Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Review

Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie Developer: The Chinese Room Publisher: Frictional Games Release Date: Sep 10, 2013

Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie
Developer: The Chinese Room

Publisher: Frictional Games

Release Date: Sep 10, 2013

The horror genre seems to be lost to the history of video games. Many franchises try to replicate the sense of foreboding that games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil had once perfected. Unfortunately, modern games tend to lose their horror aspirations in the trappings of an action game.

Developer The Chinese Room has had a winning formula in the past for terrifying their fans. The biggest gameplay element that can detract from the scares is making the player too capable. If I can easily kill anything that I come across, what reason do I have to be scared?

The Chinese Room has taken this theory to heart in all of their horror games—from Penumbra to Amnesia: The Dark Descent to Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. These games all make you about as capable as a paper bag at keeping the denizens of hell at bay. All of these games are as much puzzle adventure games as they are horror games—rejecting the temptation to enable the player.  

The only option the player ever had in past The Chinese Room games was to hide or run. This created tension every time you were forced to share a room with a blood-thirsty monster. Many terrified minutes were spent hiding in a dark corner, praying that you weren’t spotted.

This terror was amplified by the inclusion of a sanity meter (the player would lose his sanity if he stayed in the dark too long or if he stared at the monsters). This added what might be the single most terrifying thing in all of gaming, a ticking clock. A ticking clock doesn't get the respect it deserves. Nothing amps tension like knowing that your back is against a deadline. If I had to point to a single mechanic that made Amnesia: The Dark Descent as scary as it was it would be this insanity mechanic. I feel justified in this theory by the fact that Amnesia:  A Machine for Pigs decides to remove it, as I had no incentive to challenge the monsters to anything scarier than a game of hide and seek.

Disclosure: I don’t get scared easily. Whether it be games, movies, or literature, I am never able to suspend my disbelief long enough for the terror to seep in. Where my terror comes from is the idea of failing. Knowing that my time is running out, my heart is throbbing and my palms are sweating. I got none of that from Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. I had no incentive to test my oppressors. The monsters pace their environment in predictable patterns, so, without a sanity meter pressing me to move, all I needed to do was wait until they passed to make my move. It didn't matter that the room had monsters in it. These monsters could have been replaced by a timed laser alarm or a moving video camera and it wouldn't have changed the gameplay in the slightest. Imagine yourself playing a different game--say Metal Gear Solid. Gameplay in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is basically every stealth section where you are crawling around in that famous orange box, just without any of MGS payoff.

There is no sense of urgency in this game. Enemies are both abstract and overexposed; objectives are straightforward; puzzles are basic, and the jump scares are telegraphed from a city block away. This is unfortunate because it relegates Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs into a class more akin to an interactive movie than a horror game.

There is a story to Amnesia, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what it is. Your children are missing, and you are searching for them. Some mysterious man keeps calling you, leading you deeper and deeper into a factory with assertions that helping him will help your children. There are mutant pig monsters. The whole game, I think, is supposed to be some kind of allegory to how people are the swine and they must be cleansed, but I could be wrong. To be honest, the ending becomes very pretentious and convoluted. I will have to get around to reading some other person's synopsis that has the time to decipher this nonsense.

I really wanted to like this game. I was begging to be scared the entire time I was playing. Unfortunately, I spent most of my time bored, questioning why it was that I kept going. The game was filled with interesting scenery, but they felt hollow due to the tasks that I needed to perform before advancing to the next area.

Pros:  

+ Interesting environment

+ Complex story... if you can figure it out

Con:

 - Horror game that isn't scary  

- Gameplay has been reduced to barest elements

- WTF was that story? 

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Amnesia is a game that lost focus of what it wanted to be. In an attempt to tell a thought provoking story, Amnesia lost that which made it such a novelty in the first place. It’s unfortunate that such a focused and successful horror game has become so very… bland. If you're easily scared and want something manageable then maybe this is the game for you. If you want to play an on-rail adventure game where gameplay consists primarily of you choosing the speed at which you advance then maybe this is the game for you. If you want to be terrified to the point of being afraid to see what’s around the next corner then you might want to look somewhere else.