Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

Glancing here and there I haul the great petrol canister into its fitting on the fuel pump. As I grip the wheel and begin turning it, opening the valve and allowing petrol to pour into the canister I’m halted by what sounds like an explosion. The splintered shards of what was the door to the steps above me rain down upon my head and I look up to catch a glimpse of the thing that pursues me as it heaves its enormous body across the stairwell looking for a way to get to me. Its bellows and squeals almost flooring me there and then, but I take hold of myself and continue turning the wheel. Once filled I feverishly grip the canister and run like I’ve never run before.

During this point in my time with Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs my face was almost literally pressed up against the screen. My breathing grew heavy and panicked and my hands were shaking like leaves. Was that the creature that I’d spied in that caged bed in my mansion? The one I’d unwittingly released? Why had I locked it up?! At the very least I’m confident it doesn’t just want to give me my front door key back.

I’d almost forgotten what Amnesia was known for; I’d gotten used to the Dead Space brand of videogame horror. The monsters jumping out of ventilation shafts and fighting each other for screen time, shoving their faces into the screen screaming, “HEY CAN YOU SEE ME YOU CAN SEE ME ALRIGHT ARE YOU SCARED YET?”

I thought maybe I was just a fucking hard-case.

I can’t figure out whether to be embarrassed or invigorated

Now I’m only about an hour and a half into Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and it’s reduced me to a quivering wreck. I can’t figure out whether to be embarrassed or invigorated, but I settle on embarrassment shortly afterwards due to being forced to Alt+F4 (close the game) out of sheer terror. Terror generated through atmosphere and nothing else. It was just an organ playing really loudly. Just an organ. A terrifying, ominous, non-existent organ playing in an empty church.

For all I’m bigging up the fear factor, however, the game’s focused far more on narrative than on scares, although the horror and narrative do slot together quite nicely. You wake up in your caged bed, suffering from the titular amnesia, and you must find your twin boys who have decided to run down into some enormous machine below your home.

The story goes from that ominous beginning to some seriously dark places and over the course of the game you’ll become more and more acquainted with the history and purpose of the great machine. For some reason it’s sorely lacking in voice acting for the notes you find. I’ve no issue with reading, but the voice acting the game does have is of such a high quality that it feels a waste not to use it more often. The silver lining in this little quibble is that reading the notes instead of listening to them may engage your imagination better, making you visualise the events you’re reading about.

If you’ve played Dear Esther (and if you haven’t then go buy it, you big dumb) then you’ll recognise the footprints of Chinese Room from the off. So heavily narrative-driven is the story that, in reality, the game only puts you in danger a handful of times, leaving you safely to explore for the majority of your time with it. Like Dear Esther you’ll wander around the world doing more reading than puzzle-solving or being chased around by monsters, but you likely won’t mind because the game is just so damn well written.

I regularly found myself quite emotionally drained by the events described, even exclaiming out-loud eloquent phrases like, “fuck me” and “this is fucked up” just to break the deafening silence of the darkened room around me. Sadly the game is let down a little by some technical issues. The engine, the same one used for the original Amnesia, hasn’t really evolved much and still doesn’t even make use of dynamic shadows. It may not seem like much but it can take you out of the experience a bit if you’re a stickler for visual detail. I fell through the floor a few times too when attempting to interact with ladders, possibly due to my habit of trying to jump onto them to get a head start on the whole climbing thing. Hard not to do when there’s some putrid monstrosity after your blood.

The importance of the narrative is the reason why I’m not going very far into the plot at all. You need to experience it naturally while you play, and in the order that The Chinese Room have set out. Trust them, they know what they’re doing.


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