Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is thrilling, intriguing, frightening — and it reveals a dark, disconsolate world as well crafted as any out there. But it takes far too long to get there.

The first half is rushed and unpolished but the second half is so good that I have to forgive the first few hours of bland and mediocre gameplay. What’s amazing about it, though, is it isn’t just another jumpy-horror game that hits that one note over and over again. It spent time to create a meaningful plot with great pacing.

Unsurprisingly, the story begins with the main character waking up with amnesia. The story soon evolves past the expected into a shocking, gritty and terrifying narrative that was smart, well written and well researched. It draws heavily from Nietzsche’s philosophical views, as well as Aztec mythology, which showcased a level of thought I didn’t expect from a horror game, and I appreciated the plot more because of this.

amnesia screen 1

As good as the story is, it is told through too many channels; audio diaries, memories, written diaries, personal journals and dialogue are all thrown at you. Some of it sticks, but it’s just too much. Generally, the audio medium stands out. The voice acting is average at times, but brilliant at others. And even when it isn’t its best, it at least fits the time and mood of the story well. The main antagonist though, man, he sells his part. He is ruthless and powerful, and his final speech toward the end of the game channels the fearsomeness and intensity of infamous speeches made by dictators.

The written content doesn’t work as well for one big reason — it’s a break from the apprehensive effect of Amnesia. It’s essentially the same as pausing a horror movie. Nothing is scary during a freeze frame. And there is so, so much written content in this game. Amnesia needs more audio content because the written content broke the momentum of horror that builds up. Plus, it simply does a better job at telling the story.

amnesia maskHorror is a tricky genre to nail. Shock tactics and cheap scares only work so well until the user is either acclimated to or bored with it. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs uses so many different methods and spreads them out well to create a truly scary game. It even purposefully gets you used to a certain thing, like pig masks randomly appearing where you’ve already been, and completely changes how that object is used at a later point. And it just did such a good job of completely playing on my expectations. Far after I thought I was free of danger is when Amnesia sprung some of the worst stuff on me.

Unfortunately, Amnesia takes its time to get there. The beginning is eerie, but not scary or nearly as intriguing as later in the game. It’s interesting to wander around the deserted mansion searching for clues to the whereabouts of your kids and your identity. That initial inspection brought me to some dark areas, which were fascinating to poke around, but weren’t impactful, and is nearly forgotten by the end of the game.

Even with all its imagery and scare-tactics, Amnesia would not work without its chilling and exceptional sound design. The music and environmental sounds – or sometimes lack of them – set the tone for the entire game, and inspired the majority of my apprehension and fear. The chilling shriek of a pig’s scream mixed with opera music is a startlingly unsettling sound. Similar noises often were disturbing enough to inspire me to run from a room, whether there was something after me or not. I didn’t check because I frantically wanted to escape. Sound design, more than any other facet of Amnesia, accomplished the goal of creating fear.

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In many ways, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a scaled down version of its predecessor. Puzzles are all but non-existent, and the game focuses more on exploring than searching for some missing ingredient to a potion, but the remnants of that system do remain; it’s just much more linear now. Doors will lock and unlock depending on where the story wants to take you next. It’s a simple trick that forces you to head in the right direction, but it also fits well within the horror motif.

amnesia screen 2

 

One of the more prominent changes from the first Amnesia is the lack of lamp fuel. And this change could not be more welcome. Scavenging for oil was too tedious to me, and was more annoying than anything. Being able to keep your lantern on without worrying about running out of fuel is possibly less frightening, but it allows the narrative’s pacing to stay consistent, which to me is more important. There is also far less interaction than I expected. The requirement to pick up and examine objects by rotating them is sparse. It’s not a concept I particularly enjoyed in the previous game, or similar titles, so its loss is very welcome. If anything, I think it makes Amnesia easier to get into for non-traditional gamers.

 

Wrap Up

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is the kind of game I obsess over by watching the ending sequence or listening to its music again and again. Rarely is a game so well written, but I definitely didn’t expect a horror title to rely so heavily on philosophical themes and creating a stimulating narrative. The industrialized Frankenstein’s lab like factory setting in Amnesia is a world worth exploring.

score of 8
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