In the first installment of the “Amnesia” series, “Amnesia: The Dark Descent,” the player is jolted with a jump scare in a long dining hall. It’s effective and sets the unsettling tone for the rest of the game. But where “The Dark Descent” jumps out at the player, “A Machine for Pigs” creeps behind, breathing down the player’s neck.
“Don’t kill me, Daddy! Don’t kill me, Daddy!” a child pleads in the opening sequence. This is all it takes to establish the murky and breathless atmosphere.
“A Machine for Pigs” starts out similarly to “The Dark Descent.” But this time, the protagonist wakes up in the bloody, dark room of a Victorian mansion rather than a mysterious castle.
Set in turn-of-the-century London, you play an industrialist named Mandus Oswald who has just returned from a ruinous expedition in Mexico. He is wracked by dreams of a hellish machine. When he wakes up, that unseen machine rumbles beneath his mansion..
A mysterious caller tells Oswald his children are trapped in the depths of his estate and he has little time to save them. With this, Oswald ventures into the depths.
What follows is an atmospheric and affecting tale told with the clarity of a fever dream. The developer, thechineseroom, brings its signature knack for poetic dialogue, excellent voice acting and tense atmosphere, seen early last year in their ethereal title, “Dear Esther.”
“In my dreams, I see a man dressed in jaguar skins and feathered like a bloodied saint,” one of Oswald’s found documents reads.
The game mechanics are stripped to essentials. Unlike “The Dark Descent,” few items are interactive, save for chairs and cue balls. The inventory system has been done away with. Oswald scribbles in his journal frequently and finds numerous letters and documents that elucidate the narrative.
“A Machine for Pigs” is mostly based in reality rather than the supernatural, but this makes it no less affecting than its predecessor. The horrors the player discovers are only described, leaving the player to imagine their true extent.
Thankfully the oil lantern has been replaced with a flashlight, eliminating the need for oil. But at the most inconvenient times, the flashlight cuts out, leaving the player helpless and exposed.
The presentation is extremely detailed, slick and best played with low light. The mansion walls are adorned with ominous paintings and flickering lamps and light bulbs.
Most notable is the sound design. The harsh grind and chirr of ancient gears, guttural pig squeals and haunting whispers greet players at every turn.
But still, there were moments in “A Machine for Pigs” that I felt less danger than the game seemed to want. There are only a few jump scares because they’re not the point. “Pigs” is narratively driven and wildly horrifying at moments, but suffers from stagnation when the few creature encounters end too soon.
The game is also short. The tale of Oswald is more tightly woven than the hunt for Alexander in “Descent,” and the ending is in keeping with thechineseroom’s sometimes frustrating, but mostly inviting, “discover for yourself”-style of storytelling.
“A Machine for Pigs” lives up to its predecessor and improves on it admirably. While the jump scares are at a deficit, the atmosphere is expertly crafted and brutally oppressive in many instances. If you’re willing to dive head on into its Cimmerian depths, “A Machine for Pigs” is worth the leap.
Game: “Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs”
Genre: Survival Horror