“am·ne·sia (n) partial or total loss of memory, usually resulting from shock, psychological disturbance, brain injury, or illness.”
Amnesia: The Dark Descent was widely regarded as a masterpiece in what was considered to be, at the time of release, one of the most depleted genres of gaming : Survival Horror. Publishers of great Survival Horror games such as Resident Evil and Dead Space have, to a large extent, turned their back on the genre and instead opted to pursue a much more action focused experience. The results of these shifts into the third person action genre have been less than satisfactory in the case of the Resident Evil games, with the abysmal Operation Raccoon City and mediocre Resident Evil 6 having tarnished the name of the series. Luckily for Horror fans, Frictional Games came to the rescue and reignited interest in the genre with the release of The Dark Descent. Now, with the series’ reins having been handed to Dear Esther developers The Chinese Room, can Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs carry on from the success of the the original game or will we just want to forget about it entirely?
A Machine for Pigs is by far the most terrifying game I have ever experienced. There is a remarkable sense of tension created through the developers’ brilliant use of sound and music. The game’s soundtrack is one of its greatest assets, and is commonly called upon by the developers to build tension in dramatic moments. Even the main menu has an eerie, creepy feel to it, mainly due to the track played in the background. The game’s ambient sound effects are also brilliant. Whether it’s the eerie wind or the slamming of a door, everything seems adds to the immersive nature of the game’s world. As a side note, I highly recommend the use of headphones when playing it, even better if they are virtual surround sound compatible, as it really does add to the overall atmosphere of the game. You’ll constantly be looking behind yourself, in real life and in the game, as you go through the slower, yet perhaps even more tense, sections of the game.
It is a beautiful game by all accounts, and yet it runs surprisingly well on lower end machines. It was created on an updated version of the engine used to make The Dark Descent, allowing for vast improvements in many spheres of the game, most noticeably in the graphics. While not up to the standards created by next gen triple-A shooters like Battlefield 4, the game’s visuals certainly hold their own in the $20 download market and are a great improvement on The Dark Descent.
A number of different storytelling methods are employed by the writers of A Machine for Pigs. The most obvious, and yet also the most unreliable, plot development comes in the form of strange phone calls from a mysterious man as well as ghostly visions. These storytelling techniques drive the game forward while at the same time causing the player to question whether or not any of it is real. It could just as easily be a horrific nightmare as it could a grotesque, twisted reality. The player will also find notes scattered all across the world. Sometimes they tell their own story, sometimes they provide hints for what the player’s next move should be and some just contain verses of poetry which add to the overall atmosphere and flavor of the game. Voice recordings which tell the story of the character’s past can also be found.
The gameplay is undeniably simple, and yet genius at the same time, with the game consisting of very few genuinely challenging puzzles. Some may wonder how that can be considered genius, but it makes sense if you delve into theory behind horror as a game genre. The primary goal of a developer creating a horror game is to induce terror, or at least a great deal of tension, in their players. With this goal in mind, challenging gameplay becomes a huge hindrance and serves rather to break immersion than to provide the game’s fun, because as soon as the adventure stops moving, the tension is broken. A Machine for Pigs is in fact absolutely brilliant in its balancing and pacing of gameplay. The player still does enough to feel like a real part of the story without detracting from the relentless tension created by the other facets of the game.
A Machine for Pigs blends slow and creeping, almost Lovecraftian, tension building as the player explores the depths of the world with a number of more sudden, jarring jump scares, which are made all the more satisfying by the careful buildup of tension which precedes each of them. The result is a uniquely satisfying interactive horror experience which had me constantly checking my back and sleeping with the lights on. It must be emphasized, however, that the best – nay – the only way to experience A Machine for Pigs is late at night, in a dark room, only lit by the light from your screen, with headphones on set loud enough to block out the noises of the real world. Prepare yourself; it’ll be a long, terrifying night.
(Review code provided by Frictional games, thank you!)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 8/10
Gameplay/Design – 10/10
Visuals – 8/10
Sound – 10/10
Lasting Appeal – 9/10
Overall – 9/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: PC, Linux and Mac OS X
Developer: The Chinese Room
Publisher: Frictional Games