Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the first in what would eventually become a franchise from a small, relatively unknown developer (Frictional Games), was arguably one of the most terrifying video games ever made.
It gave you a sense of helplessness; there were evil creatures that roamed the unfamiliar halls of the mansion your protagonist found himself in, and there was nothing you could do to escape death from them but to run, hide, and pray that the creature couldn’t find you.
The darkness itself that pervaded the terrifying mansion instilled fear in the protagonist’s heart, which also served as a game mechanic. The less frightened you were, the less likely you were to be spotted, chased and/or killed by your enemy. To keep your wits, you needed to avoid the dark as much as possible.
Another theme, although not quite as pervasive at first, was madness. The further along you progressed in the game, it became more and more apparent that wretched, inhumane deeds were carried out in the mansion – and that you, yourself, may have even played some small (or large?) part in all of this madness that you find yourself surrounded in.
In the sense that Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs provides you only the option to hide to avoid your enemy, and that madness is a theme, the two games are alike; but as you’ll quickly discover, the game – developed by The Chinese Room under the direction of Frictional Games – leans more towards one thing than the other: madness. Absolute madness.
Don’t take that to mean that Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs isn’t scary, because it is – just not in the same way. If you come in expecting something scary in the same way that the original game was, though, you’re likely going to be disappointed.
The original game instilled fear into players by using darkness; your character would lose his sanity in total darkness, and so you would go about collecting tinderboxes for lighting candles, and fuel for your lantern. These were often scarce, however, and added an extra layer of tension.
In Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, none of those mechanics are used. Your character is not afraid of the dark, and he has no need for candles as his lantern never runs out. Occasionally the lantern will blink to let you know something supernatural is going on around you, but that’s it.
Removing the tension caused by darkness ultimately resulted in me not really taking very many precautions while exploring; not even the monster reveal was particularly scary, so I always found myself just exploring the environment as if it were nothing more than a harmless haunted house.
To The Chinese Room’s credit, however, this allowed me to really take in the atmosphere – the ambient sounds, the attention to detail in the various places the story leads you through. It’s evident that a lot of work went into making your environment appear aesthetically disturbing, and the developer certainly got that one right.
The story in the original game was basic, and a bit predictable; it felt as if the story was meant to stay in the background for most of the game. In Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, however, the story is always right in front of you – the story drives you, motivates you.
Storytelling in this game is much better than its predecessor. It’s not without its flaws; it can be incoherent at times, but the game wants you to know what exactly is going on in this place. The game wants you to witness the madness that takes place here – and why it’s here in the first place.
And witness you will.
Final thoughts: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is not as scary as its predecessor. The encounters with the “enemy” are rarely ever enough to frighten you, and they seem to be few and far between anyway. The creepy ambiance and disturbing environments are intended to strike fear in your heart, but it won’t take long before you become somewhat accustomed to it.
With that being said, the game is worth playing if you want to take a tour through a haunted house of sorts; a place filled with madness and inhumane acts that leaves you with a sense pity and regret. The narrative is well written (and acted), and will likely hook you in, beckoning you to dig deeper into the mystery behind this wretched place.
If that’s what you’re looking for – a streamlined horror game full of atmosphere and a good story – then Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is for you. If you’re looking for something akin to this game’s predecessor, something a bit more hardcore, well, you may want to look elsewhere.