Publisher: Frictional Games
Developer: The Chinese Room
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Frictional Games have gained a great pedigree as of late. Their 2007 debut, Penumbra: Overture, was a rather gripping title despite the technical limitations of its presentation and a minimalist plot.
This was followed by 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which deservedly earned the reputation of being one of the best horror games of all time. With that said, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs wasn’t made by Frictional but rather published by them instead.
This indirect sequel to The Dark Descent was actually created by The Chinese Room, known for the eerie and atmospheric exploration piece Dear Esther. This switch in developer will be obvious to fans of the original and might be off-putting throughout the six to eight hours of gameplay.
The plot is rather straightforward. Set in London on New Year’s Eve 1899, the focus of the story is the character of Oswald Mandus. This wealthy industrialist and butcher is hit by fever and falls ill shortly afterwards. He wakes a few months later to the sound of a mysterious machine starting up. It’s then up to the player to put the pieces together and figure out exactly what’s going on.
A Machine for Pigs is driven more by plot rather than the sheer terror that made up almost every aspect of Dark Descent. The narrative is pushed forward by the player discovering and reading journal entries and listening to audio recordings.
These shed light on some of the last few missing months, as well as referring to Mandus’ writings in his journal. This will remind horror fans of a similar approach seen in Slender: The Arrival, which perhaps took its inspiration in this regard from the original Amnesia.
Unfortunately, this sequel has lost some of the survival horror elements found in its predecessor. No longer do oil levels for the lamp, often the single source of illumination, have to be managed, and likewise the sanity meter has been removed too.
These losses are unfortunate, especially the latter, as the sanity system’s ability to distort reality and allow the player to directly experience the madness was a creepy and highly immersive element of the original game.
As a terrifying experience, the game definitely succeeds. Under the appropriate conditions, late at night, with a good set of headphones, it’s a genuinely unsettling affair. This is in great part due to its very effective sound design, with the distance noises, suspenseful music, laughter of children, and the squeals of man-pigs all contributing impressively to the atmosphere.
For fans of Amnesia: The Dark Descent this is a must play. For newcomers, it’s recommended to experience the stellar original first and then come back to this worthy sequel at a later date.