As you might expect from the title, in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, you play as a man who has lost his memory. You awake in the middle of the night with a single thought – you must find your children.
You explore empty hallways of your estate full of strange secret passages as visions of your boys haunt you and a mysterious machine rumbles beneath your feet. There is nowhere to go but down. Amnesia is a popular cliché in video games because it’s incredibly easy to put the player in the shoes of a person who should know what’s going on.
This is so having to explain why he seems to need everything in the world around him explained to him as if he is seeing it for the first time can make sense. For whatever reason, horror games do this almost all the time, Clock Tower, Fatal Frame, Silent Hill, Siren, Rule of Rose and more have all done this. Amnesia obviously kind of embraces all of this.
The problem here though is that it kind of lays all of its cards on the table a bit too early, so that when certain revelations come later in the game, you pretty much figured them out over an hour ago. At that point the impact isn’t really there.
It’s fairly obvious from the start that the man whose eyes you’re looking through is not a good one. His level of depravity is quite spectacular actually. As you travel downward you collect diary entries that detail his decent into madness. There also The Machine, and an ominous stranger, who happens to sound a lot like you.
He beckons you to repair The Machine in order to rescue your children trapped in its bowels. You know, the same children you keep seeing out of the corner of your eye, who keep beckoning you to follow them deeper into The Machine. See where this is going yet?
The big reveal of A Machine for Pigs falls decidedly flat, but along the way there’s plenty of disturbing imagery that will stick with you for a while after your done playing. The dairy entries that you pick up along the way are also amazingly well written, even if the over arcing narrative is lacking. The things A Machine for Pigs does well are so astoundingly powerful.
Behind a convoluted story about a man building an army of Man Pigs for some reason are subtexts about the dehumanization of the Industrial Age, class warfare, and vapid consumerism. It’s the kind of thing I want to show people who aren’t interested in video games, but then I can’t do that without talking about the Man Pigs and sounding insane. That’s why I’m so hard on it. It’s so close to greatness.
The Man Pigs aren’t even frightening. In the original Amnesia game, looking directly at monsters could actually kill you, but here you can look your enemy without fear. The game instead relies on creatures that are far more aggressive and physical, yet far less threatening. You can literally run circles around them and they need to hit you three times before they kill you.
They aren’t even likely to hit you once unless they catch you off guard or you make the mistake of accidentally running down and dead end. Even if they do kill you, you are only dropped just a few steps from where you fell. It might be more accessible than the original game, but it makes encounters non-threatening.
There’s absolutely no sense of tension, and that’s kind of the whole point to this game. The Man Pigs don’t serve the narrative or the gameplay. I don’t know why they exist, other than to make a vague connection to The Dark Decent.
The other half of the gameplay is puzzles that usually involve finding a thing and carrying it somewhere. The problem here is that usually you can solve these puzzles without even realizing what you are doing or why you’re doing it.
When you encounter something of interest you’ll get little hints, but these hints tend to exist to tell you what you are doing as much they tell you what to do. There are so few things you can interact with that you can easily wonder around and just scan over everything until you find the one thing you can pick up and take some place else.
Often times when I discuss video games with friends that don’t play them, I find myself saying really strange things that border on embarrassing. Games can deal with a lot of compelling subjects, but words like, nanomachines, zombies, demons, clones, and space marines invariably creep in, and help people that are without a healthy respect for pulp to dismiss them, and make me seem like an idiot.
That word in A Machine for Pigs is Man Pig. I talk about storytelling a lot, and while the storytelling here is very good, I almost panned it. It’s not the idea of a Man Pig that really bothers me, but the fact that at no point in the game was the reason for their existence made clear, and they don’t really add anything to the gameplay either. They’re just sort of there.
This is a very easy game to dislike, or at least it’s a very easy game to write negatively about to get through a review. The game play is barely there. The puzzles are repetitive, and the few enemies that do exist are entirely non-threatening and rather silly.
There are gameplay elements from the first game that are absent here and sorely missed, and the environments are not nearly as interactive. Still, A Machine for Pigs is an experience worth having, you just have to know what you’re getting into.
The first Amnesia is a better game, more than this one in almost every way; so if you haven’t played that yet, go play that one first. If you’re a fan of the original game, you’ll still probably be a fan of A Machine for Pigs. If you love horror games, then A Machine for Pigs is another game for your collection.
It isn’t a bad game, it’s just a game that aims for greatness, disappoints, and ends up being merely adequate. I realize I could level these kinds of complaints at almost every game I review, but I’ve never played a game that is so completely carried on the strength of its story alone.