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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Review · 1:03am Oct 1st, 2013

Been awhile since I’ve bothered to blog, even about legitimate things (I should do this more often, maybe), so let me take a second to get real business out of the way first:

I’d intended to push myself toward the NaPoWriMo goals and get a bunch more WBH chapters written up, but at the beginning of September was when a fair bit of real life and site drama kept me from writing. By the time I was able to, it was already the 13th, and with close to half the month gone in a blink I decided to take the rest of the time off and try again to write 50k words in October. So… that’s my plan, and around Halloween I’ll make another blog explaining very carefully why I haven’t been able to meet it.
September also saw two game releases I’d been anticipating, and while GTA V shattered all my hopes and expectations to pieces and very well may be my favorite game of all time, the sequel to Amnesia fumbled the ball quite badly. So, I decided to write a review of it, because I actually hated it so much I wanted to stop playing, and telling myself I was going to write a review of it meant I had to finish the game before passing judgment. I considered doing something for GTA, but talking about how awesome it is has been the sole pastime of the entire internet since months before its release, so… I think I’d rather bash a more obscure game which should have been good, which almost every critic seems to think is good, but about which I couldn’t disagree more. So, even though a review really doesn't serve any purpose right now because everyone who wanted to buy it already has and I doubt anyone has cause to value my opinion about gaming anyway, writing it was somewhat cathartic for me and so I decided to go ahead and post it, if only because I haven't blogged about anything in forever.
The last time I reviewed a game was BioShock Infinite, which I mention because one of my (very few) criticisms of that game was that it was somewhat let down by its insistence on holding to tradition—vigors, unlike plasmids, seemed like simple tack-on gameplay enhancements and title justifications rather than a key component in the history and fate of the setting—and Machine for Pigs is basically that same problem, expanded to encompass the whole of the game, and dialed up to 11. I can respect a developer willing to slash everything away from a successful title and totally try again from scratch, but it seems like the people behind Machine for Pigs removed vital things that should have been retained and kept game elements that should have been modified or removed.

I’ll start with things that were changed.
The lack of resource management, of limited oil and tinderbox supplies, is an obvious one. One of the biggest sources of tension in Amnesia was the lantern, as it allowed the player to preserve sanity (more on that later) at the cost of very limited resources and the danger of alerting enemies. It’s rather odd to describe, but I maintain that a good horror game is one that almost makes its players want to stop playing—Amnesia was a difficult game to get through, in a good way, because it was well and truly terrifying on a psychological level. When I first realized that Machine for Pigs had an unlimited oil supply, I breathed a sigh of relief. That’s a cardinal sin for the horror genre, I’d say, and while it isn’t as distracting as some of the other problems with the game, it still is an annoying and needless change.

Removing inventories does solve the problem of “go find three objects and bring them here” puzzles, which got a little annoying in the previous game, but it fills the void with one of the following:
- “Go find one object and bring it here” puzzles, which are more annoying than ever because you have to run around with the “held” object floating out there right in front of you as you navigate the map
- Exceptionally simple puzzles that wouldn’t even make it into a piece of children’s educational software in 1996. “Oh, no, the boilers aren’t firing. You need to put coal in them.”
- Exceptionally frustrating “puzzles” where a crucial object is hidden in literally the most obscure place possible without hints, and intelligently thinking through the world and trying to get through the area while simultaneously dodging scary monsters becomes “run around a church for 20 minutes looking for a candlestick and swearing”
- No puzzles at all, or puzzles in which a simple linear route from one end of the stage to the other (as if you had any choice; the game’s nearly as linear as CoD) will conveniently take you past all the things you need to interact with in the order you need to interact with them
During said puzzles, there are never any monsters, either. Amnesia worked best when it gave you a task that required you to think, then sent monsters after you and made you scamper around in the darkness worrying about getting eaten at the same time you were trying to figure out the puzzle. Machine for Pigs takes a good, long look at this idea and then throws it in the toilet. I skulked around that boiler room in permanent crouch, just sure that the reason they’d presented me with such a preschool-level puzzle was because there were going to be pigs about and I’d have to relight the boilers while dealing with them.
Actually, that could be fun—the coal is rather sparsely populated throughout the level, and since it’s dark in color it’s hard to see without the lantern. When the boilers come on, they make giant orange flames and a whooshing fire noise, too, that’d make you instantly visible to nearby pigs. Plenty of potential for that to be a tense, edge-of-your-seat sequence where every step must be measured and planned carefully or else you will surely have your face eaten. Instead, they opt for shutting all the lights out once you have the power back online (don’t think too hard about it) and then making you sneak by one stupid pigman on your way out of the room. That’s it. Onwards and downwards, Mandus, there’s more tedium to explore.

Tied into the inventory problem is the removal of the sanity system entirely, so that players can sit in darkness and stare at enemies endlessly without any fear of consequences. I don’t mourn the removal of the scratchy grinding sound effect that always played when immersed in darkness, and the ability to sneak up behind a stationary enemy and stare at it until you topple over with insanity and recover over and over again. But instead, we’ve lost the wavy sort of visual filters that made darkness disorienting and eerie. We’ve no reason to not look at the monsters, which is a problem for the sort of psychological less-is-more Lovecraftian horror that made the first game so great.
I remember peeking slightly out of cover, squinting through the distorted darkness with a heartbeat and that scratchy grinding acting as distractions, trying to sense a few pixels moving that might indicate an enemy. Especially later on in the game, in the truly intensely dark rooms where a whole squad of enemies was patrolling, all these mechanics played into one another. Enemies had to be hidden from and avoided, which required knowing where they were. That cost sanity. To avoid getting attacked by them, darkness was a necessity. That cost sanity. Not only were you focused on the task at hand, but there was an omnipresent “get to a light source” drive that made very nearly every second of gameplay tense and nail-biting. Very rarely did you feel anything close to safe, and every time the game momentarily allowed you believe you were safe was followed up by monsters soon enough. Machine for Pigs, by contrast, feels like a series of mostly-safe rooms and corridors with the odd (less than ten, total) pigman showing up along the way to clumsily fail at making things interesting.
The greatest strength of Lovecraft-inspired horror like Amnesia is this intense foreboding atmosphere and feeling of unease. Without sanity, without resource management and the tension caused by the pros and cons of light sources, this loses a big chunk of its effectiveness. Even if the world design was as creepy and foreboding as Amnesia’s (which I’d argue is very much not the case), slashing out visual and gameplay effects that enhance the setting’s atmosphere is a rather boneheaded decision.

Enemies themselves also seem dull. They’re more than a little goofy looking, and not all that intimidating if you ask me, but the AI was the biggest fault. In the first appearance, I hid behind a crate to let the thing walk past. It came so close I could have reached out and touched it, plodding slowly along in the darkness and making all kinds of sniffing noises. If not for that, it’d have been really creepy; if the thing is finding its way around the darkness by smell, then how was I not discovered? Everything else was in place atmospherically, but the sniffing threw it all off and made me spend the next twenty minutes trying to justify it in the world. Did the machine that made them pigs somehow compromise their sense of smell, to the point where they can’t detect a human sitting a handful of micrometers to the left? Is there some other smell in that room that’s masking mine?
Another time, I was already hiding in shadow and completely out of sight when the enemy spawned, and he immediately made a charging beeline directly for my face despite me being in the darkest part of the room with my lantern off and without even making a sound. This same thing happened a few more times, and I discovered that in most cases having an enemy chasing after you isn’t even that big a deal. It’s usually possible to run right through the area without any care in the world, as the enemies are slow and the environments more or less linear. Try that in Amnesia and you’re not going to be alive very long.
Gone is the infamous invisible water monster, or anything else on par with its absolute piss-your-pants terror. The enemies frustrated and angered me more than they scared me, especially the electrical pig thing at the end. It’s not always visible, and it kind of pops in and out of reality at random, which makes it a very frightening villain at first, but it soon totally ruins this by appearing in environments where sneaking by it is all but impossible and it’s not even a good challenge. I would call it a cut above the average pigmen, but… unfortunately it’s not enough.

But it isn’t just the things they changed, either. The environment occasionally flirts with visions of a grand steampunk ideal, but it never makes this a reality beyond some cool electric lighting and giant pistons. When the actual Machine is shown in full, it’s a damn impressive sight, but the rest of the game relies far too heavily on the same Amnesia darkened corridor mechanic that doesn’t suit a steampunk adventure very well at all. Early on, you’re permitted to wander around the streets, and again later in the game for a brief period. These bits are interesting, because we can see the civilization of Britain and appreciate what the game’s version of industrialization is doing to everything. Even here, it’s not fully realized, but a game set predominantly above ground moving from one steampunk-inspired building to the next would have been a better way of waxing poetic about philosophy and the decay of our moral society than shoving the protagonist into a darkened corridor and explaining via journal entry why the world is pigs.
Amnesia relied on a sense of overwhelming aloneness to really deliver on its horror; it was Daniel, all alone, in pursuit of a personal goal. Add in a partner, or any sort of lifeline to another being, and it all comes undone because a sense of outside help and hope is exactly what you don’t want in a game like this. In Machine, you retrace more or less the same sorts of steps as Amnesia, winding through darkened corridors deep underground, but with help from some unseen being who contacts you via telephone on occasion. How does he know what line to call and when? Why doesn’t he help you out more directly? These questions do get answered in the end, but they’re distractions that spoil the lonesome mood almost as much as the mere presence of a quest-giving authority. It should be a deeply personal thing, motivated by personal feelings and pursued alone, not a series of acting out what Telephone Man says needs done. It turns you into an errand boy, and that’s never as scary as voluntarily charging into a room full of mutant pigmen to figure things out for yourself.
It would have been fully possible (and more thematic, given the game’s constant spouting off about industrialization and the modern age turning people into mindless pigs) to have the protagonist wander through darkened streets at night. On all sides he would be surrounded by people, or the idea of people in the form of buildings, but he would be inescapably alone all the same, as no one would answer their doors or even give any signs that they are aware of his presence. That would have been a more poignant commentary on the nature of industrialism than talking about a machine over a telephone, and it would have given the game an excuse to play with steampunk architecture more.
His journey, too, and the alleged “more story-focused experience” don’t really compel me to act as much as a message from myself at some point in the past telling me that my sole purpose right now is to go kill someone. A voice over a telephone informs Mandus that his children are in danger and might die soon if he doesn’t restart the machine. But for the majority of the game, I really didn’t feel like I had a sense of purpose. I was pressing forward because it was the only direction I could go, looking for things I could interact with rather than trying to think about the story and what I was out to do. Compared to Amnesia, I really didn’t feel like I had much of a direction, or a reason to keep pressing onward other than the simple fact that it was a video game and that was where I needed to go to make it end faster.
The obvious counterargument I’d like to preempt is that “he’s trying to save his kids, isn’t that good enough for you?” - but I don’t think that holds. All we ever see of them is a few scattered “memories,” which are all sort of cheesy “daddy save me!” moments that, like the pigmen, can’t get me to care so much as laugh. There’s a downright painful moment later in, where hallucinations of the children reach into their robes and pull out their own hearts. It’s just pants-on-head retarded and silly, and the sort of “horror” you’d see in a bad slasher fic, not the sequel to one of the scariest psychological horror games of all time.
No, I much prefer Daniel being told by his former self “nothing is more important than killing this man right now,” and then having every detail of every scrap of every single object you come across from the very beginning to the very end be related to this imminent murder and why it must be. The game doesn’t get bogged down arguing abstract philosophy by way of incredibly clumsy pig metaphors and an evil scheme that make Bond villains raise an eyebrow.
Toward the end, it actually delivers on a couple of the promises it makes and genuinely gets somewhat engaging, and the last hour or so is solid enough that I didn’t immediately uninstall the game and drink myself into my own bout of amnesia to rid it from my awareness forever. I rather like the way it ends, surprisingly enough, but I won’t spoil that here. In any case, it’s a shorter game, and five or so hours of absolute shit followed up by a single hour of quality isn’t enough to make me count the game itself as a worthwhile use of time and money.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs spends a good deal of time talking about how industrialization and the modern age is slowly turning us into neutral, mass-marketable pigs and destroying our individuality in the process. I have to wonder if the people on the dev team responsible for that philosophy ever looked themselves in the mirror while they were making this thing. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, like Frictional’s earlier Penumbra games, was absolutely unflinching, uncompromising horror. You were meant to be scared of it, to the point of nearly wanting to stop playing altogether, because it never once let up. It was not a game for the faint of heart, for the person who needs the security of a blaster rifle to deal with scary monsters and can’t cope with a lantern and a few drops of oil. This new thing, while being quite a long way from “mass market,” is still a worrying step in the wrong direction, and a pretty big one at that. It isn’t scary, it isn’t all that atmospheric, it’s not very compelling. It stubbornly clings to aspects of its predecessor that are holding it back while chucking away the primary reason those aspects worked in the first place. It finds itself on an awkward middle ground, perhaps trying to please people scared off the first game and in the process it alienates lovers of true psychological horror titles.
If this hadn’t been an Amnesia sequel, and rather a new project Frictional tried to develop independently of the original (much like Amnesia itself wasn’t billed as having anything remotely to do with Penumbra, despite sharing a few general themes), then I think they’d have gone about it properly and done a better job of delivering on the promises made by the steampunk pig-conversion premise. Amnesia departed from Penumbra by being stripped-down and simpler, with fewer gameplay elements to get in the way of the important task of scaring the pants off all who play it. It changed up the model and went with a different presentation altogether, whereas Machine for Pigs feels like something desperately trying to fill the shoes of a far superior game. As a new title entirely built to stand on its own merits and have very little to do with Amnesia, it could have been downright interesting. But as a sequel to one of the scariest games of all time, a game that was almost guaranteed to give all who played it nightmares, A Machine for Pigs completely fails to deliver.

Final score: 3/10.

If not for the ending being somewhat redeeming (even despite the frustrating electro-pig), I’d probably have handed it a 2.

Report Eldorado · 637 views ·
Comments ( 16 )

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Eldorado. :) I needed some fun rant to make my mood awesome. :)

A legit reason for it.

Many were upset at it for those exact reasons.

~Skeeter The Lurker


1386793 Been plinking away at this since yesterday, off and on. It was fun to write. Tomorrow I start real writing again, though. Finally.

And if you do end up getting it for some reason, or watching a YouTuber go through it (although I can't recommend you run away from this thing enough), then I'd like to hear your thoughts as well.

1386794 No way you read the whole thing in under two minutes. I was in full-on rant mode for most of this, and rambling on to infinity. What is this sorcery?


Skimmed it. And like I said, most what you said was said by others as well.

~Skeeter The Lurker

1386812 I'm not going to get it. Horror games of this nature are claw-my-face-off boring for me. I get nothing from them but jump scares and 'why the fuck am I play this game'. Being helpless is a staple of horror but only works for me if you're a passive observer (as in a movie) because otherwise, you're in a state of enforced helplessness instead of natural helplessness because games are not yet powerful enough to let players try to clever their way out of a scenario using the resources naturally at hand.


1387439 The original game actually did a good job of this. There wasn't really enough at hand to do much to harm your enemies, but you did have enough control over your environment to do some things. Like, run away, shut a door, and slide a bed frame against the door so the monster can't get you. Wait around for him to lose interest, and sneak out again. If it's not your thing, it's not your thing, but the first game actually did make you feel like you were a part of the game and had about as much control over the environment as you would if you were in Daniel's place.

Except you had a big advantage over him in that you could pause or quit to escape if you wanted to. Otherwise, it felt genuine.


1388140 That's probably one of the most amusing things I've ever seen you say in a comment.

Ive seen somone play it (( tobuscus)) on youtube. He gets pinned to a wall by a pig passing its way, its really creepy!


1389612 That's probably the first time they show up, which would be truly creepy if not for the weirdo sniffing noises that make no sense. I liked how the area you're in is darkened all to hell but the far wall is lit up, so you can see the top of the pig's silhouette shuffling along. Everything was there atmospherically, but the pig is busily sniffing about and it doesn't make any sense to me that a creature driven by smell would not be able to detect the character's presence from so close by.

And, unfortunately, that's the only time the pigs are even remotely intimidating. After the piston room debacle, it just all goes downhill until I'm giggling at the monsters when I'm not busy shouting at their crappy AI.

Sure, "creepiness" is something of a subjective and qualitative idea, so if you find the pigs creepy then that's about all there is to say about it. I, however, thought they were pretty goofy and a massive step down from the monsters of the first game.

I suppose but you have to admit the atmosphere was good when it walked past. Also when you in the second room and theres a monster in the bath (( dead)) I giggled :pinkiecrazy:.


1390098 Eh. Dead monsters shows they're not as much of a threat, and gives you a chance to get a solid look at their goofy character models. That first appearance did it right, by keeping it in silhouetted shadow and only vaguely hinting at what the thing might look like. Monsters are scariest when you don't know what they look like - no matter how terrifying the character model is, your brain will always be able to generate something scarier. With mutant pigmen that look like cheap halloween masks, it doesn't even have to try all that hard.

I'll concede that the first pig appearance is atmospheric, and after having gone through a bunch of boring drivel to get to that point I was about to reconsider my initial hatred of the game. But the sniffing crippled it, and the rest of the game was nowhere near as atmospheric. When I wasn't frustrated with the simplistic patrol-route AI and tendency of monsters to just know where I was, I was laughing at how stupid they looked and sounded. Contrast to Amnesia, where every time a monster was on the same continent as you it was tense and absolutely terrifying. Bad sequel.

I see your point. Im at the moment making an amnesia mlp so if you would like to read when it came out :twilightblush:

Anyway the pigs weren't exactly that scary but when you first see it running past you near the barrels it did make me get this horrible feeling it was going to be scary but I was wrong. It would have been better if it was a book don't you think?


1390260 Honestly, no. it would have had the advantage of not making the monsters goofy because literature forces the mind's eye to conjure its own things, but I don't think Machine's failing is that it was a video game. Its failing is that it's a bad video game.

Writing fiction doesn't capture the Amnesia spirit, I don't think, because it's about putting the character into a situation he technically has control over but is absolutely helpless all the same. Books, and most story-driven video games, are fueled by a desire to "find out what happens next," whereas the original Amnesia was light on story and big on immersion and atmosphere that relied on the players wanting to solve puzzles and avoid the monsters. Turning it into a linear experience where the character acts independently of us compromises something essential to making the game so terrifying. We were responsible for whether or not Daniel made it to the end of his journey or got his face eaten by monsters. The same thing was true of Machine, however badly it fumbled the ball, and a hypothetical GOOD version of Machine should have captured the same spirit in a steampunk setting. Linear storytelling just doesn't work for me in a horror genre like this. So, unfortunately, I don't think your thing will appeal to me.

1390269 Ah, I see. Sorry If Im being slow.

Well I would be happy if you gave it a try and saw how it was :pinkiehappy:

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