I have a confession to make. While I own Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I’ve just never gotten around to playing it. I’d heard from friends that it was properly terrifying, so when I sat down to play this game for review I was coming in with a largely blank slate. As such I can’t compare it to the original title.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was developed by The Chinese Room, known primarily for their interactive novel-esque title, Dear Esther. That title had the player exploring from place to place, gathering bits of narration, slowly forming a cohesive whole. It was a clever way of storytelling – and in this, A Machine for Pigs is similar. While small portions of the game allow you to decide which direction to go in first, it’s actually very linear. I don’t mind that — many of my favorite games are linear. But I’d also just come off playing the hell out of Saints Row IV, and there was a definite period of adjustment. And for you folks who have played The Dark Descent, don’t worry. Frictional Games was involved and are publishing this title.
PC requirements are thankfully modest. My tower isn’t the most powerful but it was able to keep up with the game just fine with everything turned up. I experienced an issue with the VSYNC, which seemed like the timing was a little bit off. When I turned off VSYNC, the tearing was unbearable. The effect was replicated whether I was playing on Linux or Windows 7, so I’m not sure what the issue was. That said, the VSYNC hitching was more of a small annoyance than anything. The game features Steam Cloud synchronization, which made it easy to pick up where I left off between reboots from Linux to Windows. Steam achievements would have been nice, but they’re definitely not required.
Horror tends to fall in one of three categories: 1) the ‘cheap scare’ where sharp noises pop and things pop on the screen, only to disappear a moment later. 2) the thoughtful psycho-drama, weaving a tale of emotional torture. and 3) gore-porn, which features as much nasty guts and splattering of blood and various fluids in an attempt to disgust the player. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs consists of a combination of the three, but leaning most heavily on the second. These differences are what separated the early Resident Evil games from Silent Hill — and this game definitely brings to mind James’ self-imposed torture from Silent Hill 2.
Things aren’t immediately clear from the start of the game, but in the first hour or two a general feeling of unease grows. Something happened here, and I couldn’t help but feel like I — that is, Magnus, the player character — had a part in the machinations. (Pun intended.) There is no inventory or HUD here. All you have available to you is a lantern — which never needs refilling or recharging — a journal, and a free hand which you’ll use to open doors, and carry items from room to room. There’s no combat here — if you feel threatened your best option is to turn off your light and retreat. Or run. Running is good.
Graphically, the game is a bit of a grab bag. You’ll see the occasional skybox here but the majority of the game takes place indoors. Glass has a nice ‘hand blown’ effect to the visual, and the lighting engine is pretty spot on. That said, textures were a little muddy even at the highest settings. My video card has 2GB of GDDR5 on board; a high-res texture pack would do wonders for the visuals. Then again we’re dealing with an indie game — I can understand for time and budgetary reasons why the team has to stop at “good enough” for some things. It doesn’t detract in the long run.
What really shines here is the sound direction. The use of original classical music from composer Jessica Curry is just fantastic. Chris Carter once said, speaking about The X-Files, that there were more than a few times when Mark Snow’s compositions were able to save what he felt were weaker episodes, and it’s true here as well. There were several moments when I felt quite confident, only to have my calm shattered by a spike in the soundtrack – and a squeal or giggle in the distance. I highly recommend playing this game with your favorite headphones.
All in all, the occasional hitching in the graphics and slightly muddled textures keep this title from perfection. But if you like the horror genre, I definitely recommend picking up Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. The story will keep you guessing how everything ties together until the very end. Play in a dark room, alone, with headphones. I guarantee you’ll jump when you least expect it.
This game was played via Steam on both Windows 7, 64-bit, and elementary OS 0.2 Luna, 64-bit, with the backport Raring kernel (100% Ubuntu 12.04 compatible).