I've had Amnesia The Dark Descent and Penumbra in my Steam account for quite some time now, so long in fact that it was a little embarrassing that I hadn't gotten round to playing them yet. Among a sea of about three hundred Steam games though who can blame me. Well I decided to make a change considering that Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was due for release; I had to get my act together and rightfully I did and then I went straight into Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.
The second that you run Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs the instant the menu appears you know you’re in for a treat, it makes an impact; from the booming music that touches you from its sheer presence and eerily lit background of machinery to draw your attention. Now as this is the kind of game that you only really get to experience once I’m going to promise not to spoil anything but at the same time let you know what I thought of the game at the same time, if I was talking spoilers, you'd know I really enjoyed it.
You play a seemingly wealthy fellow named Oswald Mandus who has recently returned home from a trip to Mexico that sadly went horribly wrong. The year is 1899 in Victorian London, and you wake up in your own bed that oddly has a cage around it. Quite unsure of how much time has passed and where anyone else is, it is then when you jump into the game. For those that haven’t experienced a game like Amnesia before you may feel a little unguided at first. The game is minimalistic in controls and hand holding, plus you can also turn off all hints should you know the controls beforehand or not want any text on screen. Either way there isn’t much that you need to learn, it uses the standard keyboard controls for player movement, crouch and run so any pc gamers out there will feel at home and the other controls you need to know are all based around interactions.
If I’m truly honest I spent most of the game in crouch and I’m sure you may as well because generally if you can see something, it can also see you, so hiding is your best friend. Crouching and hiding behind objects will help keep you a little safe, as long as you’re not crouching underneath a bright light of course. Amnesia has a light and dark system which isn't really explained for you, however I felt as long as I was in the dark and far away from things I was pretty safe. It does however feel like from my aversion of being seen that I could have spent a little time walking around admiring the paintings and dÃ©cor of the mansion instead of wondering when something was coming to get me.
Other than of course running and crouching, you’ll also want to get the hang of opening doors, not that it’s a tough thing to do, but if you wish to be quiet you’ll want to be careful and master how to perform a simple task like opening a door. The opening of a door is controlled with the mouse in a movement similar to how you physically open a door, you push forwards. This use of the mouse is also reflected in picking up and moving other items too. I did find that doors can be a little confusing when explaining if a door is push or pull. You do of course find out which way it moves or if it doesn’t very shortly after trying to open it, however be prepared that there could always be something behind the door.
You may think you’ll spend a lot of time in the dark, which is very true, but you'll pick up a lantern during the game which you can use to generate a bit of light. There is no use of tinderboxes though as there is no inventory in the game, if you were used to them from Dark Descent. You can only ever pick up objects and place them down as Mandus obviously has very small pockets that can only take pieces of paper. It is of course because The Chinese Room felt that A Machine for Pigs didn't need any form of inventory system and I was absolutely fine with this as it didn't then overcomplicate the game. This does mean the only way to create your own light in most cases is your lantern, but there are lamps dotted around in some rooms that you have the ability to turn on and off. Light can very easily draw attention to yourself though, so you’ll want to be careful with how you use it as you don’t want to attract unnecessary attention to yourself, but of course unless you want to ruin the game and turn up the gamma you will need to use your lantern sparingly unless you want to play by running into walls until you find a door in the pitch black.
That is pretty much the main interactions that you can make as a player, other than solve puzzles as it is a lot more of an exploratory game than Amnesia: The Dark Descent, you will encounter enemies, but you'll know when you're safe and be able to keep your distance in some cases. However this means they rarely overload you with an uncontrollable threat which I enjoyed as a lot of games these days will pointlessly throw enemies your way. With that said there were some instances where I was expecting an enemy as the stunning audio and lighting lead me to believe I should be careful, which in most examples was great as it heightened the tension, but on a rare occasion it felt like I actually wanted an enemy to hide from.
What you have to remember when playing A Machine for Pigs is that it is not the same game as The Dark Descent, I think they really make this quite clear from the start of the game through a variety of means that I won't spoil. However it’s not just in style of game, it’s also that A Machine for Pigs doesn’t feature certain elements that you may or may not have enjoyed from The Dark Descent. There is no sanity meter to increase the intensity of the game; this is all handled by moment to moment gameplay along with scripted moments where you still have full control just slowed down movement for example. This means the game has less of an insane impact at times, but I think that it plays fine without it as similar to Dear Esther, in A Machine for Pigs we're being told a story and it does a brilliant job of that.
A lot of the story in the game is told through exploring locations and finding notes that expand what you yourself know from spoken dialogue and what is told through the environment. Mandus will also take his own journal notes, but they feel like they mainly exist to help guide the player however it is quite subtle and can come across as a way to show that Mandus is also noticing things that you may be. You can of course ignore all of his own notes and pick up on interesting items within the environment yourself if you so wish.
Although the journals and notes are a great read for filling in pieces of the story I have a slight issue with them. When you open up a journal entry, if you’re sat in the dark the screens come across a little too bright, it's also the same with the loading screens. I wouldn't of course usually moan in any way about a loading screen or journal page, but when opened your eyes will no longer be accustomed to the dark and you’ll have to wait a little while until they are again, plus the brightness is quite harsh on your eyes after previously being in such a dark environment. You could of course turn the gamma down even more, but you don't really want to make it impossible for you to see things.
If there’s one thing that A Machine for Pigs seems to manage quite effortlessly is create tension, however there's more to the game than hiding from creatures, it's also got some very good puzzles within it. No longer will you be given a puzzle for puzzle's sake that has no connection with the environment around you. Each puzzle is built within logical situations where you need to solve x to progress onwards. Where x is something that is related to the story, environment and mechanically makes sense at the same time. This is great as there's nothing worse than playing through a really atmospheric game to get an abstract logic puzzle appear that has no direct connection with the game or story.
One of the highlights of the game for me would have to be the pig mask which is quite an iconic image, so you may have seen it before playing the game or at the top of this review, they appear quite frequently. I won't really go into any more detail than that, but for such a simple object I think of them as one of the most chilling things in the game. Yes there are more terrifying things in the game when compared to an inanimate object, but there's just something about them that puts me on edge.
As I’ve mentioned previously the music helps introduce you to the game, however it’s not just the music that creates the tension and atmosphere. It’s also the variety of sound effects, from Oswald breathing to the snort of a pig, they are of course something that you’ll hear fairly frequently dependant on the situation, but the chill tone of a telephone ring and the slight scribbling of pencils work really well. There are so many high quality sound effects used that just help to heighten the tension and it works astonishingly well. You'll still hear standard horror sounds like a sharp wind and the tick of a grandfather clock but they all add together to create a great example of how audio should be executed in a survival horror game, keeping the player on their toes, unsure of what will be round the corner.
Almost on a side note as they’ve done with the previous games I’ve got my fingers crossed that there will be a release of the soundtrack, either through a humble bundle or just as a direct payment through an online store as I would love for them to take my money so I can listen to the chilling music again and again and again. The music creates a very unsettling atmosphere that works together seamlessly with the environment and sound effects to create tension when required.
Sadly with A Machine for Pigs being a very dark survival horror game, it means that unless you want to be spotted, you won’t always get to appreciate the environment that you’re walking around in. With that said you do get a lot of detail within the environments when they want to make sure you see something, especially later on in the game, which is great because you get to see that they’ve put some thought into how these machines work, instead of just make something up that looks interesting. No matter what setting you're in, you’ll feel like you’re a part of the environment. One thing they definitely do well along with the machines is the grandeur of a rich aristocratic lifestyle which of course not only looks the part, but when empty as we know from other games, is great for creating an isolated and haunting atmosphere.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs may not be a direct sequel to Amnesia, it also may not be created by the original team or be directly similar through gameplay and mechanics. Meaning fans of the previous games could potentially be left a little disappointed if you wanted the same game re-skinned. I wanted a different experience, and I enjoyed what I played because I was given an interesting story. The Chinese Room took on a challenge and knocked it out of the water if you ask me, yes I've not told you a huge amount about what I really loved about the game, but I want you to experience thost moments for yourselves. They’ve created a brilliantly atmospheric game that reeks of tension and horror while also presenting you with a truly horrific story. Make sure to buy yourself some good noise cancelling headphones, turn all the lights off and get stuck in.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is available to buy from the 10th of September for £12.99 on Windows, Macintosh and Linux. So go pick it up and let me know if you agree with my score, of course without spoiling it for others. We spoke a little more be about Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs on Episode 353 of Gamercast, the episode will be up soon, if you want to hear more possibly spoiler filled details.