pain.