Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a genuine phenomenon when it was released, tightening the unique control scheme of their underrated Penumbra series while offering a terrifying blend of gothic and Lovecraftian horror that soiled underpants and filled YouTube with ridiculous “Let’s Play” videos of players mewling in fear at the game’s monstrous moments.
Its sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, has switched developers to Dear Esther’s The Chinese Room, and the game’s tone has seen a massive shift as a result. The writing is dramatically different, and the horror is different as well…but is it as scary as its predecessor?
Set in 1899, 60 years after the first Amnesia, the environments and the tone take on a very different style. Steampunky fixtures and electric lights have replaced the stone walls and sputtering torches, and the supernatural elements have been replaced by some truly grotesque scientific horror that calls to mind H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau or Shelley’s Frankenstein. The writing here is top-notch, and manages to plant squirming ideas in the player’s brain as they peel back the layers of the game’s story. There is some shared DNA with Dear Esther in terms of themes, particularly in the main character’s loss of his wife, but there’s a distinct flavor that isn’t explored often in gaming. There are elements of pulp horror and adventure, as well as some very deep, nihilistic ideas at play. It’s a very different take on horror than its predecessor, but the imagery—which gets pretty sacrilegious at times—certainly affected me on a much deeper level. That, coupled with a slow-burn tension (it’s almost two hours before the game places you in any real peril) creates a feeling of genuine, palpable terror that made my mouse-hand twitch and made my poor girlfriend nope out of her spectator’s chair at the skin-crawling suspense, punctuated with split-second shocks.
Once the monsters come into play, it only gets worse, as the game shifts into freakish overdrive. All of the hints that were dropped for hours as to what the main character was involved in are brought to mad, porcine life. Explaining any further would be criminal, as the experience established by the game’s writing is truly remarkable, but the monstrous pig-hybrids are some of the nastiest things I’ve ever dealt with, especially given the game’s lack of combat.
All of this is brought to life with near-perfect audiovisual fidelity. The turn-of-the-century architecture has a dour beauty that blends perfectly with the glossy brass of the sputtering steam pipes that crisscross throughout. Sound design is pitch perfect (a good pair of headphones enhance the experience immeasurably) and the game’s beautiful score does exactly what it should: build the tension to a nerve-wracking crescendo.
Horror is a very subjective experience. Some may long for the more supernatural frights of the first Amnesia as they walk through the more “grounded” terror of A Machine for Pigs, but the game’s phenomenal writing actually builds more fear—at least for this player—than its predecessor offered.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is now available for PC.