Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs review: pearls before swine

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs tells a great horror story within a fairly simple game

Game Info
Platform Win, Mac, Linux
Publisher Frictional Games
Developer The Chinese Room
Release Date Sep 10, 2013

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs may not be the game that you expect.

After the surprise success of 2010's Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Swedish developer Frictional Games did something unexpected: It put a follow-up into the hands of The Chinese Room, a small team mostly known for Dear Esther, an hour-long experimental game with very little actual interaction.

The Chinese Room builds as much on its own legacy as Frictional's. A Machine for Pigs simplifies Amnesia's gameplay even beyond its initial purity of purpose. It still features puzzle-solving, exploring creepy locales and running from enemies who cannot be injured — it just has a whole lot less of those things than The Dark Descent. In its place lies a deeper and better-told story that picks at the darkest corners of our subconscious and society as a whole.

A Machine for Pigs begins as main character Oswald Mandus wakes from a fevered sleep. His memory blank, Mandus wanders through an empty mansion, following phantom yells from his missing twin children. As he goes deeper into the house's secret passages and the strange tunnels beneath it, he finds himself avoiding horrific creatures and attempting to catch up with a saboteur wrecking the very machinery that may save the twins.

I never got stuck or felt particularly intellectually challenged

The setup isn't far removed from that of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but the follow-through feels unique. Mandus has no inventory, and all puzzles are solved with objects in the environment — levers, switches or items that are invariably located near the problem they fix. Likewise, Mandus' lamp never runs out of oil. I never got stuck or felt particularly intellectually challenged in A Machine for Pigs, but this didn't bother me. A focus on difficult puzzle-solving isn't the game's intent.


Neither is Machine for Pigs' intent challenging you to stay alive. As in The Dark Descent, enemies are an unstoppable force; your only choice is to turn off your lamp, run into the shadows and hide until they wander off. But these enemies are rare and almost never appear more than one at a time. The deformed monsters hobble after Mandus slowly, providing plenty of time to escape, and he can take a good number of hits and recovers his health quickly. I only died once in my whole playthrough, a shocking change of pace compared to my clumsy struggles through the first Amnesia.

Despite the lack of traditional sources of tension, A Machine for Pigs is still a horror game. But the fear comes almost wholly from its shocking story and foreboding atmosphere. From the shuddering beams of Mandus' home to the foggy side streets of London, each heavily detailed area has a weight that left my spirit crushed and my nerves frayed. I found it difficult to play for longer than an hour at a stretch, not because of anything specifically terrifying happening but because everything in the game was so suggestive of terror.

A Machine for Pigs forms a tragic story of insanity and redemption

Moving past the Poe and Lovecraftian inspiration of the first Amnesia, A Machine for Pigs has a reason to exist beyond spooking players. Letters, journal entries, sound recordings, flashbacks and parts of the environment form a tragic story of insanity and attempted redemption. But it doesn't stop there. Set on New Year's Eve of 1899, the scalding steam, massive steel factories and rusty pipework that make up Amnesia's levels point to the dehumanization of the industrial revolution and the impending dawn of the 20th century.

Mandus' plight is engaging and disturbing in its own right, but A Machine for Pigs also questions how far one should be willing to go in order to right perceived wrongs with the world, and whether the world is rightable at all. It risks some of its scares by suffusing wider issues throughout. But I found myself more creeped out at the suggestion of an insanity beyond a single character or location. The plot is less immediately frightening than The Dark Descent, but I'll be digesting it a lot longer.

Wrap Up:

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs tells a great horror story within a fairly simple game

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs doesn't provide the pure scares of its predecessor. Its systems are deeply simplified, its sense of dread less all-encompassing. But it still leaves a lasting impression. The horror it filled me with was more subtle and insidious, and it's not going to be out of my system for many days to come.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was reviewed using a final downloadable code provided by Frictional Games. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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