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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, June 13, 2024

‘Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs’: So close to spectacular

I’ve been put in a very awkward place. As a fan of Frictional Games’ “Amnesia” series, I had already figured that my perceptions would skew my reception of the game. But I was wrong. I also thought that giving the latest title in the series a gushing recommendation would be as simple as copy pasting “BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT” until I ran out of word space. I was wrong about that, too. It’s a very uncomfortable position to be in, you know. Horror games are only supposed to make you uncomfortable while you’re playing them (and for several weeks afterward when you have to walk home in the dark after work).

Survival-horror is my pet-favorite genre of games, mostly because I feel that games can deliver a much more satisfying horror experience than films or books. When I played “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” back in 2010, it became the example by which I judged other horror games. It wasn’t perfect (and really, what is besides “Metroid Prime”?), but as an engine to create pure, blood-chilling, skin-crawling fear it was absolutely sublime. Its pacing, aesthetics and sound design meshed seamlessly within a delightfully Lovecraftian setting to create something unique and twisted. And as I lingered on the main menu of “Amnesia’s” much-anticipated and curiously titled “A Machine for Pigs,” the fan in me was chomping at the bit to dive in and relive the terror all over again.

I finished the game in about 6 hours, and found myself at the junction of Satisfaction Street and Nagging Disappointment Lane. I want to love “Machine for Pigs,” really, I do. As a narrative it works on so many levels, and as a dark, locked chamber to create that coveted atmosphere of creeping dread and nail-biting tension it is nearly as good as the first game. The Chinese Room (the indie developer that Frictional handed the reins to for the sequel) continued the grand tradition of pitch-perfect sound design that gets under your skin and claws through your psyche, planting swollen, opalescent seeds of blood and viscera in your imagination. There are countless moments in this game when you come to a door that needs to be opened, and right at that moment you want nothing more in the entire universe than to NOT OPEN THAT DOOR because of the wet, crunching noises on the other side. This is how good horror works.

BUT (and I bet you saw that coming), I cannot in honesty call it a good survival-horror game. That doesn’t make it a bad game or a bad experience—just not a very scary one.

The Chinese Room’s presence is definitely felt in this game. Although the general mechanics are strictly “Amnesia’s,” they’ve been heavily stripped and streamlined.

Because you no longer possess an inventory, the game’s puzzle elements have been drastically reduced in scope and intelligence. The electric lantern you get never runs out of power, and you can take an absurd amount of damage from monsters swiping at you. This change in core mechanics lessens the tension of the game, and saps it of the effective, haunting dread that an otherwise perfect atmosphere takes a very long time to construct. There’s a general feeling of stiffness about it, present in the Chinese Room’s previous work, “Dear Esther,” and the problem is one of a general lack of interactivity.

In “Dark Descent,” pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down could be picked up and tossed around, which lent the world a feeling of immediacy and palpable existence. It might have seemed inconsequential to anybody playing the game, but all the while it was immersing you in the world in a subtle and intuitive way. In “Machine for Pigs,” the only things you can interact with are things that are somehow involved in solving a puzzle. This starves the game’s world of fidelity and detail, making it into more of a two-dimensional image rather than a breathing, three-dimensional world. It’s the difference between a box filled with LEGO bricks, and a painting of a box filled with LEGO bricks: one of them is something you can play with.

Maybe I’ve been too hard on this game, and that’s probably because I love it so much. It really is the most original horror story I’ve seen in a very long time, and a lot of love has gone into making it. It’s a game that has the telltale marks of a new developer biting off a bit more than they could chew, and sticking the landing with admirable, if somewhat ill-timed, grace. It doesn’t have the sheer terror of the original, but it’s a beautiful exploration of the dark side of rampant industrialization through an unconventional and appropriate lens. It’s definitely worth your time.

Rating: B+

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