September 10, 2013 10:30 AM | Paul Hack
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, the long-awaited sequel to Amnesia, the collaboration between Frictional Games (Amnesia: The Dark Descent) and The Chinese Room (Dear Esther), has arrived. Turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and give yourself over to the experience. If you don't enjoy being scared, you probably want to skip this one. If, on the other hand, you delight in the slow build of dreadful tension and the frisson of sudden terror, A Machine for Pigs is unmissable.
The year is 1899, the cusp of a new age for science. You awaken in your Victorian mansion, suffering from the titular malady. As you explore the house and uncover bits of your recent past, you may come to believe that the amnesia was a blessing. There is no winning in this game; there is only surviving and staying sane long enough to uncover the truths behind a number of mysteries. Where are your children, Edwin and Enoch? What is the purpose of the esoteric machine at the heart of the manor? Who is delivering cryptic instructions over the telephone? What happened at the "Temple"? Are you, in fact, a monster?
The gameplay mechanics are fluid and exploring the mansion and beyond is a breeze. You can push, pull, pick up, open, or otherwise interact with almost everything. Journals, recordings, flashbacks, possible hallucinations, and other narrative elements slowly reveal a tale that is far darker and more intense than anything that's left its blood spatter on my computer screen so far.
There are no weapons, but there are...things that stalk you. As in the previous Amnesia game, you must avoid, hide from, or run from them. The behavior of these things feels more realistic than the adversaries in the previous game, which makes these sequences even more terrifying. And if pigs creep you out, like they do me, then get ready for nightmares.
There are those that were worried the involvement of The Chinese Room would produce a game that's more like Dear Esther than The Dark Descent in its approach to interaction. Let me allay those fears: The entire game is interacting. Story bits are smoothly integrated into the gameplay and are always the result of an action you've taken, not just having arrived at a certain place. Nothing feels like an exposition dump; it's all perfectly integrated. In fact, the very best elements of Dear Esther's DNA have been woven into this new game. The dialogue/monologue, atmosphere, pacing, emotion, imagery, and subtext are as well crafted as a good novel. But this is definitely an Amnesia game.
The audio and visual components are AAA quality. The gameplay is a spellbinding blend of exploration, discovery, puzzle solving, and cowering in terror. There's no reason to pass up A Machine for Pigs except for a weak constitution. I've avoided spoilers and I suggest playing the game without learning much else about the plot. It's a hell of an experience.