It's not often we open a review by talking about sound, but the audio design is what makes A Machine for Pigs - an Amnesia: The Dark Descent sequel by Dear Esther creators The Chinese Room - so powerful. It's not what you see that's scary, but what you don't. Distant footsteps; muffled voices; the whirring of machinery; a door slamming shut. That's all it takes to batter your nerves, especially with headphones, which we strongly recommend.
There are no cheap jump scares here. The feeling of trepidation about what lies around the next corner is what makes it such an effective horror game. The pacing is perfect, and it knows exactly when to hold back, and when to shock you. It's much more driven by story than the first Amnesia, with scattered journal pages and a narrator relaying the plot. It's a well-written tale, with an intriguing, and frequently disturbing, central mystery that keeps you guessing until the end.
The game is a journey down; from a candlelit mansion and the foggy streets of Victorian London, to an enormous, sinister factory built beneath them. Here, the world is reminiscent of Silent Hill's twisted 'otherworld', with rusty metal, clanking pistons, and roaring machines. It's a more expansive setting compared to Brennenburg Castle, with London's wide, cobbled streets providing a change of pace from the dark, claustrophobic corridors below.
You're not alone down there. We can't go into specifics without spoiling it, but in some parts of the factory you're stalked by, er, let's just call it a thing, that you have to cower in the shadows to hide from. Its arrival is signaled by the flickering of lights; both in your surroundings, and your electric lamp. If it catches the glow of your lamp, it'll come running. Crouching in the dark as it shuffles past you, just inches away, is brilliantly terrifying.
"It feels more like an interactive story than a survival horror."
It doesn't show up often, though. Much of the game is spent exploring. But by limiting them, it makes its appearances much more potent. Besides playing hide-and-seek with the thing, there are very few actual game mechanics in A Machine for Pigs. The lamp never runs out and there's no sanity meter to manage. It feels more like an interactive story than a survival horror, with clear echoes of Dear Esther, but this hasn't dampened the tension at all. It's less frustrating than the original could be at times, but also much easier. It's more about atmosphere than challenge.
Thanks to some robust physics, interacting with the world feels nicely intuitive. To open a door, hold the left mouse button to grab the handle, then pull back or push forward. To turn a valve, left click and rotate it. You can slide out desk drawers to find journal pages, click lights on, pull levers, and push boxes out of the way. This control system is the basis for a few simple physics puzzles, but nothing will stump you for more than a few minutes.
Far from a simple ghost story, expect forum threads dedicated to discussing and unraveling the plot and enigmatic ending. There are hints of Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft in the script, and some memorable moments that will stick in your mind long after the credits roll. Quality voice acting and a beautiful, haunting score complete the package.
Annoyingly, from the perspective of writing a review at least, the best parts of A Machine for Pigs are the parts we can't talk about. The reveals, the thing and its origins, what lies in the depths of the factory. At four hours it isn't particularly long, but the length is perfect for the story it tells - and at just over £10, it's very reasonably priced.
Atmospheric story-led horror that's light on challenge, but big on tension.
- Genuinely scary
- Incredible sound design
- Puzzles could be more challenging
- Some clunky enemy encounters later on