“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” – Alfred Hitchcock
But what happens when the bangs proceed to become louder and louder? And then the bangs begin to surround you all around completely? And again, the bangs become like lighting and starts to shake the world around you? And finally, when the bangs are no longer crashing noises, or creaks in the night, but the heart piercing squeals of pigs? Will any of us be anticipating the terror once we begin fearing the bang?
An indirect-sequel to 2010’s critically acclaimed Amnesia: The Dark Descent and developed by Dear Esther‘s The Chinese Room rather than Frictional Games (who are publishing the game) A Machine for Pigs takes place 60 years later in 1899 London. At the turn of the century, the Industrial Revolution is underway and steam and electricity brings man closer to God’s power than ever before. Large distances are traversed quicker, machines can move heavier things, factories produce more than humanly possible, nations are conquered quicker, people are enslaved en masse, and disease is both cured and spread simultaneously. This is the Industrial Revolution and the setting of A Machine for Pigs. And during the dark hours in London, you wake up as Oswald Mandus, who finds himself alone in his mansion while his children are nowhere to be seen.
Rather than the gothic horror of the first game, A Machine for Pigs replaces iron for steel and delivers electricity instead of fire. It’s steam-punk gone to hell in the industrial center of the world. This also means a few practical changes. Tinderboxes and oil lamps are out, replaced with a more permanent, electrical hand lamp. Additionally, or perhaps as a result of this more reliable light source, the insanity meter seems to have vanished. As far as I could tell there was no such need to monitor the protagonist’s mental state.
Now some of you might decry these moves, thinking that the game is less intense as a result. Well, I’ll be happy to tell you that you have nothing to fear. Personally, I found those things distracting in the first game and the management elements ruined my immersion with the first Amnesia. This move to electricity streamlines the entire game so that more attention could be focused on the atmosphere. Because you see, the game is much more immersive in its environment than the previous game by leagues.
My two biggest problems with the first game (aside from the less annoying but still distracting resource management) were the unnecessarily obtuse puzzles, and the creature design (more on that later). A Machine for Pig fixes both these problems. The first, by simply making better puzzles. The mechanisms that control the world are simply better built and rather than making the puzzles one large fetch quest, they put the necessary items closer to the puzzle and opted instead, to make the world that much bigger. By game’s end, you’ll be exploring rather than be confined to a single castle and its dungeons. I’d say the game is about more than doubled the size of the original and each location is varied and equally terrifying.
Now I had a real problem with the first game’s creature. It was sort of ridiculous looking once I got used to it. It was disturbing, sure, but it became near comical once I steadied my nerves with its appearance. Not the case here, or at least not completely. The creature(s)(!) here are indeed more disturbing. Faster, more brutal, and with cries that will haunt me for a good while, the creature design trumps the previous game’s. A last minute boss completely halts the momentum, however, as it assumed a more generic appearance, but it makes up for it by being physically threatening. So while the creatures in both games ended up lacking towards the final moments, A Machine for Pigs’ stalker never lost its ability to dominate the surroundings.
Now I think my biggest surprise was how the game took its motif (it’s not hard to guess what this motif is) and ran away with it. This game is still a psychological horror game completely as it focuses on the same primal themes of the first game, guilt, fear, redemption; but it amplifies them by tying them with much larger ambitions. While both are the personal trials of a single man, it’s downright nihilism that fuels A Machine for Pigs.
The first game was fear incarnate by presenting you with nothing and letting your mind fill in the blanks. Creaks in the wood, splashes in the water, darkness did most of the work. The same principle applies in A Machine for Pigs but like a game with blood on its mind, it increases the pressure with a vice-like grip. Like a jackhammer to the nerve, it’s complete auditory and visual domination. The game is admittedly less subtle than its predecessor but subtlety is replaced with bone chilling aggression. It’s a matter of preference and some will find this move offending, while others will embrace the hammy bombast of the game. I certainly did, but I always did prefer those sorts of things. One thing’s for certain, A Machine for Pigs is probably one of the best abstract representations of the 20th century in fictional media. So don’t think Amnesia traded in substance for showmanship.
Graphically, the game is still the sort of game that can be run on pretty much any PC. I honestly can’t tell if the game is running on a different graphics engine or not, but the game still looks fantastic with higher-end models that can allow for all the nice textures and effects. It’s much smoother looking overall than the first and the people at the Chinese Room definitely used their experience from Dear Esther to create a more breathtakingly sinister landscape. Special mention to the soundtrack as well. I was playing with some very nice headphones throughout the entire thing and I have to say the musical ques and sound design help carry the game. Mechanical thumping, metallic grinding, sinister hissing, and a beautifully haunting score help bring the game to its raging crescendo. Play with headphones, a controller if that’s your preference, and be sure to dim the lights. It’s the best way to experience the game visually and sonically.
A Machine for Pig proceeds into the turn of the century with a sort of confidence that’s surprising for a game that started off as a smaller spinoff. The two games are very closely linked in terms of themes and occasional references to the other but A Machine for Pigs ups its predecessor in size, scares, and sheer monumentality. As if magnifying all of what made the previous game great and giving it a new, mechanical heart that ticks violently. I’m not afraid to say I loved A Machine for Pigs far more than I did the first Amnesia game and some of it is a result of The Chinese Room removing some of the elements that made the first Amnesia such a favorite amongst horror fans. It’s a different take on the series but at its core, the games are very much the same sort intense, psychological thrillers the fans have been waiting for.
Winston Churchill famously said that he likes pigs as they consider us their equals. After finishing A Machine for Pigs I can’t help but think if whether or not the pigs would share similar sentiments.
[+Much larger in terms of size and narrative scope than the first][+A worthy successor in terms of atmosphere and gameplay][+Improved puzzles and physics interaction][+An aggressive psychological horror game][-Does sacrifice bits of subtlety for its delivery][-Last act tonal shift eliminates some of the horror the game builds up early on]