#86: Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs
Initial release: 2013
Given the overwrought arthouse orgasm that is Dear Esther, it’s fair to assume thechineseroom’s followup to Frictional’s inexplicably popular stealth horror game Amnesia: The Dark Descent would be polar to what everyone liked about the first game. Oddly enough, that’s exactly why I don’t hate it.
I’ll admit I didn’t approach either of these games in good faith, as I detest the original Amnesia. When I played that game for review, I titled my shortcut D.P. Loveshaft Presents: Duckface, All Too Fucking Duckface; likewise, for the followup, which I was going into completely blind and had only my negative reaction to Dear Esther to go on, I had given it the cheeky title D.P. Loveshaft Presents: Un Voiture de Police. (That’s French for “police car.”) I tell you this now not because I think it’s funny (though I do) but because I want to impress on you just how much I was ready to hate this game, and how I was pleasantly surprised, though “pleasantly” as a word might be doing a lot of work.
Part of is that it’s a stripped down version of the original game’s gameplay. Enemy encounters are few and far between and, for the most part, easily dodged. The puzzles are elementary. The inventory, sanity system, etc. — all gone. And the whole thing’s like 5 hours long, much shorter than the interminable first game. Given how much I dislike the no-hands subgenre of survival horror, where you are unarmed in a maze of monsters and must scramble and hide with no real agency in your own defense, these changes are all a blessing. It’s clear that thechineseroom are not good at making actual video games in the traditional sense, but A Machine for Pigs is proof they’re good for more than just bad poetry. Granted, there’s an element of laziness that belies thechineseroom’s lack of development skill. The engine is barely upgraded, and many assets are re-used. However, towards the end the game begins to take on a more distinctive visual identity, especially with heavy use of color correction.
While it has some fairly loose connections to the original game, A Machine for Pigs manages to lash together a bit of sociohistorical commentary to a fairly creepy industrial setting, using the image of a vast meat-packing plant as metaphor for our own self-destruction. Indeed, it’s that self-destruction that is the impetus for the whole plot, or rather, a glimpse into the future of the 20th century (which, like in the finale of Stonehearst Asylum, begins in mere hours) and all the horrors it would bring: the world wars, the Khmer Rouge, etc.
The actual plant is more interesting than you would expect, extending miles beneath the surface of London and populated by mutated pigs who operate the machinery. These pigmen — themselves feeling a bit referential to The House on the Borderland — are also the primary antagonists, though you’ll be dealing with them rarely compared to the first game.
The most surprising thing is towards the end of the game when things take an explosive turn as the pigmen burst onto the surface and chaos ensues. while you’re only on the streets for a few minutes in this chapter, it’s a dramatic tonal shift that really gives a sense of urgency.
To be honest, I’m just as surprised as you are that I don’t hate this game. I wouldn’t say I liked it, but I liked what it was trying to do. Its short length, relative ease, and fairly interesting story and themes all make for one of the more palatable “no hands” horror games.