Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs – PC
Developer/Publisher: The Chinese Room/Frictional Games
Released: September 23, 2013
Genre: Survival Horror
Nerd Rating: 6/10
Link to Game
Reviewed by ryanvoid
Is ‘ham horror’ a genre? Not just for prominent use of pig metaphors, but for ham-fistedly cramming a metaphor down the audience’s throat until everything tastes like swine for a week? It is now. Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs is a fetid slab of ham horror.
Let’s face it: Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a tough act to follow. When indie developer The Chinese Room announced that they would be developing the follow-up to the sleeper horror hit, they also announced that they would be taking the game in a slightly different direction than its predecessor. This was one case where innovation wasn’t the same as improvement, though, and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs cut sling load on all of the elements that made Amnesia: The Dark Descent such a harrowing experience, substituting things like a sanity meter and a finite amount of lamp oil with “pig screams” and “slightly louder pig screams.”
But rather than spend the rest of this article whining that “They Changed It, Now It Sucks,” let’s focus on why Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs doesn’t stand on its own merits.
The story starts with tortured industrialist Oswald Mandus (get it? aren’t they clever? LOOK ON MY WURST, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR), who wakes up after a fever of several months to find that his children, Edwin and Enoch, have gone missing somewhere in the bowels of his enormous compound. As he explores the industrial hell he’s created and his memories come flooding back, it’s revealed that he created an infernal machine using the darker half of his psyche that wanted to murder everyone on the planet with the cunning use of pig people, and he embarks on a journey to stop it.
Still with me?
The thing is, the story is enormously clever. It keeps you guessing, the reveals are well-paced, and the emotional payoff at the end of the game feels earned. There are a lot of layers here, and it’s a kind of complexity that never comes off as contrived; it deftly explores free will, war, industrialism, infanticide, and hubris. The dialogue is compellingly creepy (a dying murder machine full of pigs screeching, “please, Daddy don’t kill me,” is one of many reasons I will never smile again) and the storyline is legitimately disturbing.
“But Ryan,” I hear you cry, “what do murderpigs and machines with daddy issues have to do with Amnesia?”
As it happens, NOT A BLESSED THING. It takes place in the same canonical universe, and totally-not-Ozymandias is driven mad with visions of the future from the same Orb that drove Daniel insane in The Dark Descent. The Chinese Room depended on the enthusiasm of fans of The Dark Descent in order to sell copies based on name recognition while simultaneously removing almost everything that made Amnesia, well, Amnesia.
The gameplay is by turns tiresome and frustrating as you dart from puzzle to puzzle, avoiding pig monsters and answering phone calls from The Engineer, who taunts you about your missing children. While the atmosphere is appropriately industrial and jarring, the three-hour gaming experience has all the urgency of a sprint to the bathroom. Instead of worrying about conserving lamp oil while being driven insane by hiding in the shadows, you just hide behind corners and wait for the pig abominations to snuffle away so that you can hurry to the next Rubik’s cube. Rather than interacting with an item inventory by figuring out how an item is supposed to fit together and interact with the environment, you fetch one item at a time on a boring scavenger hunt.
Without any kind of health bar, and without any real opportunity to hide from a pigman once it’s found you, you stand and wait for death so that you can respawn and be sneakier next time. This creates an all-or-nothing experience in which it doesn’t matter if you’ve been detected or not, because you know that there’s no way to hide once you’ve been caught, and that a compelling chase scene will never result in Oswald barely escaping with his life, bloodied and in need of health (and lamp oil.)
Such an ambitious story deserves better gameplay instead of turning Amnesia into such a predictable and tedious experience. This isn’t psychological terror OR survival horror, technically speaking – it’s a jaunt through a haunted abattoir, and a glad-handing opportunity to appreciate all that clever, clever dialogue. Without the high stakes of the original or its emphasis upon finding ways to stay alive while pursued by unspeakable horrors, it becomes a forgettable sophomore effort full of tired horror gaming conventions. If it lives in The Dark Descent’s madness-inducing shadow, it never worries about finding a way out.
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