Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs [Review]
September 10, 2013
Crouched in the dark. That’s pretty much how I spent most of my playthrough of Amnesia: A Machine for Pig; creeping around hallways in near darkness while hoping none of the things I heard snuffling and stomping around would find me. That tension can be hard to endure when you hear it coming from off in the distance, leaving you praying for an encounter with the things just so you know where they are and can deal with them. It’s the not knowing where they are, of if they’re even around, that makes this game hard to handle at points. Unfortunately, the game pushes these moments a little bit too far, rarely attacking the player and reminding them that there is indeed something out there to be afraid of. With so much tension without the release of an attack, things soon start to putter out, and the atmosphere this game is so good at building just fades away.
The first scare in a horror game can be the most important one, as it’s the time when I’m at my most susceptible to the game. I am high strung every minute of my initial foray, as at that point I really don’t know what to expect of the game or its creatures. How will the monsters attack me? Will I have a lot of notice to get a feel for it, or will the developers just drop the creature in my lap and make me run for my life? I am super jumpy at this time, and just about any little thing in the environment or music can set me off. It’s why SCP-087 was so terrifying for me, as it was one long, stressful lead-in to a single powerful scare. I was afraid of something similar happening in this game, as I already knew I was going to be completely helpless against whatever creature showed up.
It worked like a charm, too. I tiptoed my way through that first hallway, and as soon as I picked up the lamp, I heeded the game’s warning that having it on might draw unwanted attention. I shut it right off, only flicking it on when I was completely lost for the rest of the game. This is how easy it is to permanently scare me before that initial scare. You should have seen how long I was paralyzed after the game explained what button I had to hold down to run. I just knew that things were about to take off when the game told me that. Why would they tell me how to run unless I was going to have to run soon? I was shaking, but a couple of deep breaths had me steady enough to move on.
The halls of the empty mansion I was in didn’t help, either. It was just so vacant and lonely in the long, dark halls. The weird paintings on the walls, many of them focusing on bizarre depictions of parenting or violence, didn’t sit right, putting me more on edge. The secret passages covered in blood, filled with one-way mirrors into the bathrooms and bedrooms of the house, made me feel a little sick, making me worry about what had gone on in this house. It made me take my steps slowly, wondering what sort of messed-up creature would feel at home in such a bizarre, uncomfortable place.
The house soon gave way to the factories and mechanical steam works that would fill the rest of the game. Now, this sort of stuff can get pretty boring, but I found that the developers did a great job of making all of it somehow feel like a single machine. All of the various pumps, gears, and pipe systems felt interconnected, making the constant fiddling I had to do with them feel more meaningful. It doesn’t hurt that all of these huge pieces of industrial machinery weren’t all that well protected in many places, giving me a different sense of danger than I was used to in horror games. The environment doesn’t always factor in so obviously into the available dangers, but knowing that something in the dark could push me off a rail and knock me into the spinning cogs made me that much more nervous. I don’t think that’s something that could actually happen in the game, but just being around all those pounding machines made it feel possible.
All of these locations are quite dark, too. The house has a decent amount of lighting in it to get around with, but once you move out of it, you can tell someone’s been skimping on their lighting bill. These guys were often too cheap to buy more than a candle or two for an entire hallway, and you were lucky if you got a single electric light in many of the industrial areas. You will spend a lot of your time squinting into the dark or taking quick glances around with your lamp. You might feel that you can do without the lantern by messing with the brightness on your monitor for a little bit, but there are some places where that won’t do a thing. There are degrees of how dark it is in this game, and some places are completely black until you turn your lantern on. Hopefully you won’t flick it on to see the creature standing right in front of you, like I did.
That was my first encounter with the creature, but I’d known he was in the area long before that. While the empty locations do make the game feel creepy, they’re still just empty places. The sounds you hear in the halls are what makes the game work so well, though. Like I said, you can hear the creatures snuffling and stomping around, and that sound only carries a short distance. If you can hear footsteps, odds are good the creature is only around the corner, creeping your way. It was worse in the sewer area, where I could hear these loud, splashing steps every few minutes, and I shook a little each time they happened. It sounds like someone just slamming their feet into the water, and coming out of the near-silence, it’s like someone firing a gun right behind your head.
If you’re lucky, those sounds are coming from in front of you. The creatures loose a horrific scream when they see you, and hearing that coming from behind you is awful, making my heart stop as I just started running. The sounds the creatures make in pursuit are literal panic fuel, just a series of unnatural animal roars that shriek in your ears and make you want to be anywhere other than where you are in that moment.
Thankfully, the game is pretty linear and clear to get around when you’re running away from the monsters. The game does have a few branching paths, but they almost all lead back to the same place as each other, letting you take whichever route you want. It’s nice to know for when you’re blindly running from a monster, taking every turn as it becomes available as odds are good it’s the correct path. You do have a bit of health to play around with if you take a wrong turn and end up cornering yourself, so the game is a lot more forgiving than Hell Night, but I still wouldn’t want those creatures to catch me. You can take a few hits, but for the most part, you’re not going to live long if you get seen. If you can get to a dark spot and hunker down you have a chance of surviving, but it’s pretty slim.
Having the creatures on your tail is almost a gift when you’re high strung from waiting for them to appear. Once the enemies are around, the game takes on more of a stealth approach, really, as you can’t fight the monsters and can only avoid them. This means hiding in dark corners, watching the routes they patrol, and doing things you’ve done before in non-scary games. It makes seeing the monsters feel like a relief, since all you have to do then is keep your lantern doused and pick a good time to sneak on by. I would have preferred an enemy that was more interested in dogging the player, such as the monsters from Clock Tower 3 or Haunting Ground, as this has the unfortunate effect of making the game feel like a stealth one with monsters. If they were a little more persistent in hunting the player down it might have made things more frightening when they were around.
This brings me to a big problem I had with the game’s scares: they’re too far apart. Like Clock Tower: The First Fear, danger doesn’t appear all that often. While waiting long times between scares can build up tension, waiting too long ends up forcing me to relax. This false sense of security could have been used against me to scare me even worse, but with the game’s great sound design, I tended to hear the monsters coming when I entered an area they were in. This wasted moments when they could catch me completely off-guard with a good jump scare, and I found myself a little disappointed at how long I had to wait between good scares. The encounter rate in the game is really, really low, only throwing monster at you seven or eight times over the course of the game, so a lot of the game was spent on building tension. That wasn’t working, though, because I knew by this point that there weren’t many enemies in the game and that it wasn’t going for many jump scares, so the whole thing started to sabotage itself.
That first scare, the one where I just flicked on my light and saw the creature, should have terrified me for the rest of the game, but it had been drawn out for too long. It was over a half hour before that happened to me, and almost a half hour again before I ran into something else. I heard a couple of noises that sounded like more of the creatures here and there, but not even a dumb jump scare came of it. The game just took too long working me over with tension, teaching me that there was nothing to be tense about with its long periods of nothing. It got to the point where I just wasn’t all that scared any more despite all the hard work the developers had put into the game, and I was disappointed because of it.
The storyline makes up for it, telling an excellent, sickening tale to delight horror fans. It’s doled out slowly over the course of the game, much of it given out in hidden notes. You can learn a whole lot more about the game’s story if you’re willing to do some exploring, so if you are having trouble understanding, try to take long walks around the environment. Its well worth hearing it, as there are some gruesome details in this story that really make the proceedings that much more awful. Also, the way the story is told is fantastic, showing some really great word choice. The storytelling technique here is top-notch, evoking a feel for writing in the time period and digging up some really great old words to give a Lovecraft tone. The story made up for how little I was scared after a while, and was more than enough to keep me roaming the halls filled with grisly machines.
Having great sound and creepy locations made the game frightening, as did my eventual encounters with the malformed monsters, but the times between scares just let all the tension drain out of me. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs does a good job at being an eerie, unsettling experience, but it cuts into its ability to be scary by letting tension do far too much of the work. The game needed more chases and danger from the cast of creatures in it, and ended up being a lesser experience because of it. Combining dark settings and a twisted storyline, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs still won’t let me sleep well tonight, but it could have been much more frightening with a few small tweaks. I love it for what it is, but it hasn’t displaced the horror kings of old.
Out Of 5
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
The heavy emphasis on mechanical, underground settings should be detrimental, but the game manages to put these locations together in a way that makes them feel like a single machine. It's interesting to watch it all come together. The monster design is nice, but it's still something that shouldn't be looked at from up close.
The creepy music sets an excellent mood, maintaining tension long after the game itself has lost me. Hearing the various creaks and groans from the floor as I walk, then hearing the breathing and footsteps of monsters in the distance sounds great, and had the hair standing up on the back of my neck.
There's not a whole lot to control besides walking, running, and flicking the lantern on and off. It's all quite easy, but it's in opening doors that I had some issues. To do so, you have to click on them and then push or pull the mouse, something that doesn't seem too bad until you're running away from something and trying to pull it off.
This is more a game about exploring a huge machine than it is one about avoiding monsters. Given the infrequent encounters, I felt more like I was just walking around a creepy factory and checking to make sure the machines worked. When the monsters are around and you're hiding for your life it's quite good, but those moments are too far apart.
I came to this game expecting to be pretty scared, and it did get me at times. Running for your life was terrifying fun when it happened, but it just didn't happen enough given the reputation the series had from its first game. The story makes up for any complaints I might have about the scares, though, telling an unsettling tale with quite a bit of skill.