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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs review: streamlined terror

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs carries a combination of Frictional's penchant for psychological terror and The Chinese Room's knack for creating a thought-provoking narrative, making this a game worth playing with the lights out.

There's a certain feeling of helplessness that comes with exploring an unfamiliar area. A stomach-churning sensation begins to sink in, and at the first sign of anything strange, you're ready to leap into the air, like Scooby Doo frantically jumping into Shaggy's arms. This is the feeling that drives Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. It's a stark reminder that developer Frictional Games understands the essence of fear, and that Dear Esther creator The Chinese Room can write a compelling story. A Machine for Pigs begins inside a strange mansion in the late 19th century, as an amnesiac named Oswald Mandus is looking for his missing children, as the specter of an infernal machine looms overhead. As the story progresses, Mandus explores different areas, finding journal entries and audio diaries that help fill in the blanks of his missing memories. Mandus' story is an interesting one, as I quickly found myself more than willing to brave the game's scares in order to fully flesh out his backstory. Mandus' journey centers around exploration, as the idea is to poke around and look for clues, with only a lantern to help light the way. The areas are intentionally darkened, so as to require the lantern, with the trade-off being that the light makes Mandus easier to spot. If you do get spotted by an enemy, there is no fighting back. Your only hope is to run, and with the entire world feeling dimly lit and claustrophobic, escaping can feel like a tense endeavor. One thing I noticed about A Machine for Pigs is that the Sanity Meter that helped define Amnesia: The Dark Descent is no longer there. Mandus can stare into the faces of horrific creatures without having to worry about going insane. On one hand, it's understandable, given the narrative. Without spoiling the finer points of the story, I can say that the premise isn't so much based on the unimaginable horrors that go bump in the night, as much as it is about seeing the unspeakable creations that have been unleashed by 19th century advancements. However, the Sanity Meter is an unfortunate loss, as it was such an immersive mechanic that made you feel like you were losing your own mind, as you helplessly observed your character's mental degeneration. With that said, the fear in A Machine for Pigs is very real, thanks to the masterful use of level and sound design. The world is built around darkness, with ambient parts of the environment helping provide some of the major scares. You can walk part of the opening mansion and become shaken by a sudden tremor or jump out of your chair as you hear a sudden scream nearby. Even the most subtle sounds, like the flowing wind and creaking floorboards help create the kind of tension that's lacking in a number of other horror games. I found myself getting the best experience by wearing my headphones and turning down the lights, as the sounds of whirring electrical machinery and screams in the distance just begs for it. Playing this game any other way would be a disservice.

Paths are straightforward, but no less frightening

Clearly, the focus of A Machine for Pigs is to provide a streamlined story experience, as many of the puzzles are easy to run through. They mostly consist of flipping switches or placing loose items into their proper slots. And though there are some dark branching paths that can be explored, the path is fairly linear. You might feel frightened, but you won't often feel lost. That partially led to me completing the game in about six hours, though the scares meant I didn't do it all in one sitting. Whether you prefer the psychological terror of Frictional's Dark Descent or the thought-provoking narrative of Dear Esther, A Machine for Pigs capably stands on its own in both departments. It's a heavy plot, wrapped in psychological terror, intricately-placed jump scares, and monstrous creations. It's worth experiencing, but make sure you turn out all the lights and grab your headphones to get the full Amnesia experience. [7]
This review is based on early downloadable PC code provided by the publisher. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is now available digitally for PC for $19.99. The game is unrated.
Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
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    September 13, 2013 12:00 PM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs review: streamlined terror.

    Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs carries a combination of Frictional's penchant for psychological terror and The Chinese Room's knack for creating a thought-provoking narrative, making this a game worth playing with the lights out.

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      September 13, 2013 12:34 PM

      "It's a stark reminder that developer Frictional Games understands the essence of fear, and that series creator The Chinese Room can write a compelling story."

      The Chinese Room created the Amensia series? Frictional developed A Machine for Pigs? I thought it was the other way around!

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        September 13, 2013 12:39 PM

        That's a mistake. The Chinese Room created Amnesia mod Dear Esther. Thanks for that.

        And yes, A Machine for Pigs is a collaboration effort.

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          September 13, 2013 12:43 PM

          Dear Esther was a HL2 mod, not an Amnesia mod. Right?

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            September 13, 2013 12:44 PM

            I'm on fire today.

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            September 13, 2013 12:46 PM

            Yeah, I can't remember what the mod it was based on but it had nothing to do with Amnesia, pre-dates it even. Free mod used Source and then remade years later using Source.

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          September 14, 2013 12:44 PM

          No worries! I thought I got it wrong in my head, haha!

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      September 13, 2013 12:46 PM

      This game is getting so much hate all around the net, from GAF to reddit, and on the Frictional forums. Too many people thought this was gonna be a direct copy of Amnesia: TDD. I sorta understand why, since it's kinda being marketed as a makeshift sequel. However, it's not! The sooner you get over this, the sooner you can appreciate the game on its own level. Its a thinking man's horror game - less reliant on the visceral hide and survive stuff from Frictional, and more earning its horror title from the themes of the plot and the atmosphere itself. Which is an impressive feat since most horror narratives are garbage.

      Make no mistake, if you're a die-hard video game horror fan, Hamnesia will not scare you. At all. If you're looking for TDD: 2, you'll be bored to tears. If you're looking for something unique, especially something with a very well told story that is beyond dark and has almost unbearably grotesque atmosphere, you'll love it!

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        September 13, 2013 12:50 PM

        I wouldn't classify myself as a die-hard and this game scared me quite a bit. It didn't have the fear factor of TDD, but I agree that this wasn't really the intent. This is far more story-based and while I think that inherently makes it less scary, it doesn't make it a bad game at all.

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          September 13, 2013 12:59 PM

          I think the longer you play AMFP in one sitting, the scarier it gets because the atmosphere is just relentless. It just kinda builds on itself and slowly wears down your nerves as opposed to hacking them to pieces all at once. I was aware that I wasn't in any real danger as the character in a video game, but I was still deeply unsettled by the general spooky happenings throughout the game.

          The themes are so disgustingly dark, though. There is one note in there that I think might be one of the most repulsive descriptions I've ever read! It was definitely the high point of the imagery, but the writing for the whole game is very strong.

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            September 13, 2013 1:10 PM

            I definitely wanted to be really careful not to spoil anything, because this story is well-told and very gruesome. The story and the imagery are huge parts of this game.

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        September 13, 2013 12:54 PM

        I'm not a die hard horror game fan but I was scared far more by A Machine for Pigs than I was The Dark Descent. So your mileage may vary. It definitely has a lot of haters, but I don't know why. Maybe it is expectations and wanting it to be something it's not, I was originally let down by some of the changes but that all went away once I got a little farther in. It's still a great experience with amazing atmosphere and sound especially. Some truly terrifying moments.

        I'm already sick of defending it because I genuinely loved it and it's getting far too much shit to keep up with and balance out. So much so I don't even feel safe to recommend it to others which is unfortunate.

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        September 13, 2013 1:11 PM

        And for those who are looking for the former, there is Outlast, which is great!

        I will give both a shot, for sure.

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        September 15, 2013 11:08 PM

        OK, I laughed at "Hamnesia". That's a great nickname.

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      September 13, 2013 5:07 PM

      I love the story and everything that is going on with these games - I just want a weapon. Running around without any defenses whatsoever is scary - no doubt - but I would at least like the ability to fight back somewhat (like in real life - ie: if I was an English guy in my house in the nineteenth century I may have a hunting rifle or something hanging around over the fireplace or something OR I could grab a kitchen knife or something to defend myself instead of nothing at all). I am not asking for a pulse rifle or anything but I would love a weapon.

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      September 13, 2013 5:10 PM

      Sanity meter was one of the shittiest mechanics, glad to see they got rid of it. I'll give this one a try just to see what else they improved!

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