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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Deserves More Respect

If, like me, you have an appreciation for a well made horror game that can get under your skin without very much effort, then you’re likely accustomed to playing first-person horror adventures. When it comes to what most people are familiar with or what we advise other people to play, we typically think of games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast or even Five Nights at Freddy’s as being modern representatives for “must-play” games for the intrepid newcomers to the genre. Maybe you would prefer to go back a little further and suggest horror puzzler Penumbra with its physics-based interactions, or more recently with Alien: Isolation and its terrifyingly capable Xenomorph. Regardless of which game you would choose, the point is that everyone has that one game that they tend to recommend more than others.

For me, in this particular instance, I recommend Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Typically, when I mention this in conversation, I’m met with rolling eyes and the same old trite opinions on the game, which in my mind have little validity to them. In fact, having watched and read many reviews about A Machine for Pigs, I can comfortably say that much of what I’m told is essentially a repeat of what some critics have said, as though the notion of forming a personal opinion (or at least rephrasing someone else’s words) is a foreign concept. Constant tales of “you’re never actually in danger” or “the game is just a walking simulator” are rife in A Machine for Pigs discussion, and are entirely disingenuous given how you do find yourself in danger and don’t simply walk through the world. Either these complaints come from a lack of personal experience with the game and are simply parroted statements, or we didn’t play the same game.

But I digress.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs deserves more respect. I don’t say this out of some misplaced sense of loyalty to the Amnesia series, A Machine for Pigs wasn’t even developed by the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I say this because, despite having only released one full game, which was a walking simulator, prior to being tasked with the development of A Machine for Pigs, developers The Chinese Room were able to take the advice given to them by Frictional Games and create a pseudo-scientific steampunk horror narrative set during the turn of the 19th century. It does so through vivid imagery and the presentation of ideas that are so twisted that they could almost be believed; it even throws in some of the mystical narrative found in The Dark Descent by hinting at plot devices called Orbs which make an appearance. (Fun fact, A Machine for Pigs is a sequel to The Dark Descent)

Where other games seek to shock you with jump scares, or the mutilation of bodies, or other means of getting under your skin,  A Machine for Pigs takes things in a decidedly less obvious direction. It slowly unfolds a twisted narrative which looks inward at the heart of our character, Oswald Mandus, while also letting us feel the influence of The Engineer, a machine sentience which Oswald is responsible for.

I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, purely because this is a game that you truly should experience for yourself, but suffice it to say that the narrative that unfolds throughout the game is original in the extreme.

The voice work in the game is undeniably incredible, as is required for such a great story. There’s nothing worse than hearing good lines delivered by bad voice actors, and luckily The Chinese Room had no problems in this department. Our character, Oswald, is voiced by none other than the amazing Toby Longworth, with The Machine’s sentience being given voice by Mark Roper, both of which bring their all to their roles.

What a lot of people seem to have missed about the game, is that it’s not entirely about your personal experience. It’s about the greater story that goes untold. With minimal spoilers, you’re trying to avoid letting the 20th century play out as it did, the worries of the world are laid out before you in prophetic sense, and the weight of it threatens to drown out everything else in the game if you let it.

There comes a time when The Machine pleads its case, saying, “I have stood knee deep in mud and bone and filled my lungs with mustard gas! I have seen two brothers fall; I have lain with holy wars and copulated with the autumnal fallout! I have dug trenches for the refugees. I have murdered dissidents where the ground never thaws and starved the masses into faith! A child’s shadow burnt into the brick work, a house of skulls in the jungle. The Innocent, the innocent Mandus! Trapped and bled and gassed and starved and beaten and murdered and enslaved! This is your coming century. They will eat them Mandus. They will make pigs of you all and they will bury their snouts, into your ribs and they will eat your hearts!”

We, the player, know full well that the events above do actually transpire, as we waged war against each other, committed affronts to human dignity by the thousands, and fed sons and daughters into the war machine like pigs to slaughter. But the narrative seems to be wasted upon many who decry the lack of jump scares and ignore the horror of reality that is laid out before them while being interwoven with an excellent work of fiction.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, in my opinion, truly does deserve more respect, and if you haven’t played it yet, you really should. There’s a lot to uncover as you play through the game, solving puzzles and revealing the story. And for those who haven’t played it, but have made up your mind about it based on the opinions of others, then why not trust my opinion, and try it yourself?