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[Review] - Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs


MrsBadExample
  • Title: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

    Developer: The Chinese Room / Frictional Games

    Publisher: Frictional Games

    Genre: First-person Horror Adventure

    Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

    Release Date: September 10, 2013

    Price: $19.99 (USD)

    Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs has extremely big shoes to fill. The original, Amnesia: The Dark Descent has been heralded as one of the scariest games to date, spawning thousands of Let's Plays, reaction videos, and hilarious stories. Frictional Games did a fantastic job with a small team, a limited budget, and an incredibly large imagination.

    But how did A:AMfP fare?

I’ll be honest. Not well. I went into this game with the expectations not of the game surpassing the original Amnesia, but at least holding the same ground; the same terror, the same unsettling feel. Expecting too much would have just been letting myself down from the get-go, it's a formula for failure; but it's certainly fair enough to expect the game to be at least as successful as it's predecessor.

Without divulging too much of the storyline, it's difficult to explain exactly where A:AMfP went wrong. The first Amnesia was rich in story, giving a fairly detailed history of Daniel's journey prior to Brennenburg, his travels to Brennenburg itself, then what transpired within the castle. Amnesia is about rediscovering everything Daniel had done, and his attempts to atone for his perceived sins.

aamfp_04.jpg?m=1378658471

Well, this is normal.

A:AMfP, while having a fantastically disturbing storyline, falls short on exposition and really drawing you in. They kind of briefly touch on Oswald Mandus's history, skipping here and there, and the Machine is never really EXPLAINED in all it's glory. Which is a shame, because it is truly a glorious Machine. But more importantly, the entire tone of the story has changed. While this may be intentional or not, and the Dark Descent invoked terror and sometimes disgust at the actions performed by both Alexander and Daniel, A:AMfP caused me just to feel.. well.. sad. I sympathized with my attackers, and began to loathe my own character. Again, this may have been intentional; but it was not exactly what I was expecting.

Regarding your attackers, however, is probably the most disappointing portion. They're beautifully rendered - no doubt - but lacking the fear factor that the Grunt and the Brute did. Why? A plethora of factors reigns in here. For starters, A:AMfP did away with the insanity effect, something I think was an extremely poor decision. Sure, Mandus may have been batshit insane to begin with, but technically so was Daniel by that point. The amount of times I was clearly able to see the 'monster' coming after me really ruined the fear of the unknown, and the complete lack of 'panic music' also took away. Yeah, that electric shredding guitar could get annoying in the Dark Descent sometimes, but it also made you absolutely panic as you knew that one of the monsters was hot on your tail. Instead here, you just have a pig squealing maniacally as it chases you (or doesn't, as I found out) and that's pretty much about it.

To boot, the AI is godawfully stupid. The Dark Descent didn't boast any sort of higher processing AI for certain, but I was hoping they'd at least improve upon it for A:AMfP. Not only did they seem to not add to it, but they also seemed to detract. I was able to slip around pigmen undetected in the weirdest situations, and as long as I had my lantern away, I could pretty much shove my face in theirs. My first patrol encounter I was terrified, until I realized how slow and utterly stupid they were. It became more of route memorization instead of a "oh god don't let it get me" moment.

And while the models again, were lovely, they utilized them too much. Sounds odd, I know. But unfortunately it’s true. Don’t worry about missing the pigman early in the game – you’ll be seeing them a lot further on. I mean, a lot. It’ll eventually become sort of boring, and he’ll just become a mobile surveillance camera that can stab you. It was nice to see them up close, but that’s something that detracts from the scares, not adds to them. The Grunt and Brute were even kind of silly in their own right once you finally knew what they looked like, but the insanity blur and consistent darkness prevented you from seeing them fully. You remained scared.

Dan Pinchbeck stated in his interviews over a year ago [courtesy Gamasutra]:

"The thing is, if we don't frighten people as much as the original, then we've failed. But now we have to frighten people that know what to expect," Pinchbeck said. "The big design challenge is: How do we protect the things that make Amnesia great, and how do we evolve everything else to make a really fresh experience?"

...

"With this new game, we want to create a world that is so rich and dramatic and beautiful that the player is constantly torn between wanting to go around the corner to see what's there and not wanting to go around the corner because they're frightened of what's there," said Pinchbeck."

...

"We want this game to be absolutely skin-crawlingly, heart-shatteringly, and nerve-jarringly terrifying -- that's the target. Everything is geared around that. Just turning people to complete ice and making them have complete meltdowns," he added."

Reading back on those, I'm surprised. While the experience was fresh, and definitely beautiful, there was absolutely no real reason to explore. Why? Because of the lack of inventory management and item collection. No lamp oil to grab, no tinderboxes to utilize. That sounds silly to some I'm sure (and a lot of people are just avid explorers) but having a lantern that never dies out, that flickers at the slightest hint of danger - completely removes the entire aspect of SURVIVAL horror. Instead, I felt like I was being told a scary story, and I was being yanked through a path semi-reluctantly. Some of the frustration that lead to being lost in the dungeons of Brennenburg was not knowing if you got all the items, or even the correct items – and that was both a good and bad thing. Sure, it pissed you off, but it got you actively spending time in the game SEARCHING for things. No stone left unturned, you generally tore apart every room to see if there was a glowing goodie in it. Items would begin to cause fear due to the high number of trigger events, and taking all of that away lead to a lot of disappointment.

release_1.jpg?m=1378658475

Look at all this shit I can't interact with! I'M SO EXCITED.

And unfortunately, this leads to yet another issue. Lack of object interactivity. This was probably my major complaint, as weird as that sounds. Amnesia: TDD was great because you COULD have a rage moment and chuck a potato sack across the room, or try and protect yourself against a monster with a broom or a hammer (poorly advised, but people still did it anyway). I do realize that item stacking could cause game-breaking problems, but people set out to break the game will find ways anyway, so removing those things really made no sense to me. I enjoy playing a lot of Amnesia mods, and utilize the barrel trick; any large object works, really; you hold it up in front of the monster, and it can no longer “see” you, and as long as you don’t move, you can generally avoid an encounter. A problem, yes. Fixable? Yes. But not by removing your interaction with the world. Wow, I can touch a lamp! Oo, I can throw a chair? But I can’t shuffle these boxes, or pick up this book, or smash a bottle against the wall in frustration. Giant locks across cupboards and doors just reminded you how little you really could do.

The last negative I’ll touch upon is simply the ending. While I won’t spoil it for anyone, I will state that you get no choice. While the choices in the first Amnesia were fairly minute, you still had a CHOICE. You could let Alexander get away and be consumed by the Shadow, kill Alexander and emerge victorious from Brennenburg, or chuck Agrippa’s chatty head into the portal and help him get back to a realm he was better fit for (effectively killing Alexander anyway). All three endings had minor differences, and while not the same epic buildup as A:AmfP’s (the buildup to the ending is absolutely magnificent, save the odd choice of … erm... Pig Daddy?) you still felt satisfied that you could MAKE that choice. A:AMfP goes “lol nope” and forces their predetermined ending upon you. Unless there’s another path you can divert to (and I screwed around on a previous save 30 minutes prior, and even sat before the final climax for 5 minutes to see if waiting around made a difference) then that’s it. And it’s disappointing. And it makes no flipping sense. They missed so many opportunities, and I was so disheartened by it.

Now that I’ve complained a ton, let’s get onto the good stuff! Because there IS good stuff.

The soundtrack to this game is spectacular. The singing is beautiful and haunting, and the ambience is fantastic. I also couldn’t praise the voice actors more, for being fairly engaging for a character you play. Mandus himself was enjoyable to listen to, and I enjoyed hearing his bit pieces.

While I complained about the lack of interactivity, I will say that the world as a whole was absolutely beautiful. It was exciting to be able to go outside for once, and once you delve into the Machine, it visually gets more and more interesting. By the time you hit the end of the game, your eyes are feasting on delicious candy and wind up craving more. Disturbing candy, sure, but man is it good. I would stop and look around to just enjoy the environment from time to time, when I was sure I wasn’t being chased or otherwise. That, to me, is a great thing to experience.

whoaaaa.png?m=1378659676

I had to provide at least one mildly disturbing image. And it's only mild because the camera's turned.

While I did not feel the same terror and horror as the first Amnesia, there were a few very good scares in there. I’m not saying this isn’t a scary game. You do get frightened every now and again, and you do have to be stealthy and keep your wits about you. It’s a different sort of scared; less horror scared, and more stealth game scared. You don’t want the security to find you – but it doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. One of my favourite scares involves the Bilge level, and I’m sure many of you will find out why. It’s subtle, and one that’ll only affect previous Amnesia players.

The storyline, yes, I did complain about it up above a bit, was a great concept. There’s very minor twists that are hinted at, and you have a notion of what’s going on – so when it’s revealed there’s a great amount of satisfaction in the discovery. Then you begin tying together the beginning of the story to where you’re at, realizing things you saw earlier in the game have a connection to what you’re seeing now; things that are so disturbing and messed up, if you’re anything like me you become giddy. I think the entire last hour of the game I kept saying “This is so messed up! This is so disgusting! THIS IS AWESOME!”. While the storytelling wasn’t as strong, or maybe as entrenched, coming up with your own theories, or even trying to flesh it out yourself can be satisfying in your own right. I was perturbed that they didn’t touch on things, but who knows? Maybe an expansion will come out?

I will say, Mandus had some fantastic notes written and scattered among the world. Right before the end, I went back and re-read ALL of them. While reading them during the game, some of it made sense, by the time you hit the very end, it all clicks together and every single note you go “Ah HAH! That’s what he meant by that!”. I didn’t mind the notes being vague so much as the story as a whole, and it’s always good to leave an active imagination up to imagine the most horrific of things.

Overall, Amnesia will be a good game for people who aren't thoroughly attached to the franchise. It's a solid horror story with beautiful design, gorgeous music and lovely voice acting. It will definitely entertain, and is well worth the $20. If it were more than that, I'd have to say "ehhhh", however $20 is a perfect price point for this. It seems like an overhauled expansion pack to say the least of it, and I enjoyed the time I did spend playing it. Die hard Amnesia fans may be disappointed, as I was, but for overall just playability - it's still pretty fun.

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I'm fine with removing the sanity stuff, I kinda liked penumbra better than amnesia because it didn't have it, but infinite lantern...

After learning that it was more of The Chinese Room(devs of Dear Esther) doing the heavy lifting and Frictional simply publishing, I did start to get a little worried. Either way, I pre-orderred it when I pre-orderred Outlast, so I guess I'll just see for myself tomorrow.

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The sanity effect, I felt, lent heavily to the game, especially since it was an entire Lovecraftian "feel". (especially with lines about iirc, spiraling towers and impossible geometry) Calling your own sanity into question during the game is something that I feel Amnesia kind of had cornered rather well, especially with the fact that they did have some portions where you could spawn hallucinations if Daniel's sanity was too low. 

 

They may not have had to do the blur effect, but they should have done SOMETHING with sanity. Anything. Hallucinations, pitfalls that aren't there, monsters swarming from all corners, all the lights going out. Whatever. Maybe more Eternal Darkness stuff. They mentioned he had that fear of dirt, I really feel that the longer you took to get to the decontamination chambers, the heavier you should be punished.. or something.

 

I do agree that the feel of this is more The Chinese Room than Frictional Games. I'm hoping that Frictional Games does create more games, and learns not to lean on other companies as heavily in the future - I felt like this detracted from the series, not added to it.

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Excellent review.

 

Looking at other scores this game got, and it makes me wonder if they played the same game. The game is beautiful, but I honestly don't think it deserves some of its review scores. I want this game to have high review scores for the right reasons.

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Very good review. Shame it's a disappointment, but at least it still seems worth the $20 price point. Which is actually $16 if you preorder.  Maybe Frictional will take back the lead on the next one.

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Game seems to have some technical problems. Vsync doesn't work right(option in the game doesn't work, forcing it through nvidia control panel helps a little bit), everything has a blue haze, and at least for me when transitioning into some bigger rooms there are really noticeable frame drops.

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I finished it and just....ugh. I'm usually more forgiving with horror games since it's just a niche genre and I'll take anything I can get, but I really didn't enjoy this one at all. A lot of the same problems as you had, but I just didn't find there to really be any scares at all. The first time I saw a monster instead of  being "what in the hell IS that thing" I was just kinda, "really, that's the monster?". On top of that I just didn't enjoy the story very much.

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I will say, to get into some spoiler-y territory












****************************SPOILERS******************************

I really liked how the mask that's shown in a lot of the artwork for the game, would just appear in places you were before. I thought there was something off about it for a while, but didn't completely realize it was just appearing until after completing that one puzzle involving putting the gears in the machine, and then passing back by it after activating it and seeing the mask in the machine.

The part in the sewers with the pigs in the water that phase in and out of reality was just kinda like...."Gee, the water monster in The Dark Descent sure was cool".

The first real encounter with one of the monsters in...I believe it was almost right after finding the secret passage down in the church. I just kinda laughed, like "really, that's the monster?". I felt like it just built tension for to long for such a poor pay off.

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I don't think the Kaernk's are pigs. They briefly touch on them in Machine, but not enough to explain why or how they got there.

 

By Googling to get the correct spelling for them, I learned you could kill them in Dark Descent. I never knew that.

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One of the documents states that they were earlier failed experiments that got loose, but it doesn't really say much more than where they were kept previously, and that they sporadically jump in and out of existence. But yeah, I guess I just assumed, though it could have just been from the sounds of the pigs in those areas too.

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Looks like some players found a custom story option in the manual for Machine. Which spread like wildfire and excited many.

 

Until

http://www.frictionalgames.com/forum/thread-22737-post-255740.html#pid255740

 

Jens (Frictional)

"Should not be there, a left over that was overlooked in editing. The manual is essentially the exact same as for TDD. Putting it on the list to fix with patch. Thanks!"

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