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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Review

After several delays, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs has finally arrived. It is a highly anticipated indirect sequel to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, one of the most popular horror games of all time. Not only was it popular; Amnesia is one of few modern games that actually is a horror game. The standard for horror games has dropped so much that people consider games like Dead Space to be horror games, which are nothing more than corridor shooters with little emphasis on atmosphere, unpredictability, difficulty, and with little attempt at even frightening the player.

Like the Penumbra franchise, Amnesia helped revolutionize the horror genre, which is something that hasn’t been done since Silent Hill in 1999. One of the things t hat stood out, among many other things, is the removal of any sort of combat, making the player utterly helpless, leaving them with several options: run, hide, sneak, or set up a distraction and escape while you can. Gameplay was much more dynamic and open than previous horror games. In addition, Amnesia was a story-driven game with creative, thought-provoking storytelling, and it provided some of the most fantastic, memorable atmosphere in video game history, with perfect audio and a distinctive visual design. It’s one of the absolute scariest games ever made, along with Penumbra, Cry of Fear, Anna: Extended Edition, and Underhell, exceeding the standard set by Silent Hill in this regard.

A Machine for Pigs is created by a different studio than those who developed the Penumbra franchise and first Amnesia, though it is a studio we’re familiar with: thechineseroom. They brought us Dear Esther, a Source mod turned game, which proved that they have a strong base for creative, thought-provoking storytelling which is a rarity these days. Can Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs succeed in this area, while providing the amazing atmosphere and terror from the first game? Go on through the next pages to see the answer.

Before going on, I’d like to report an isolated game-breaking bug I’ve discovered. At first, I thought only I had this problem but I’ve found one other person with this issue. But that’s it, just the two of us. It must be system-specific, I had this issue in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified as well, but I seem to be the only one, and it’s easy to fix it on Unreal Engine 3 games.

The problem was, when playing, my camera kept rotating to the left on its own. This is the result of some mouse-gamepad compatibility issue. Turning down the gamepad look sensitivity slows the turning, but the game doesn’t let you disable it. To fix it, you have to head to Documents\Amnesia\pig\Your profile (whatever you named it in-game)\user_settings.cfg. You have to set Gamepad Look Sensitivity (or whatever they call it) to 0, and then you have to set the file to read-only. Be warned! You can no longer change general game options after doing this, so if you have this issue, use this fix AFTER launching the game and changing any settings you may want to change.

Chances are, you will NOT encounter this. It looks like only two people in the entire world encountered this issue.

Closer Look

“He who makes a beast of himself removes himself from the pain of being human” – Dr. Samuel Johnson

The year is 1899

Wealthy industrialist Oswald Mandus awakes in his bed, wracked with fever and haunted by dreams of a dark and hellish engine. Tortured by visions of a disastrous expedition to Mexico, broken on the failing dreams of an industrial utopia, wracked with guilt and tropical disease, he wakes into a nightmare. The house is silent, the ground beneath him shaking at the will of some infernal machine: all he knows is that his children are in grave peril, and it is up to him to save them.[/quote]

The basic plot of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is quite easy to grasp, as it was in the previous game. The player takes on the role as Oswald Mandus, and is immediately thrust into a dark, creepy, and seemingly abandoned mansion which belongs to him. The ground trembles everywhere he goes, his children are missing, everyone seems to have disappeared, as if things couldn’t get any worse for this poor widower.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a story-driven, first person psychological horror experience. It takes a much more minimalistic approach than the first game, abandoning many gameplay mechanics and focusing only on atmosphere and story.

It doesn’t take long to come across the main themes and motifs of this game, which present themselves everywhere you go. They’re seen in the level design, heard in the dialogues and monologues, read in-between the lines of your journal entries and scraps of notes you find.

For such a short game, the developers packed a lot if themes and ideas into the game’s story. You’ll see the game symbolically, metaphorically, but also more directly touch upon themes such as grief: how one deals with it and how it can push them over the edge. It also brings up technology and how it can be abused, and where it will lead us. A Nazi-like view of “perfected” human beings and a Utopian perfect world is also brought up constantly. It even reminded me of Fight Club at times, when a character essentially created an alter ego or doppelganger to carry out what he couldn’t do. Classes/rich vs poor in society is also brought up during the game. There’s a lot more: I could go on but I’ve said enough.

All of these ideas and more are touched upon perfectly: it didn’t overwhelm itself like Metro: Last Light did. Some are explored more deeply than others of course; there’s only so much a 6 hour game can do. This is the type of complex, creative storytelling that some of us just love to see, since it isn’t simple or straightforward, and takes a lot more creativity and talent to make.

The story unfolds as you play along, through dialogues which is new to the series (excluding flashbacks from the first Amnesia), monologues which can be found on recordings around the game world, journal entries automatically written by the player, and notes you’ll find waiting for you in various places. Some of them are hidden, so it’s important to explore.

There is less overall exploration in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, which takes a more linear approach than the more hub-based predecessors. This is a downside, and it makes the pace slightly faster since the game is much shorter. The world, however, is a nice change from the first game which took place in a castle. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs makes use of outdoor areas and many different indoor areas. The inclusion of outdoor areas is new to the series. It’s also more modern, and you’ll find yourself among lots of machinery, as if that was a surprise to anyone.

Once again, there’s no combat in this game. A single enemy is a spooky presence; you’ll have to run or hide. Enemy AI wanders around in a mostly unpredictable fashion, so it’s hard to get past an enemy, much less multiple enemies. What are the enemies, you ask? You’ll have to play and see for yourself.

It’s possible to set up a distraction to aid with these escape measures, but it’s harder to do since there’s less object interaction in this game. You can pick up some objects, rotate them and throw them, but most objects can’t be interacted with in this way, unlike the previous game.

There doesn’t seem to be much care when it comes to enemy encounters. Their presence isn’t nearly as terrifying as any enemy in the first game or Penumbra; they don’t make too many sounds, and their vision and hearing are as bad as enemies in Metro: Last Light and Dishonored. It’s too easy to move forward unscathed, without being in too much danger. Compared to the first game and Penumbra, where one enemy frightens you into panic, and you barely make it through with your life. It feels like the developers didn’t actually want to include enemies, and just threw them in last-minute. Only a few enemy encounters stand out as being well done, such as these.

But at least chase sequences do return, though they tend to be shorter.

There’s quite a bit of puzzle-based gameplay in this game as well, though all of it is simple. Even more simple than the first game, and nothing nearly as complex as, say, Anna: Extended Edition. Puzzles usually involve working with, surprise, machinery. Like the rest of the gameplay, puzzle gameplay has been streamlined. The developers were only intent on delivering an atmospheric, story-driven experience and not much else. The puzzle gameplay is actually too simple.

The removal of most gameplay features is not desirable. It surprises me, though perhaps it shouldn’t have, seeing as how their previous game had no real gameplay to speak of. It worked fine for Dear Esther, which we saw as a showcase for their storytelling talent and art design, but for a full-fledged horror game that is expected to have some survival elements (like the previous game), this is a disappointment.

To clarify, the inventory system has been removed entirely. Therefore, the player automatically regenerates health, and the sanity system has been removed. The lantern has unlimited lifespan, so you can keep it on at all time. It merely flickers when you’ve kept it on for extended amounts of time. The tinderbox lighting system has been removed, and there is considerably less object interaction.

For those of you who never played the first game and aren’t aware of what some of those features are, I’ll briefly explain: the sanity meter is a system that was present in the first Amnesia game, as well as all Penumbra games/expansions. What it does is simple: it causes the player to lose sanity when standing in complete darkness or looking directly at enemies. If your sanity is depleted, you collapse and have a mental breakdown, giving away your position, which pretty much leads to your death unless you’re extremely lucky. I don’t really mind the removal of this system, since not everyone is afraid of the dark or will panic if they stare at a monster. But the other features… those were essential.

A horror game needs an inventory system. This is part of the survival aspect, as seen in the previous game, as seen in Penumbra, as seen in the Silent Hill games which were no doubt inspirations for Amnesia and Penumbra. In the first Amnesia game, there were many different kinds of items you could pick up, such as health potions, oil for your lantern, object pieces which can often be combined in order to solve puzzles, and tinderboxes which were used to light various light sources around the environment. All of this is gone, and it simplifies the game too much. Sure there are lamps you can go turn on, but the removal of all of these features was just a bad move.

Check out the gameplay videos in this review to get a basic idea of how the game plays out. The videos are unedited and usually lengthy. Basically, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs consists of the player exploring the world, occasionally coming across an enemy, sneaking by, all while exploring the story of the game. There’s minimal world interaction; some basic puzzles and occasionally you’ll come across a desk or something that can be searched.

It seems that thechineseroom is well aware of some of the existing Amnesia memes. A scripted encounter with a barrel pays homage to PewDiePie, and there’s one randomly placed dead naked man in the middle of the streets, an homage to the use of flying naked dead men in many Amnesia custom stories.

So where does all of this leave Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs? Well, it’s more one-dimensional than the previous games. It focuses only on atmosphere and storytelling, though is more linear than the previous games which isn’t helpful for an atmospheric game. The more scarce use of object interaction also doesn’t do well for this game. It does succeed on these regards though, with the symbolic and thought-provoking storytelling with well written dialogues, monologues, and notes.

It’s also significantly less scary and tense than the first Amnesia game. On the one hand, enemy encounters are sometimes surprising, and they move around constantly. Plus, you’re totally helpless against them. Hurling an object will just slow them down, and barely at that. On the other hand, enemy encounters are very uneventful and they just aren’t frightening, plus it’s far too easy to sneak by enemies.

The atmosphere is still pretty good for a horror game: you can hear a pin drop or see a shadow move at the corner of your eye. But it leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to immersion, since it just isn’t scary or tense. The storytelling is excellent, and the disturbing story fits well within the horror genre, though I did find the story to be quite predictable.

As it stands, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is too streamlined, and too many gameplay features were removed for no good reason. And it isn’t scary enough. It feels like enemies are there just for the sake of them being there, and that the developers actually didn’t want to include enemy encounters. It seems they weren’t keen on delivering a horror masterpiece like the first game, instead it feels like they just wanted to make another minimalistic story game.

They totally removed mod support, for no good reason. If it wasn’t for all of the good custom stories available, I wouldn’t have anywhere near 150 hours in Amnesia: The Dark Descent like I currently do.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is yet another minimalistic story experience from thechineseroom, much like Dear Esther. It isn’t a terrifying horror game like it should be. The story stands out as being truly excellent, sure, but the game does not deliver in the horror department.

Audio & Visuals

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs uses the HPL2 engine, much like the first game. Visually, it doesn’t really look any different than the first game. It has plenty of new models, though they aren’t any more detailed. The engine has a distinct look, with heavy use of ambient occlusion (similar to Dragon Age: Origins). It also has other modern features like parallax mapping, though oddly enough I’ve found some stone walls that completely lack parallax mapping, which can’t be said for the first game.

Visual design is nice, texture quality is below average just like the first game, but the style and atmosphere make up for it. Where this game really shines however is in the audio. The soundtrack is perfect and quite subtle at times, but the sound effects are among the best I’ve ever heard, even exceeding the first game which had amazing sound. The diverse and audible footsteps, the sound of you knocking over an object and a monster hearing it, the echoes, everything is just spot on. You can creak open a door and put your head through it, and you’ll hear on the other side just as you should. Closing the door will drown out the sounds appropriately. Very good attention to detail when it comes to sound effects, and voice acting is very good as well. The downside however is that you need to do some file tweaking to get surround to work, and OpenAL HRTF isn’t particularly effective in this game.

I don’t have many complaints about the game in this regard. Higher res textures would be nice, better volumetric effects would be nice (since there’s quite a bit of fog/dust throughout the game), but the sound effects are amazing. I expect it to win our Best Sound Effects award for this year, edging out the already amazing Metro: Last Light.

Conclusion

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it delivers in terms of storytelling and atmosphere, with impressive use of symbolism and creative storytelling, as well as amazing audio effects and distinctive visual design to boost atmosphere. On the other hand, it isn’t very scary or tense at all. Enemy presence has little impact, the player is rarely in any actual danger, and most enemy encounters are utterly unremarkable. It feels like enemies were only included because of an obligation, not because they wanted to deliver a horror game.

Gameplay was dumbed down considerably, with many mechanics being removed and nothing being put back into the game. There’s much less object interaction, the game is several hours shorter than the predecessor, and it’s a bit more linear.

Given the amount of delays this game had, I can see some people expecting more out of it and being disappointed. But, like I said, it’s a mixed bag with both good and bad. The good does outweigh the bad, atmosphere and storytelling are what the game went for, and that’s where it delivers. But it is a letdown as a horror game, and this cannot go unnoticed… or unpunished.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is yet another minimalistic, story experience on the resume of thechineseroom. They seem intent on making only these types of games, like Dear Esther. It’s not a tense or scary horror game, and it’s a letdown to the Amnesia franchise. It isn’t truly an Amnesia game, it simply wears the badge. It could have been an excellent horror game, if thechineseroom wrote the story and basic script like they did, while Frictional Games did the actual gameplay.

For a breakdown of our scoring system, look here. For reference, Amnesia: The Dark Descent (predecessor for this game) scores a 93/100 from us.

  • Presentation: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs lacks any sort of intrusive DRM. It has the same launcher and same options as the previous game. However, it has its share of technical issues. Most people experience horrible stutter at a few specific points in the game, and for others this stutter can lead to crashes (but this is very rare). 15/20
  • Story: Creativity is what this game goes for, not relying on straightforward storytelling. It’s a strong, complex story, that packs a lot considering the short length of the game. There’s a lot of reading between the lines, and the heavy use of motifs and symbolism throughout the game to piece together the story is very good. It’s one of the best stories I’ve found in gaming, above Bioshock and up there with the classic Silent Hill games, though nothing will ever dethrone Silent Hill 2. 20/20
  • Gameplay: This game has much less gameplay than the first, so it will get much less points in this section. I’ll remove two points for the complete lack of an inventory, two points for the unlimited lantern, one point for the additional linearity compared to its predecessor, one point for the lack of tinderboxes, and one point for reduced amount of object interaction. It just isn’t scary or tense, and it’s too easy to remain undetected and stay out of danger. 13/20
  • Audio & Visuals: Technical graphics haven’t improved, but they get the job done. The only possible eye-sore are the low res textures. Oddly enough, HDR is gone too. On the other hand, the distinctive look and style is great, the soundtrack and voice acting are very good, and the sound effects are some of the best in existence which really saves its score here. Even though it uses the OpenAL audio API, it is limited to stereo and doesn’t seem to support 3D HRTF. All sounds come from the same channels. Tweaking is needed to get proper HRTF and surround, but such tweaks are easy to do (url=http://pcgamingwiki.com/wiki/Amnesia:_A_Machine_for_Pigs#Audio_settings]see here[/url]). Nonetheless this will be scored against, we shouldn’t have to fix such a thing. 17/20
  • Lasting Appeal: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is only about 6 hours long, and the lack of mod support does not do the game any favors here. It’s slightly more linear than the previous game as well. 10/20
  • Overall: 75/100 (Tolerable)

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