Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs


I recently finished playing Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs (which came after Amnesia: The Dark Descent). A criticism I'd heard was that A Machine For Pigs was "less of a game" than The Dark Descent; it's true in part. A Machine For Pigs focusses much more on telling a story, to the extent that it removes many gamey elements such as the need to light candles; oil supplies for your lantern; injuries and healing; and physics-based puzzles. In their place is another disturbing story, but the tense way it unravels and the nature of it more than make up for the loss of some of the interactivity. It's the story that kept me playing, made up of many elements, some of which resonated more strongly with me.

I'll avoid specifics but there are strong and as-relevant-as-ever themes of suffering, treating other beings as resources, cultures of inhumanity, loss, mechanisation and industrialisation. I can't really talk about some of the most upsetting parts for me without giving away spoilers, but the premise is discovered fairly early on: it's the very end of the nineteenth century; you wake in a bed with a cage around it worried about your children; your mansion seems to be unoccupied, but you don't feel like you are alone, and there are strange red stains in some areas; and the house is part of a compound that includes a sausage factory. There's enough there to make you uneasy, and believe me, the game's reality is worse.

I wholeheartedly recommend playing this game (in the dark, with headphones!) if you enjoy horror, or want to experience a compelling story which gets more and more horrible as it unfolds. If you have played The Dark Descent then you'll have an idea of what to expect; one bonus here is that there are some outdoor scenes, though they remain almost as claustrophobic as the depths you will descend to. It's certainly a good lesson in how to give a story away slice by slice, and managing the fine balance between pulling the reader/player on whilst making them dread what will happen if they do. Interactive horror stories FTW.

The game is surprisingly restrained and never felt gratuitous, yet still at various points I felt my heart racing, or felt sick, disturbed, and worried. I sympathised and I drew parallels to the reality now. I thought about the story afterwards, its elements of parable and commentary. As the horror grows, and visceral queasiness switches to terror which paralyses you in the shadows hoping that you will be left alone, even though that probably means death far from the sunlight, far from hope, in a depth of darkness to which humans have proven themselves capable of sinking; as hell becomes an amoral reality of endless process, once again your stomach turns and the rancid flesh of our existence is hung up to show us what we are.

10/10, would play again.

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4 comments:

  1. And you do this for pleasure??

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  2. Would you read a book about animal liberation, or slavery, or subjugation of women for pleasure? (It's okay, I know you're not serious, and you know that sometimes messages can be important even if they are unpleasant!)

    Though there is some pleasure here in that you feel great relief when you try something to get you out of a bad predicament, and it works! More so than in something where the stakes are lower.

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  3. Nice. I should probably add the Amnesia games to my list of things to play. Have you ever considered doing recorded play-throughs? With commentary perhaps?

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  4. Yes, if you don't mind taking a slower pace. I also recommend the first two games in their Penumbra series, where they first developed their UI and gaming approach. Nothing like a game where you explore an apparently abandoned arctic research base and have no weapons...

    I watch playthroughs, usually for older games and adventures where I'm interested in the story but don't have time to play it myself. I prefer ones with no commentary. Making them is an interesting idea. I doubt if I could do a commentary on a game like Amnesia: awareness of an audience and need to speak would maybe ruin immersion. Or perhaps not, if I did it in-character, which most commentators don't do. Or if I was playing a game that isn't for taking seriously, such as Batman Arkham Asylum, which I played recently. I could have commented on his blue underpants he insists on wearing outside his trousers.

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