Thoughts On Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs

I feel as though the new Amnesia would have had a much easier time finding its place under the sun if it wasn’t regarded as an Amnesia.

It is an Amnesia though. In theme, in motif, in substance. In ways that actually matter. From a creative viewpoint, A Machine For Pigs is the kind of sequel to be wished for. It’s just that it would’ve been a helluva lot easier to market if it didn’t invite comparisons to The Dark Descent before even looking at it.

The shift in focus from things-wot-go-bump to storytelling is what will either irk returning fans to no end, or make them cry tears of joy. To put it more succinctly, it is just not scary. Not not-as-pants-destroyingly-scary, but not scary at all. Yes, there is an air of permeating dread to it that should unnerve even the mentally sturdiest among us, but scaring the player was clearly not the goal here. What’s best is that the narrative itself justifies it beautifully - while Daniel was a broken mess of a man, fighting against his untimely demise in an unfamiliar environment, Oswald in a different beast entirely - a ham-handed Victorian butcher, a man with sights firmly set on finding his lost children. A Machine For Pigs is more interested in telling its devious story than making grown men weep.

Overall, the storytelling feels more focused and decisively paced. The environment plays a greater narrative role than in TDD, littered with clues about the past of the Mandus family, their status in society as well as their interpersonal relationships. The written/spoken word is not neglected either, with superbly written journals, audio logs and phone calls from a mysterious stranger around many a corner.

Along with the pants-staining monstrosities and general paranoia, gone are the gamey parts too. Nobody’s checking on your health or sanity anymore (which is as much a statement on the protagonist’s state as it is a design decision), and your lantern now contains infinite oils. You only realise how bothersome some things are after they’re gone.

The puzzles are also less abstract and contrived this time around, organic more often than not. No more “you have to pull this lever, but it’s broken and you have to find the missing piece and play it a song on the melodica, and the missing piece is actually your long-lost mum”. Now, you just pull the fucking thing and up goes the drawbridge. You do still have to simulate pulling the lever, though. One of the puzzles includes learning how to operate a decontamination chamber, which you encounter several times afterwards. The sequence is quite easy to figure out, yet having to manually repeat it every time enhances the sense of presence immensely.

The scenery is a tricky one - in the beginning, the thousand-bedroom mansion generously sprinkled with locked doors managed to evoke detachment more than anything else. A house with a million work desks, with nothing but blank paper and empty bottles in their drawers. At this point, my interest was held solely by the fact that all the beds had steel bars on their sides. Things get better soon, once you start discovering the dark and disconcerting secret rooms and passageways that tell a story of their own. It goes without saying that the eponymous machine takes the proverbial prize - the heft with which is slowly starts weighing on the player once steam begins stemming from it, and pistons begin… pistoning is nigh unbearable at times. Paired with it comes the truly amazing soundscape - the rumbling of the steel beasts that dictates the tempo of your descent into the heart of the machine, the unnerving snorting (oh god the snorting) heard through the maybe-not-quite-thick-enough glass, crackling old records, looming organs and… “haunting” children’s laughter. Of all the overused, corny horror tropes.

The monsters are a mixed bag. In the early game, the meticulously made miscreations are kept within the realm of possibilities, inspiring unease while lingering constantly in the corner of the eye. My first true encounters with one of Them had me staring into its eyes from perfect darkness, all but feeling its heavy breath, praying its sense of smell is no better than its eyesight. It was marvelous. Suddenly, as though the developers took a cigarette break and their nephew jumped at the chance to take the helm, the enemies started serving as obstacles, reducing them to just that - mere annoyances, easier to dart past than skillfully avoid using the darkness as your ally. They became bothersome, making my eyes roll instead of my guts. At one point there was even an honest-to-god boss fight.

If I hadn’t made it quite clear enough: I loved A Machine For Pigs to bits. It took the themes of The Dark Descent and built upon them in a most interesting way, telling the woeful tale of a man’s demise, prompted by his struggle against Man’s Demise. So what if I hadn’t had to change my underwear countless times while playing it?


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