Monsters, ghostly laughter, doors which open and close themselves, creaking floorboards, fleeting apparations, bloodstains from unseen violence - Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs doesn’t shy from the tropes of horror. Impressively, it makes them effective rather than exhausted.
While nominally a sequel to 2011’s menacing first-person horror-adventure Amensia, A Machine For Pigs in fact has few overt ties to its predecessor. It’s entirely standalone narratively, although it reuses some of the mythology and monsters - more as a nod to fans than anything.
In essence, it’s more of the same, which means period-set frights in both psychological and corporeal flavours as you creep through dark, primarily indoor environments peppered with physics-based interactions (such as pulling back on the mouse to open a draw or door) in search of explanations. In both cases, your main activity will be to mutter ‘oh God oh my God oh no what was that’ as you gradually navigate a claustrophobic world of reliably unsettling sound and vision.
Where A Machine For Pigs most differs from the first Amnesia is that it’s more of a ghost train than an interactive adventure. There’s not much you need to do beyond make your way forwards, experiencing and/or running from what it throws at you - either real or imagined - and mentally piecing together the slowburn of clues and revelations.
A certain amount of lateral thinking is required in order to ascertain what a hint in a note or letter relates to in the game itself (the secret switch that opens a hidden passage is a regular one), and there’s some scope to get lost in the maze-like corridors filled with blood, hideous paintings and Azetc imagery, but for the most part you’re essentially a tourist in a nightmare.
On paper that perhaps raises the dread question ‘why not just watch a film instead?’, but that’s to undersell the chilling effectiveness of being in that place, in those situations, yourself, where moving into the light, answering an unexpectedly ringing telephone or attemping to evade that awful creature that’s hunting you is a decision you must make, and you must deal with the consequences of.
The loss of more hands-on action, and of the ‘sanity’ metre which affected just how many risks you could take, in Amensia the first has caused plenty of grumbling amongst the faithful, but on the other hand the cutting away of anything which isn’t pure, raw atmosphere and exploration to some degree ups the horror. Your mind is preoccupied by what’s going on and how you feel about it, rather than how to master particular skills or mechanics.
A Machine For Pigs was made the UK developer behind last year’s similarly minimal though far more abstract Dear Esther, so it’s not entirely unexpected that they’d tread similar, if a little more player-liberating, ground here. They also muster a sharper, more discomfiting story than the first Amensia, whose increasingly monstrous revelations should be experienced yourself rather than spoiled here. All that’s safe to say is that you play a wealthy industrialist who awakes in his apparently empty mansion with no memory of the last few months. His children are missing. There are awful noises. There are references to a machine, and to pigs. Smetimes the telephone rings. The rest, you’ll find out.
It’s genuinely sinister, even when it does rely on horror stereotypes, and even though the Amensia engine is all kinds of rickety. The lack of much in the way of human faces and the constant near-darkness means it’s up to the job, though on both a technical level and a trouser-browning level it’s unlikely this engine and formula could stand up to a third tour. For now though, close the curtains, turn out the lights and make sure you haven’t eaten any pork products recently.