If you’ve been keeping up with your gaming releases, you’ll probably already know that the sequel to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs released this week (on September 10, to be exact). While not a direct sequel, it’s more of a continuation using the same elements & apparently set in the same universe. I recently finished watching a Let’s Play for the game & I felt the need to give my opinion on the new game, especially in regards to how it compares to the first.
Let me preface this by saying that this isn’t intended to be a review for either Amnesia game. I haven’t played either directly, but I’ve watched several Let’s Plays of them. Because of that, while I understand the games very well, I don’t feel I can accurately speak about the controls & other aspects. This is more of an impressions post. I’ll also try to avoid any spoilers for either game just in case someone hasn’t played them yet.
So what are the good aspects of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs?
Well for one, I loved the settings & environments. Set in London in 1899, there are a lot of pre-industrial, almost Steampunk aspects to the game. In fact, the majority of the game takes place in a giant factory. Lots of pipes, conveyors & other moving pieces. I thought this was a great setting for a horror game. Castle Brennenburg from the first Amnesia worked well, but a creepy castle is pretty cliché. Wandering around a dark factory where questionable activities have been going on, with lots of moving part to draw your attention & loud noises that sound a bit too much like the Manpigs (yes, that’s what they’re officially called by the player character) chasing you? Pretty nerve-wracking. The machines themselves are fascinating to see how they work. Overall, I loved the architectural designs. True, the graphics are pretty much the same as in Dark Descent & a lot of assets were carried over, but there’s enough differences to make it seem like everything wasn’t copy-pasted.
I also enjoyed the story a lot more. The first Amnesia story wasn’t bad by any means. It paced itself well & had some nice otherworldly aspects to it, keeping some secrets from the player even after the end. But I think Machine for Pigs was a much better horror story. Whereas I’d say Dark Descent’s horror was more about the monsters & atmosphere, A Machine for Pigs prays on your mind. The story is revealed the same way as in Dark Descent, but you quickly begin to come to your own conclusions at a faster pace than what the story actually provides. And it’s the implications of these conclusion that causes a ball of dread to form in your stomach. There’s a lot of cryptic language & it isn’t until the last hour or so that you really grasp everything that’s going on, but a general feeling of dread permeates the entire game. It sets you up to know that something’s not right from the very beginning. In your home there are beds with steel bars around them & secret passages so you can peek into every room. It feels like something bad has gone down… & you’re probably the one responsible for it. And when you do finally see what you’ve done, it’s definitely one of those “Oh God” moments.
A Machine for Pigs also had a much more satisfying conclusion & a better protagonist. By the prison level in Dark Descent, I hated Daniel. I thought he was a stupid, selfish, self-righteous prick. He deserved to die for what he’d done. Mandus, the character you play in A Machine for Pigs, at least comes across as misguided but sympathetic. From the beginning, Daniel was only trying to save himself. His fear blinded him to the crimes he was committing, & after Alexander betrayed him he tried to place all of the blame on the old man. He didn’t feel bad for what he’d done; just bad for being caught. While Mandus obviously takes his philosophies too far, at least you can understand where he was coming from. And in the final section he shows signs of guilt & remorse for the horror he has wrought upon the world & tries to stop it.
The game also has some fantastic music & sound design. I particularly loved the music that plays during the reveal for the machine’s heart. And the sounds of the Manpigs is suitably horrifying.
So that’s the good parts. Where does the game fall short, in my opinion?
Unfortunately, overall I’d say that A Machine for Pigs isn’t as good as the original Amnesia for several reasons. The first (& most damning) is that a lot of the actual gameplay feels removed. Aside from a few references in the game, it honestly doesn’t feel like an Amnesia game. Now, I believe that all games should be judged on their own merits without having to be exactly like the ones that came before it. And I’m okay with streamlining a game. But I thought thechineseroom just went too far. Here are the major gameplay changes:
- No inventory. In fact, you can barely interact with the environment at all aside from things like doors, levers, etc.
- Darkness isn’t utilized properly. Although the sections are dark, you have an electric lantern that never runs out.
- No sanity effects. The game does occasionally use the visuals to mess with you, which are well done, but you don’t lose sanity like in the first game.
The overall feel of the game, especially when compared to Dark Descent, is that it’s very linear & scripted. There’s no real sense of exploration. The puzzles that do exist in the game aren’t really based on problem-solving but just on being able to see what you need to do. Actually, for the most part if felt like you’re just throwing switches or turning valves without any real understanding of what you’re doing. And they really fumbled the monster encounters. For one, you see the Manpigs too clearly. If you can recall your first encounter with the Grunts in Dark Descent, you’ll probably remember that you were too terrified of whatever was going on to stick around. I think the first time you ever see a Grunt in the game is in the wine cellar when you can just make out a figure standing in the distance, shrouded by darkness. You didn’t know what was; you just wanted it to go away. In fact, it’s quite possible you went the entire game without ever getting a good look at one, given that most of your time will either be spent running away or hiding in closets. But in A Machine for Pigs, you’ll probably walk right into the Manpigs. They’re scary, certainly, but just not utilized effectively. There’s only a few short chase sequences, each of which feels very scripted. In fact, most of the time they just walk across the screen & disappear. Jarring, yes, but they hardly evoke the level of terror as the first game.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is by no means a bad game. It has a well-crafted & paced horror story with a fantastic setting. The horror aspects put it heads & shoulders above most current mainstream horror titles. But it’s nowhere near as good a game as the first. It’s too linear & oversimplified. I don’t blame thechineseroom for it, because I think this is just the style of games they like to make. I just wished they’d utilized the property better.
If you’re looking for a good horror game, I think this is a solid choice.