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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

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By Bobfish25-09-2013
BloodyFanGirl (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

The Defence

Developer:
The Chinese Room
Publisher:
Frictional Games
Genre:
Adventure, Horror
Release Date:
10-09-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core i5
AMD FX
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 460
AMD Radeon HD 6750
RAM:
4 GB
HDD:
5 GB
DirectX:
OpenGL

The Case

“Wait a minute,” I hear you ask, “who the hell are The Chines Room and why are they making my Amnesia?!” Well, first of all, amnesia is a psychological condition caused by trauma to hippocampus (which has nothing to do with hippopotami) and thus cannot be created in the literal sense. Secondly, they made Dear Esther, so cool your jets because they certainly do know about creating an atmosphere. Boy oh boy do they ever!

The Trial

As my rather lateral opening should have suggested, this is going to be an overwhelmingly positive review. So allow me to quickly burn through all my usual platitudes about games as art and we can move on to the nitty gritty. Narrative, atmosphere, symbolism, conjuncture of Mars and Jupiter in the house of Orion. Bacon. Still with me? Okay, now let's do this properly.

The dark ascent.

The dark ascent.

Now, Frictional have quite the pedigree behind them when it comes to atmospheric horror games, that's for sure. The Penumbra series (ranked amongst my personal favourites I might add) proved that a sparkly graphics engine was a purely optional feature for a tense, terrifying game experience. Then came along Amnesia: The Dark Descent which had a fairly pretty, sparkly graphics engine and showed that it was still entirely unnecessary, but could certainly help if used correctly. Now we have A Machine for Pigs, with an even prettier engine. And guess what? It's still completely irrelevant, but has been put to extremely good use here; the visual fidelity is enough to make even the most self-absorbed 'AAA' studio sit up and take notice, with the interplay between light and shadow abundantly evident from the title screen. Once you're in game, it's even better, though a side note, as irksome as it may be don't turn the gamma up because it will wash out all the colours. This is a dark game, and is best experienced with the shadows being as long and foreboding as possible.

Speaking of shadows you may be glad to hear that you will no longer be desperately hunting down tinderboxes and lamp oil. With the time frame having jumped forward to the very end of 1899, you now have electric lighting at your disposal, meaning your torch will almost never run out of light. When you encounter the titular pigs, it will start to stutter and flicker quite aggressively, something which serves the purpose of scaring the crap out of you two-fold because the flickering will let you know one is nearby and you won't be able to see where you're going properly because of it. In both aspects, it works exceedingly well and there is even a plausible, entirely logical explanation in-game of why the lights flicker. However you might miss it if you're not paying attention because it requires some lateral piecing together of various tidbits of information.

So good, it gave me swine flu!

So good, it gave me swine flu!

Considering the game takes a grand total of about four hours to finish, there is a dizzying amount of dialogue as well as numerous written notes interspersed throughout the entire game. Both of these conspire to make those short four hours seem a hell of a lot longer. But in a good way. As well as, if you’re paying attention, giving away pretty much everything about the climax long before you actually reach it. But, again, in a good way.

To dwell on narrative for a moment, I actually hadn't played The Dark Descent when Piggy Pigs came up on my schedule. It had been sitting there, forlorn and ignored, on my Steam list for the better part of three years. So I set out, in earnest, to rectify that oversight and I played them both back to back and this is something which seems to have stood me in good stead as it allowed me to see the very subtle links between the two. Apart from the name, and some intermittent mentions of Brennenburg castle, you could be forgiven for thinking they share nothing in common. You'd also be right...mostly. But there are more links between the two if you dig a little deeper. However explaining them in depth would spoil much of the experience, so allow me to say only that they are most certainly there. Heed my advice and re-experience both games in sequence. You will not be disappointed.

Now, with a horror game, the soundtrack is always a key factor - a make or break - so allow me to shock you with the revelation that, like all Frictional games, it is absolutely superb. The voice acting, the incidental sounds and the soundtrack...well, the closing, orchestral piece that plays as the credits roll is breathtaking in its own right and it serves as a perfect end to what could well be a perfect game.

There are more outside areas this time around.

There are more outside areas this time around.

The control scheme is something else done absolutely right. Much like later chapters in the Penumbra series, Frictional (via The Chinese Room) have actually improved by removing. Removing, in fact, the same things that were cut from the aforementioned games; there is no inventory anymore, none at all. Any items you find, be they incidental curios or plot essential puzzle pieces, you pick up and carry manually. To offset this, most things are now out of bounds for interaction. No more picking up boxes and throwing them at monsters. Or was that just me?

One could argue that the latter part breaks immersion a little but on the other hand, do you make a habit of wandering around places, picking things up at random just because you can, rotating them in front of yourself with just the power of your mind before then throwing them at things to see if they'll break? I didn't think so. Of course, this also means you are denied your healing items (laudanum). This is despite seeing numerous bottles of it scattered about the place and numerous mentions of using it far too much in some of the diary entries and notes you read. To offset that, however, you can now take a fair bit of a beating before being knocked to the dirt. You are also far better equipped to stay out of reach of blood thirsty hooves and you will actually encounter far fewer nasties that are hell bent on trying to murder you in the face. But don't worry, there are still plenty of them, it just means a lot less jump scares (which is a very good thing in my book).

This is how they dealt with hipsters in the late 1800’s.

This is how they dealt with hipsters in the late 1800’s.

As for the actual controls, in so far as pressing buttons, all the usual fare - like, y'know, movement, sprint, turn light on/off and such - make a return. And since this is a PC title they are, of course, fully customisable to your liking. So if you want to try and argue that they don't work, frankly, you just suck. Our boy Oswald responds as efficiently as you could ask him to. No input lag here.

The Verdict

The long and the short of it folks is that A Machine for Pigs is a perfect game; it hits every note it aims for, exceeds most of them, and crafts a compelling, fascinating, candid and personal tale that, though obvious if you were paying attention, will still floor you with its climax. The length and lack of multiple endings can be seen as marks against it but the quality of the overall product is just so outstanding that it simple doesn’t matter.

Case Review

  • Audio: The incidental sounds are incredible and the music is even better.
  • Atmosphere: It's a dark game, both tonally and visually, both to its benefit.
  • Pigs: Something to be feared...and pitied.
  • Narrative: The story is much simpler in a lot of ways than its predecessor, which also makes it more relatable.
  • Length: Either too short or just long enough. Either way you look at it, it's still rather short.
  • One Ending: Hardly a cardinal sin because the single climax on offer to you is perfectly fitting. But there has to be at least one complaint.
5
Score: 5/5
Frictional (via The Chinese Room) have actually improved by removing.

Appeal

Ever since I played Dear Esther, I’ve been wondering what it would be like if developer The Chinese Room made a horror game. Dear Esther was soaked in thick ambience and a dark atmosphere. Well, my questions have been answered. Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs is a sort of spin-off sequel to Amnesia: The Dark Descent from Frictional Games and with a different developer, comes a different focus. Many gameplay elements from the original Amnesia have been stripped down or removed entirely; your lamp will no longer run out of oil, and the inventory and sanity systems are completely missing. The puzzles that were a staple of the original have also been toned down significantly in this sequel. Otherwise, it is still very much the same game. Too much so. You still trod down dark corridors, pulling levers, opening doors, reading notes and escaping from hideous monsters like before. There’s little new to find here, which is one of the major flaws of A Machine For Pigs.

The sequel does, however, have more of a story to tell than the original Amnesia did. I always felt that the puzzles in the original bogged the game down and I’m glad that they’re mostly gone along with the inventory system, too. With that gone, I don’t have to worry about managing my lamp oil, and I can instead focus on the actual experience, immersing myself in the story. But this is where the second major issue becomes apparent; A Machine For Pigs tells an impressive story, but it is told almost exclusively through the notes that you find and none of these notes are voiced, so you are forced to read them yourself. It feels like an awfully cheap move on the developer’s part, as these have little to do with the actual gameplay. This is one of the reasons why the sequel simply doesn’t feel as scary or immersive as the original. The level design has more variation than before, but offers little in the way of exploration, and you never feel like you’re experiencing the story in the world - they are just telling it to you, through the notes. Some of the sequences that are intended to be climactic, end up being anti-climactic instead and the ending is not satisfying nor conclusive. Amnesia’s story was vaguer, and telling it through notes worked then, but it does not work in such a story-heavy game as this sequel.

In short, A Machine For Pigs is not a terrible game by any means, but it does feel like one step sideways and one step back for the series. Amnesia veterans especially will likely be disappointed by how short the sequel is, the less scary nature of it, and how you’re forced to constantly read paper notes in order to get anything out of the story.

3
Score: 3/5

Appeal

I am a fool. A foolish fool who bathes in the glory of his own folly. ‘Why’, you ask? Because, for some reason, I thought it a wise decision to fire up Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs at precisely 3:15AM, with my headphones on, well aware of my busted table-lamp and the loose, creaky bedroom door. You can already tell how that went.

As someone who considers himself to be a bit of a horror aficionado, Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent holds a special place in my heart. The game was a shining example in “horror design” (you read it here first, folks!), showcasing Frictional’s absolute mastery over the ebb and flow of what makes for great horror storytelling. It’s rather well-known by now that the sequel-torch has been passed over to The Chinese Room, makers of the oddly calming experiment-in-narrative-design Dear Esther, and the studio’s proclivity for chin-stroking prose is readily apparent from the very beginning. Unlike its predecessor, A Machine for Pigs gets off to a painfully slow start, so slow that you might start to feel your interest wane at spots but once the engines start to growl (both literally AND figuratively) it becomes hard to free yourself from the story’s iron grip on your curiosity.

A Machine for Pigs forgoes a lot of its predecessor’s mechanical trappings such as item management, the fuel-run lamp, and most crucially of all, the sanity meter. That last bit is a real bummer since it gave The Dark Descent a level of uneasiness that went hand-in-hand with the game’s subject matter and, given the subject matter that A Machine for Pigs deals with, makes this particular omission feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. It’s also worth mentioning that the puzzles in Pigs feel much simpler than some of the more ornate and involved head-scratchers from the last game. But all of those above things are traded off for a better story. A Machine for Pigs tells an often filthy, troubling and downright disgusting tale that I have absolutely no intention of spoiling. Whether you decide to give this game a try, just do yourself a favor and play the game with a few good souls around to give you a hug and a warm fuzzy feeling every fifteen minutes or so.

4
Score: 4/5
Comments (16)
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Posts: 3290

@Dontanion: Did you say something?

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Posts: 166

This Amnesia looks like a very good game.......This Amnesia looks like a very good game. Did I already say that??? I guess I got Amnesia and it is not related to the game. Damn lol

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Posts: 240

Hear, hear. Couldn't even finish a list of all the shit most of them do or say that consistently pisses me because it'd depress me to think about. Constantly link this video to some of my friends when we're talking about the latest and greatest stupidity, which accurately describes what I would love to do on such occasions:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulzrVVzuh1U&t=0m22s

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Posts: 3290

'Gamers' fuck me off more than any other strata of society.

Even the dickbags who scream YOLO don't piss me off as much

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Posts: 240

Jenssen, I didn't mean to sound like I was discrediting anyone who says this or that isn't a game - it was an annoyed jab at the loudest group of people who throw around "Not a game!" whenever they get the chance, or jump on the bandwagon whenever anyone else says it, hence calling them naysayers; some of the most vocal, annoying of gamers.

But, no, people can argue about what is and isn't a game, or spend time attempting to find a definition that fits all video games until hell freezes over for all I care. Good luck to them though, because, as with art, defining what makes a game isn't exactly easy. Hell, you could go on a number of forums where both things are being argued about the game in question and - what do you know! - you'll find that people have tons of definitions for those. Subsequently, I stay clear of that shit, although I jump in from time to time if I see several people argue something particularly stupid about what defines a game.

People's disappointment and subsequent anger is irrelevant to me, or at least something I'm not going to get into, because I find that most people have very subjective expectations based on some of what I said above. That, and gamers should really stop pre-ordering games as far as I'm concerned, or not until they've seen enough gameplay to know what to expect (although, then again, you have something like Aliens: Colonial Marines). That, that, and more people ought to read the fine print before they buy games. Despite your suggestion of misinformation, I find that most games have a clear enough explanation of what they are. Though, to be fair, this game could have been more clear that several of the mechanics of the first game had been stripped out. However, that doesn't make it any "less" of a game, which is something I find pretty silly.

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Posts: 1317

I don't think "'not a game' naysayers" should be blown off so easily. Saying that games like Dear Esther have no purpose in the gaming industry is obviously stupid, but at the same time... when most people buy a game, they want a game, with all the traditional bells and whistles this implies. When they then get a completely different product than they were anticipating based on misinformation or lack of proper marketing, I can see some people disappointed by having spent €16 on something they simply don't enjoy.

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Posts: 240

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS FOR A:AMFP and FROM HELL
Actually, when I think about it, the two - this game and From Hell - are quite similar in another major aspect, or oppositely similar I should say. Whilst Mandus tries to prevent the coming horror of the 20th century by using his machine to sacrifice people like the Aztecs did, William Gull (the person Moore chose as his Jack) sacrifices the lives of the prostitutes, Jack's victims, through Masonic rituals in order to "give birth to the 20th century" as he later puts it, experiencing several visions towards the end of the book that allude to the idea that his murders change the course of history, including the "birth" of other killers (Ian Brady and Peter Sutcliffe, I think), influences on future serial killings that took place twenty and fifty years afterwards, possibly war, etc. Not to mention that the other things they have in common are industrialism, poverty / inequality, architecture surprisingly enough, references to the era, etc. Hell, I think that most of the street names, if not all of them, during the manpig attack on London segment of the game are those where the Whitechapel murders took place as well. So yeah, interesting connection of sorts, despite the two main characters trying to achieve opposite things, although technically Mandus would still have "given birth" to the 20th century under his mad plan, albeit in a very different way. Interesting to note that there's at least some similarities there, if you're like me and enjoy that sort of thing anyway.
AND THUS THE SPOILERS ARE MARKED AS ENDING HERE

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Posts: 3290

I forgot the Jack reference actually! I should have mentioned that

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Posts: 240

Great game. Don't know about all of you, but I would love to see more Indie developers have a go at working on another developer's IP because, despite all the people hilariously calling this undeserving of the Amnesia game either because it's not as scary or removed several mechanics, I thought this was a really great collaboration, and, according to a blog post on Frictional's website, something they're very pleased with themselves, which I think's pretty nice.

Those of you who enjoyed the story should perhaps Google information on the Aztecs, or a forum post or something comparing the game to them, which I presume must exist somewhere on the interwebz (underneath all the "Not a game!" naysayers, mind you) - if ever any of the Mandus' dialogue or some of the unusual items you find lying around confused you, it might make those more clear. Great attention to detail, that's for sure. They have a reference to Jack the Ripper at one point too interestingly enough, and that brought to mind Alan Moore's From Hell, if any of you have ever read that graphic novel (but not the film because it's just shit). They both share a few themes here and there, particularly the coming of the next century, so I kind of wondered if Dan Pinchbeck had ever read it.

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Posts: 1317

Yep! And yous guyses opinion is misguided!