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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

I was a little surprised to find out I hadn't already reviewed this game. Possibly it's because while I love watching other people play survival horror games, I've never much been one for playing them myself: I like my fear like I like my wild animal stampedes - experienced from a safe distance with a close friend suffering the brunt of it in my place. 

Still, having never played the first Amnesia, and being only distantly aware of what it was about, I was intrigued by A Machine for Pigs. The name alone generates interest, I should think, its bizarro standing in stark contrast to the dozens of horror games with either ominously cliche one word titles or two word titles in which some manner of non-living thing is dead. 

A Machine for Pigs puts you in the shoes of Mandus, a Victorian industrialist who wakes up one day to find that his two sons are missing. Drawn downwards by letters and the calls of a mysterious Engineer, Mandus enters the workings of a vast machine beneath his house, and slowly begins to learn the terrible things that he forgot, while evading the pigmen that occupy the machine. 

I'm careful to call this a horror game and not, as my first instinct was, a survival horror game, because it's certainly built in a different mould from games like Silent Hill. You're not often called upon to survive the attacks of monsters, and for the most part, the horror is built up through music, lighting, narration, and the bits of letters and journal entries that you find over the course of your exploration. It's a game where your fear is driven more by the story than by the creeping feeling that a monster based on a woman's body parts is going to fling itself out from the shadows and try to eat your face in simultaneously grotesque and metaphor-laden fashion.

So Victorian. Much industrial. Such pipe. Wow.

It's a very carefully crafted story, too. The writers had a clear idea in mind, and that idea was clearly 'the horror of the turn of the century' - the dark side of the Industrial Revolution, which often exploited the impoverished and downtrodden, and which would set the stage for some of the most brutal wars in human history. It's not exactly a balanced view of the Industrial Revolution, or the 20th Century, which is referenced forwards several times as being a century of brutality and death and pain, but then, there is no impression that it was meant to be. This is not a story intended to make a point about the Industrial Revolution or the wars of the 20th Century, but a story that capitalises on the negatives of those things to explore themes of fear, moral decadence, rage and sacrifice.

(Did I really not review this before now? I feel like I'm writing things that I have written before, it's very unnerving. Hang on, I'm going to go check. For the fourth time.)

Please enjoy this picture of a sinister exercise bike while you await my return.

It certainly helps that the setting is dark and brooding and gothic, and the voice acting - of which there is much, but only a few voice actors - is expertly done, with both the Engineer and Mandus getting several excellent monologues to music that I highly recommend you look up (search for 'Mandus with VO' and 'The Turn Of A New Century' on Youtube). The OST is superb, and the plotting is extremely well-paced, introducing information at a steady rate that never feels like it's coming too slowly (unless you get stuck trying to figure out what to do, which is always a definite possibility, as the puzzles are quite tough at times) or too quickly.

When the game does deign to throw a monster at you, it's terrifying. As an ageing industrialist, Mandus is not a fighter, and so your only choices are to flee or hide. Usually this means fleeing towards a door while a pigman follows you, screaming, and the last few levels towards the end introduce a kind of quantum pigman that flickers in and out of existence and can appear suddenly right next to you. 

Pictured, a regular pigman, for regular people.

The powerlessness is effective for creating fear, but certainly in levels towards the end where you might be encountering pigmen much more often, it can grow a little bit wearing.

All in all, I can certainly see why the Amnesia series is so popular. It's a finely crafted, memorable indie horror game that stands up incredibly well next to AAA cousins (arguably better, because as is often the case with indie games, there's a little more room for creativity here without executives breathing down the creators' necks) that I would recommend to anyone. But only if you like being scared. 

Also, if you can pronounce the word 'Thames.' I saw a couple of reviewers online who couldn't, it was very annoying. 

(Seriously, I have one hell of a sense of deja vu.)

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