Genre: Survival Horror, Walking Simulator
Original Release: September 10, 2013
Developer: The Chinese Room
Publisher: Frictional Games
Platforms: PC, Linux, Mac OS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Played on: PC
I’ve been struggling to come up with the words to properly discuss A Machine For Pigs for about a month now. Even now I’m still trying to think about how to properly discuss what I like and dislike about it and I have a feeling that I’m never going to be completely satisfied with it, but if I don’t write about it now then it’s never going to happen. So here we go.
I’ve had this game in my library since it came out, but I didn’t touch it until September of this year. Partly because I had nothing better to do, but mainly because Amnesia: Rebirth is slated for release later this month and I figured now is as good a time as ever to catch up on the series. People told me I could skip it and not miss a lot, but I chose to play through it all the same. And boy…the people who told me I could skip it were right.
I want to be perfectly clear: I adore Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It was among my first real dives into horror games and it gave me some intense heebie-jeebies, even knowing a little bit of what I was getting into thanks to its popularity at the time. Even now I think about it fondly, despite remembering almost everything I need to do start to finish all these years later. The gameplay itself, while simple, was fun, and the tension kept me on my toes and really immersed me in the game. But that’s an article for another day.
Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs…misses that mark pretty hard for me. The already simple gameplay of The Dark Descent was simplified with the removal of the inventory system, so all you could really do was pick up an item in one place, maybe have it interact with another object, and move it to another spot. No puzzles to scratch your head over, not a lot of scares, just…a lot of walking back and forth. It’s a walking simulator like Dear Esther with a thin layer of horror over top.
The story of A Machine For Pigs is…okay. You are Osmund Mandus, a wealthy industrialist who wakes up one evening to an empty house. No sign of your children, no one in the halls, just you. And then you get a call on some form of intercom warning you that your children are trapped in the depths below near some kind of machine. That’s about all the narrative you get. The voice warns you that there’s a saboteur out to harm your children and ruin you, but little else. Honestly I just couldn’t get invested in it. Like with 7 Grand Steps, it just felt pretentious and that immediately takes me out of it.
Mandus has to make his way through the depths of his factory and to the heart of the machine to rescue his children, but…that’s it. There aren’t a lot of scares after the first section. Honestly, one of the first environmental bits scared me more than the monsters did and that was one of the biggest letdowns. I wanted to be scared. I wanted that unease and tension I expect from horror games.
The Chinese Room isn’t bad at telling a story, but they aren’t the best either. If I had to sum it up, I would say they’re firmly in the middle. And unfortunately that works against them. Mid-tier games aren’t awful, but they’re mostly forgettable. I can’t honestly recommend A Machine For Pigs because, unlike games like Superman 64, it’s just kind of there. It functions, but it doesn’t try to do much to stand out from other games. It’s like watching an animal of your choice at the zoo. A Machine For Pigs is one of the sleeping animals in the enclosure, and in this instance Superman 64 is the one that makes you laugh hysterically because it’s just kind of flailing around and you have no idea what happened or why.
Okay maybe not the best analogy, but I can’t really think of a better way to describe it. I’d advise giving A Machine For Pigs a pass and spending your money on one of the Dread X Collection installments instead, or The Dark Descent if you haven’t played it. Heck, save up for Amnesia: Rebirth or some of the New Blood Interactive titles coming out in the future.