Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a hide and seek survival rpg set in the same universe as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. While not a sequel to The Dark Descent, the game holds some of the same elements of design and a portion of the lore that almost justify the link to the Amnesia brand. However, I would suggest playing this game as if it had no relation to The Dark Descent. If you compare the two you it will end in disappointment. Instead, judge A Machine for Pigs on its own merits.
You follow the story of a man named Oswald Mandus. Mandus made his wealth as an industrial butcher in the dark and seedy depths of London at the dawn of the 20th century. In a stirring excursion to Mexico Mandus was struck with a fevered delirium and returns to consciousness in his London home. Upon his awakening he observes that he has no recollection of the past months and begins his journey to the heart of his amnesia and the machine for pigs.
Soundtrack -The game has an absolutely stunning soundtrack written by Jessica Curry. It emphasizes great moments of distress, sadness and tension with powerful melodies and dramatic notes. As you stir through the machine the music almost resembles a pulsing heartbeat giving life to the great behemoth child of Oswald Mandus. Even if you decide to skip the game you may still wish to purchase this soundtrack.
Plot – Without a second thought I can say that the most interesting and enjoyable aspect of this game is the remarkably philosophical plot. Mandus dives without hesitation into the dark and brooding machine built beneath the heart of London and as he descends into its darkness he is met with the profound discovery of the nature of human life and of the machines purpose. Because this is one of the few redeeming qualities of the game I find myself almost required to refrain from explaining further so that you may experience those stunning realizations without critical points being spoiled here and now. Needless to say, if you enjoy a worthy pondering at the end of a game a Machine for Pigs should be on your to-do list.
Nothing says danger quite like a well lit fully visible hallway.
Before we plunge into the logistical nightmare of discussing A Machine for Pigs enormous quantity of disappointments lets first take great care to realize that this game is not The Dark Descent. This game plays out more like a movie than an interactive story. You don’t get to make decisions and gain nothing from exploring and experimenting. You are on a fixed path and remain on that path to the bitter end.
With all that said if you enjoy games that do not require involved exploration and decision making and simply wish to watch an amazing story unfold this game would fill that role for you wonderfully. If however, you are similar to me and enjoy exploring every drawer, cupboard and coffee cup to sustain the feeling of an “omniscient guide” for the protagonist whose edicts can have profound consequences in the outcome of the story then this game will likely not be your cup of tea. Now ladies and gentlemen it is time to explain in some great depth why so many people were disappointed with a Machine for Pigs.
Enemies – One of the great successes of A Dark Descent is that it created and environment and antagonist hierarchy that truly had the capacity to scare you. Frequently you would become so overwhelmed with anxiety that you would often need to pause the game to rest and recover from the ordeal. Unfortunately, the opposite effect has been created in A Machine for Pigs.
The primary adversary is so frequently exposed to the player and with such benign consequences that they almost became comical. Intelligent behavior was almost completely non-existent. Escaping a confrontation was often reduced to walking briskly past enemies because they were slow, cumbersome and completely devoid of any desire to do anything but wander poorly designed patrol patterns.
“Oh hey there, whats up bro?”
Perhaps the most alarming attribute of the enemy is that they ceased to be an enemy and became an overused plot device. More often than not you would confront an enemy just to witness him run into a previously locked door, conveniently unlocking it in the process and marking the previously mentioned “one and only path” to follow. I often found myself meticulously checking every door but the one just entered by the enemy to discover that a dozen doors were locked and for the hundredth time I’m duped into following my enemy into the only available path.
The neutering of this critical element of the game and its capacity to scare me robbed this game of so much enjoyment that as I finished the game (By merely walking at a brisk pace and experiencing almost no threat that couldn’t be defeated by walking nonchalantly) I was irate with the developers and their utter failure to grasp the basics of fear in gaming. The mantle of horror was picked up and promptly left on the cutting room floor in a Machine for Pigs.
Interaction – As we have mentioned before this game plays out more like a low budget horror movie than a game. Your input is irrelevant and your experience would not change if you were to watch things unfold instead of engaging in the story. Why is this? Because your ability to make decisions has already been taken from you like crayons being taken from a child learning to color within the lines.
364 doors in this place, 27 of them are unlocked, only 1 goes somewhere useful
There were too many locked doors and absolutely no freedom to wander and interact with your world. It was all too obvious that the only unlocked door in a hallway was the only option you had and as such you were completely robbed of independent thought. Do as you are told children, you have no other choice.
Reduced interactivity also meant that everything you had the opportunity to interact with was almost certainly plot critical. This feature of being able to interact with nothing but what was essential made you feel like you had nothing to explore or discover, your future was predetermined and you were just along for the ride. There were no resources like tinderbox and laudanum that added the element of scarcity to The Dark Descent. With nothing to collect there was no point in searching closets, drawers or tearing off every book on a shelf in a rampant fervor for that one critical resource that could alleviate your feelings of anxiety.
Only moonshine can make you forget Mandus!
Fear– Rarely was A Machine for Pigs scary or anxiety inducing. Everything was predictable or terribly cliché. It was too well lit, the enemies were far too nonthreatening and the course of things was too predictable to create any real moments of distress. You never felt a sense of urgency and with all the boogies and ghostly images you could get bored of the over-used horror elements. Because none of my criteria for a horror game were met in the slightest I’d have to insist that this game be relabeled as a story adventure game rather than a horror survival.
Puzzles – “Puzzles” is using the term very lightly. In reality you’re just flipping switches and not really solving an equation. There is no calculation or thought involved, you simply perform mundane activities cramming something into a singular slot and proceeding without having gained or experienced anything interesting.
Length – It was short, too short to really explain anything that is happening. Why does Mandus have amnesia, why are these things happening around him? All the game really ever does to further your understanding of events is introduce you to notes, that while curious and sometimes grotesque, don’t really explain the situation. When you come to the apex of the game everything is “revealed” but very little of it is actually explained. Those who followed the lore of The Dark Descent may be able to come to conclusions but really a great deal is left up to your imagination. You may consider this a good thing but I must insist that it is simply inadequate story telling skills.
I know that if the game was not titled “Amnesia:” and portrayed as an experience happening in the same realm as the original this game would not be perceived nearly as poorly. However, they did portray it as such and it was to their great detriment when they were unable to deliver a game coming even close to the spirit of the first.
Rub-a-dub-dub, Why is Mandus watching you in the tub?
Aside from Mandus being a total pervert this game had an interesting combination of tremendous voice acting talent and absolutely dreadful script. The story was tragically beautiful but the story teller was sparse on details and expected the audience to fill in far too many blanks. A Machine for Pigs had a whole lot of potential but it was over-hyped and released too early. For the cost it is a decent game and even being so critical of it I would suggest playing it because while it falls short in many regards it is still a game worthy of a rainy afternoon.
Go forth now and consume, fill your snouts with the hearts of man my darling piglets.