Developer: The Chinese Room
Publisher: Frictional Games
The unexpected success of Amnesia: The Dark Descent was met with an equal number of screams and purchases of new pairs of underwear. It managed to take the power away from the player in a way that hadn’t been managed before, and became one of the stand-out games of 2011. So, when news that Fritional Games were teaming up with The Chinese Room, the developers behind the deeply-atmospheric Dear Esther, gamers around the world began to brace themselves for what could be lurking over the horizon. Then they informed us that the subtitle was “A Machine For Pigs”, and managed to terrify everybody in advance.
There’s no denying that there are heavy expectations for this next instalment in the Amnesia franchise, but after a year of teasing us with trailers and screenshots it’s finally time to see if the piggies are going to make us squeal.
Players assume the role of Oswald Magnus, a wealthy industrialist who, after a mysterious trip to Mexico, falls ill and wakes up several months later on New Year’s Eve 1899. With a mysterious machine from his delirious dreams now shaking the city, it is up to Magnus to piece together what has happened, discover the purpose of this machine, and face a trial of a more personal nature along the way.
Regardless of whether you are using a gamepad or a mouse and keyboard combo, the controls should be familiar to anyone who has played a First Person perspective game and, as those who played the first Amnesia will already know, features no offensive combat abilities what-so-ever, so it’s up to the player to elude any dangers. Interaction with the world (which involves moving the mouse or thumbstick in the direction an item needs to move after holding down the interact button) may be standard for this type of game, but it works well in building immersion for the player, especially during times of panic.
But those moments of true panic through the fear of being attacked by the titular animals are somewhat far and few between, and this brings me onto a key point with AMFP – if you’re expecting an experience that out-scares what was provided in TDD, you may well leave disappointed as it ends up in a middle ground between what was found in TDD and Dear Esther. It is in no way as physically demanding (in a virtual sense) as TDD, and this in turn makes encounters with the oinking monstrosities not as pants-wetting-ly tense as you may think they would be. That’s not to say that players won’t be moving Magnus into a dark corner behind a crate to get away from the piggehs, and it in no way takes away from the panic of running away from one of them that has spotted you (especially in the case of the final part of the game. Kudos to you for that one, developers) but you won’t find yourself hiding in a cupboard or barricading a door to slow their advance.
Whilst making their way through each level, the player will be charged with completing a task, with some being a simple case of ‘pull this switch’ to puzzles that require a little legwork to complete, but the straightforward nature of these objectives may leave some players wanting more. In some ways, it is more of a theme park ride that you can step off of from time to time to explore an area before getting back on again to solve the next puzzle, and it is in this exploration that the true strength of the game is found. The atmosphere of Victorian London that The Chinese Room have built is undeniably impressive thanks to the detail in the level design.
Thick fog makes it hard to see down the cobbled streets, lights flicker when danger is near making the sudden darkness an unexpected change, rich dialogue and letters filled with grim imagery haunting the player with every word. The true star in all of this though is the sound design, striking at the ears with the right amount of audible force at the perfect time. The wails of screams and squeals (oh god, the squeals) combined with a soundtrack that is absolutely spot on from start to finish adds to the mind-bending paranoia every time the player goes around a corner.
All of this makes AMFP a well-crafted experience that focuses more on the sense of dread and despair of its lead character than it does on survival, but with an overall playtime of between four and five hours, depending on if the player decides to explore every area of the game and collect every hidden document, the lack of replayability might make some potential buyers hold off for a slightly cheaper price. That said, it is still very capable of a scare or two, just don’t be expecting to need to change your undergarments every five minutes.
- Incredibly well-crafted atmosphere.
- Sound design that is second to none.
- Those pigs are will have you squealing…
- … but not nearly as often as some may have hoped.
- Less focus on survival than before.
- The 4-5 hour playtime might be a little too short for full RRP.
The Short Version:
The collaboration between Frictional Games and The Chinese Room may not have been the masterclass in terror many had hoped for, but the end result of A Machine For Pigs is still a memorable and powerful one in terms of its story and atmosphere. As long as you aren’t going in expecting a scare a minute, these little piggies are still capable of making you squeal.