Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Not the Amnesia You Remember
Amnesia: The Dark Descent revolutionized the horror genre in video games. It had intense atmosphere and a helpless protagonist, mysterious enemies and horrifying scenery. The story was both disturbing and empowering, focusing on themes of justifiable sin and personal redemption, as well as more Lovecraftian ideas of the unknown and its horror.
As a fan of the first game, I had been looking forward to A Machine for Pigs since long before it was actually announced. With that understanding, I kept my expectations as low as I could going in. I had read several spoiler-free reviews of the game beforehand, so was aware of some of the common complaints with the game.
Given that knowledge, I was actually quite impressed with the game... before being greatly disappointed. I mentally separate the game into three parts, so it is only appropriate to review it accordingly.
The Hopeful Start
The game starts with a few disjointed, dream-like images of a dark machine running, a caged bed, and a child's voice. The player is then set free to explore a sprawling mansion with a decidedly linear path to progress. There are a lot of locked doors, but it is not functionally different from The Dark Descent's general lack of doors in its early stages.
Quite a nice spread ya got there, Mandus.
There are two major mechanical differences between this game and its predecessor. First, there are no tinderboxes. There are some electric lights the player can turn on, but they are effectively meaningless, and the player's lamp will never run out. Second is the total lack of the previous game's sanity mechanic, which I will discuss in more depth later.
A Machine for Pigs very quickly shows its roots, creating a creepy, foreboding atmosphere with shadows to jump at and exquisite use of sound and light. Searching for fuses to power the switches to proceed, vague and misshapen creatures shambling about just out of sight, voices and memories coming up as new areas are discovered... For a while, it actually feels similar to the first Amnesia game.
I spent this first section fairly spooked, wondering if perhaps I was giving the reviews I had read a bit too much credit.
The Questionable Middle
The second section of the game, in my eyes, begins the first time the player encounters a real enemy. These creatures are disturbing to encounter, at first, but the removal of the sanity mechanic makes its absence extremely clear with these beasts. Much of progressing past the pigs involves hiding in pitch dark and waiting for them to shamble past on their fairly unpredictable patrol routes, and this would not be possible if being in the dark would kill the player over time.
Being able to sit in the dark without dying is acceptable. The problem is the player is also able to watch the pigs. Keeping the pigs in sight means they lose much of the mystery the monsters had in the first game. They cease to be disturbing once the play has seen enough of them, and shortly after the player's first encounter with one the game goes through an area where you cannot help but see a great many of them up-close from complete safety.
They look reasonably disturbing regardless, but not really any different from most horror enemies. This segment of the game simply becomes a stealth game, with few real horror elements.
The Messy Finish
Eventually the machine returns to full working order and the veritable shit hits the fan. This is where the story the game sacrificed so much to focus on comes to light, and it was the part of the game which left me most disappointed.
Not your standard video game factory.
Many have spoken out about how disturbing the tale is, and it does address some very heavy concepts. Mankind, war, suffering, and the lengths people will go to do what they think is right are all things addressed, and A Machine for Pigs does so with several extremely dramatic scenes. The first problem with this is that the actual story is still delivered primarily through scattered notes, making it entirely possible to get through the game and miss some very important plot points.
Speaking of plot...
Without giving away anything, the plot was ultimately fairly forgettable. Yes, it deals with some serious issues, but it still ultimately comes down to a man trying to salvage his own shattered psyche to find redemption for sins of the past. The name of the game itself hints at some of the more disturbing ideas involved, but the same sort of disturbing ideas can be encountered by reading most of the literature from the actual turn of the century.
The Unpleasant Conclusion
In the end, I did enjoy playing through A Machine for Pigs. It would be decent as a standalone horror title, though not great by any stretch. Unfortunately it was not a standalone title, leaving it a legacy to live up to that it simply did not even approach. I am glad I played the game, but it is almost entirely forgettable in the light of its predecessor.