Ahh, 1899 London. Besides the Victoria & Albert Museum foundation going down, the highest recorded Cricket score ever, and one of the rocks of Stonehenge falling over, not a whole lot happened. The Chinese Room and Frictional Games decided to put out their own far darker version of this time period with their game Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. This version of history has a hell of a lot more murderous pig-men monsters than I remember from historical texts.
You play, in first-person view, as industrial superstar Oswald Mandus; not to be confused with Dark Souls’ Manus: Father of the Abyss. Oswald is your everyday, workaday dad who took a trip to Mexico, started getting wrapped up in crazy machine creating dreams, and lost months of time. Similar to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the game starts with you waking up and not really having any idea what’s going on and what you’re supposed to do – in a good way. That is, other than to survive. The whole “amnesia” element still reigns strong in the second title of the franchise.
This game feels and plays like The Dark Decent for the most part. You slowly crawl through corridor to corridor, solving puzzles, trying to not get murdered by horrific monster which you have no means to defend yourself from. While all these features are in fact familiar, A Machine for Pigs has changed each of these features in a way to make fans of the series to remain on their toes. While this process has added new surprises and gameplay mechanics, it has also taken away from some of the staples of the franchise.
The entire game isn’t a corridor crawl anymore. In A Machine for Pigs, there are actually some open areas. While these areas are mostly streets, the environmental change does wonderers to split up the monotony of interior crawls while luring you into a false sense of safety. After all, nothing would ever attack you on an open street now would it… WOULD IT?
Solving puzzles has changed since The Dark Decent. First off, you don’t have an inventory anymore. That means no more Sierra type putting items together or carrying specific items over from level to level. This also means all puzzles have to be solved via carrying an item from one place to another. Overall, this makes the puzzle-solving aspect of this game far easier than before. What you need is usually not too far from where you need to use it. This equals faster paced progression and less frustration, at least for me. Long/difficult puzzles have a tendency to pull me out of the freaky environments, which can hurt the overall experience.
The monster encounters in A Machine for Pigs felt completely different to me. In most cases, it felt like a stealth game that had me moving around in the darkness and dashing from cover to cover. Certain monsters will remain there until you get past it into the next room. My favorite wetting-myself moments in the original Amnesia came from hiding in closets and hearing the monster tear apart the room looking for me while I waited it out standing in my own excrement. I never had this sort of experience in Machine.
The encounters are a lot more forgiving as well. There were several times I was able to escape monster pig-men after getting hit by one, unlike in The Dark Decent. The Gatherers felt much more like relentless beasts of suffering.
Without spoiling too much, everyone's favorite monsters return in Machine. The Kaernk, or as most people know them, “the horrifying invisible monsters in the water with heavy footsteps,” return for a section of the game. I had almost pushed them out of my memory before I booted up Machine for Pigs. Oh well, I was never that fond of sleep.
The lack of insanity system made me sad. In The Dark Decent, whenever you stood in darkness, the whole room would get distorted and you'd start to slip into madness. During this process your breaths would get heavy and you could even fall over. To heal this effect you’d have to stand in light or activate your lantern. This system has totally been removed from A Machine for Pigs. On top of that, once you get your lantern, you can use it infinitely. There is no fuel/ammo system to limit your usage. I suppose that's a lot easier to get away with without the insanity feature. It all just felt wrong to me though.
The story undoubtedly lives up to the name Amnesia. For a solid chunk of the game, you have NO idea what you’re doing or why you’re listening to these phone calls. You pick up on your motive but nothing more. Through the environment, conversation, flashbacks, and messages, you get a deeper glimpse into the life of Mandus. The entire time I was playing I wanted to know where I was heading, for what purpose. And what is this machine for pigs? The notes you find do an excellent job in filling you in on plot you may have missed, so read them. You’ll question what to believe and even what is real. Great stuff!
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs tries too hard to be different from Amnesia: The Dark Decent. While the games do play similarly, the new aspects added in Machine do not sufficiently replace the elements lost from Decent. While I very much enjoyed A Machine for Pigs, I flew through the story much faster than the slow, terrifying crawl of the previous game. If you’re an Amnesia fan, you’ll definitely appreciate more of what you love, but in a very intentionally different way. The gameplay in Machine feels a lot friendlier and overall easier. The fear is definitely still present, but I adapted to it much faster this time around. Overall, I still recommend this game for fans of the survival horror genre.