Horror games received a much needed shock to the system in 2010 when Frictional Games, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and forced to self-publish digitally before such things were common, released Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It was a revolution. Amnesia doubled sales estimates as word spread of a new breed of horror game. Rock, Paper, Shotgun called the original Amnesia game “the most successfully frightening game to have been made." Popular opinion agreed. Word spread. The game’s oppressive atmosphere, spectacular sound design, interactive environments, and sanity breaking hallucinations redefined, not horror, but terror in the interactive medium. Horror fans consider having actually finished Amnesia: The Dark Descent as a badge of honor, so harrowing is the experience. It is no small wonder that fans of fright have been eagerly anticipating that classic’s follow-up, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, for some time now.
Those fans of the original Amnesia are certainly in for a scary surprise. A Machine for Pigs (AMFP) isn’t scary, let alone terrifying.
Nearly every mechanic that set the original apart from the rest of the pack has been removed. Gone are days of carefully managing fuel for your light sources. In fact, AMFP doesn’t even feature an inventory system. Gone is the interactive environment that would cause self-inflicted jump-scares by carelessly knocking over a wayward bottle. Gone is the sanity mechanic that forced players to balance risk versus reward of hiding in the mind-shredding darkness from even more terrifying creatures. In fact, AMFP only features a handful of encounters with any manner of creature, the first of which doesn’t occur until more than ninety minutes into this five hour adventure.
This pacing and lack of danger is the true downfall of AMFP. The Dark Descent mastered the cycle of building tension, placing the player in mortal danger, then giving a moment of release before beginning the cycle again. AMFP instead opts to play clichéd gags, such as darting shadows and shaking doors, so very many times without any actual threat that these already tired tropes become more annoying than ominous. Fortunately, these cheap, ineffective ploys are abandoned after the first third of the game and replaced with… Well, nothing. Lots and lots of nothing happening. Even AMFP’s designers seem aware that players will find themselves dying more for boredom than fright in the first half of the game and felt it necessary to resort even more clichéd devices like ghostly children’s voices and mysterious phone calls that inform the player to, literally, “Keep going.” This is taken to bizarre extremes in the game’s finale where the player in inexplicably teleported between the level’s few interesting locations rather than making them walk. The whole experience feels very much like the developers were actually bothered by the fact that there needed to be any gameplay whatsoever and took every opportunity to cut it out. However, games are neither movies nor prose, but interactive experiences.
Just to complete their list of beat-to-death horror tropes, every encounter with the supernatural is telegraphed a mile off with the telltale flickering of the lights. While this mechanic works to build tension in some games, NOTHING hurts you in AMFP. Out of the six or so ‘dangerous’ situations, half require you to wait in a dark corner until something pasees and half require your to run down a linear hall and close a door or climb a ladder. In either case, you’ll usually only be ‘in danger’ for about six seconds every forty-five minutes. I had a grand total of two deaths in my time with the title. One was caused from bug that let my character fall through a hole in the level geometry. The other from going into an area I knew I shouldn’t have without solving a preceding puzzle.
So, this Machine ditches survival, horror, and pacing. What DOES A Machine for Pigs include? How ya feel about flipping switches? Got a lot of those! No? How about turning cranks? That do anything for ya? Well, there were a couple spots where you can push something. Pushing stuff is cool! Oh, and I almost forgot about the challenging part where to have to put some gears in a box. Don’t worry. The gears are all right in front of the box and automagically snap into their correct place. There are a couple more elaborate of the Myst-style contraptions to work, but they all come with a note taped to them telling you how to do it.
AMFP does have a fairly interesting story going for it. While not particularly original, this supernatural steampunk retelling of The Island of Dr. Moreau contains enough unique details to make the story fresh. There are even a few (Literally, three) set pieces that are truly spectacular and drive home the scale and nature of the proceedings. Allusions and tie-ins with devices and persons from the original Amnesia game are a nice touch but also twists the blade in fans’ guts that this barely-interactive pop-up book is the long awaited sequel to that survival-horror masterpiece.
As a horror themed adventure game, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is adequate. There are nonsensical machines to fix/break and an interesting story to follow. The positively glacial pacing of the first third picks up eventually and the hackneyed gags dry up. The true terror lies in the fact that this Machine carelessly slaughters the still newborn legacy of Amnesia. It’s not that AMFP tried and failed to live up to its predecessor. It never even tried.
Reviewer Rating: 3/5 – Big Man, Pig Man. Ha Ha, Charade You Are