Amnesia: A Machine for pigs-Pig metaphor
Updated: Jul 31
The Victorian era (20 Jun 1837 – 22 Jan 1901) was a time of great innovation in production manufacturing. Known as the Industrial revolution (first between the 1830s and 1840s, second post 1870). Britain and countries of its ilk (Germany: before and after unification in 1871, France, Belgium, Japan and also Russia) became economic powerhouses that saw the rapid modernisation and creature comforts such as the electric light. The Victorian era was one of the influential moments of history for this reason alone. But it was not without cost, firstly workers had very little (if any rights) which forced them to slave away for long hours without safety regulations. Poor children were often used as a form of cheap, disposable labour (see any Charles Dickens novel for details). The industry tycoons simply raked in the profit, reducing their labourers to complete inhumanity.
It is the final year of the 19th century. As the world is poised to enter the exciting, promising and ever peaceful times the 20th century dreamed by the ever hopeful majority. Something is happening. Oswald Mandus: wealthy industrialist and butcher awaken from a fever dream to find his children missing. This journey to find them leads him through a steam powered hellscape that involves him in a very personal way. It also involves a LOT of pigs. The few people who loyally read my work, Firstly:
Secondly: You, dear readers might remember that I did not like Dear Esther very much. That was because it was two hours worth of boring audio drama that does not involve the player, who are in turn, subjected to pressing w until the end. Machine for Pigs is superior to Dear Esther in every single way. Simply that you: the player are involved in the story and your actions cause the game’s story to unfold. This fact makes the game instantly more compelling then Dear Esther tenfold. Unlike Dear Esther which is the most boring audio book with no incentive for player involvement.
A Machine for Pigs (like any good game) places the player directly into the fray. Their decisions influence the game; they are part of the interesting story. Unlike, say Layers of Fear which was a haunted house ride with no sense of danger or new ideas. A Machine for Pigs provides in spades, namely through its narrative, themes and...the pigs. The pig men give the game a sense of threat, no less because of what they represent and the fact they can chase you and kill you.
A theme of dehumanisation
Both Amnesia games deal with memory loss as a plot device (cannot talk if they are similar in theme). In A Machine for Pigs the overt theme is dehumanisation in the face of automation and greed. The game does this really well with both setting and the antagonist. That little summery at the beginning was not just any old rambling (honest). That period did result in a lot of human rights abuses at the hands of uncaring employers. The fact that Mandus is a mad industrialist who built a machine to start the apocalypse is rather...telling. Greed would result in humanity’s own destruction, a rather haunting concept that not many games explore in more depth.
Now about those pigs....
A motif metaphor for pigs
Before I start talking about the use of pig imagery I have to mention the overuse of pigs. Even for a motif (it has to be reoccurring after all), the game is far too heavy handed in it’s symbolism. If I were to create a drinking game that involved taking a swing every time a pig is visually or verbally. I would be tipsy by the end of chapter one and completely drunk by chapter two. It is modestly obnoxious in its obviousness. But at the same time, regardless of scared the Chinese Room might have been for the player to miss the metaphor. It is very effective, pigs as a motif hold up the theme of dehumanisation.
Both the workforce abused by industrialists like Mandus and said industrialists exploiting said workforce. Pigs being personified as both mindless, greedy consumers that are easily manipulated by shallow rewards are done perfectly. They are also terrifying. The process of dehumanisation (experienced by Mandus) is deeply disturbing and paced very well. Much like the fairly original theme (in video games at is) the pigs themselves are a memorable and highly disturbing.
Some reviewers found A Machine for Pigs underwhelming due to how much gameplay has been removed. I cannot really blame them. The sanity meter (which amplified the scare factor by a country mile) has been removed. The puzzles are watered down and simplified. Much like of all of Chinese Room’s work, A Machine for Pigs is a Walking Sim. However unlike Dear Esther which was pressing W for two hours. Machine for Pigs actually involves the player in the game by collecting notes, traversing environments that are not corridors and also basic interaction. This involves solving basic puzzles (very basic, the answer to the puzzle being in the next room). It is rather underwhelming but the pace is kept up and, unlike the Dear Esther is kept interesting through themes and a modestly interactiveable world.
The insect in the machine
The level design is very linear, mostly pressing w until a puzzle happens. Then you might have to look through a couple of rooms until you find the answer. This sort of layout might have been rather boring and tedious if it went for how the machine is laid out. Copper pipes bang and hiss with boiling steam. Clockwork gears grind with harsh weary groan within the walls. This wonderful sound design coupled with the linear yet mazelike level design all create a wonderful atmosphere. Like a cockroach lost in the mechanisms of a lawnmower. The pacing is never comprised but the player almost never feels safe. They are put on edge by the illusion of being lost, at being at the mercy of a unfeeling, logical machine hell bent at maybe destroying you.
The illusion of threat
There is a point in the A Machine for Pigs where a terrible thing is happening in London. Pigs are doing terrible things to the faceless citizens that we have no reason to care about. You have to sneak past and avoid the pigs as they rampage through the city. (Lack of empathy to London’s townsfolk not withstanding) it is rather harrowing to navigate. However it was the first and only time a pig killed me.
Instead of say, starting again or at a check point. I was simply placed in a unlocked cage, getting killed (a failure state) in fact allowed me to progress because the pig was no longer chasing me. Pigs appear quite infrequently and are easily avoided using basic common sense (walk past the pig to avoid it when it is not looking) . As good as the tension and atmosphere is in A Machine for Pigs I cannot help going away from it, how infrequently I was in any real danger. Depending on your tastes this might not be as much of a problem. Any horror game has the illusion of threat, simply in the fact it is not real.
However, games (such as Outlast) have a great sense of internal threat as being discovered will almost always mean death. A defined failure state that you will have to go through again and again, until you pass it. Merely dropping the player in a open cage without having to face the scary piggy again does not help maintain a atmosphere of helplessness. A sense of dread of having to escape the piggy another time and possibly failing. It can make the player realise how much of a haunted house A Machine for Pigs can be at times.
Graphics and art style
Graphical fidelity is perfectly fine for a game of its budget and time period. There is some fantastic lighting in some chapters, even if the graphics can look a little flat and badly textured. There is not much in means of style, a realistic imagine of industrial London looming in the midnight sky. The pigs (when you aren’t running for your life) look suitably disgusting and nightmarish. They will not be easily forgotten. (The sounds they make turned my blood to ice).
I was warned before playing Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs that it was not the best optimised game in the world. This warning becomes very clear to me when I started play and encountered visible screen tearing. This happened regardless of having the in game vsyic active. After doing a few alterations I was able to fix it. However, replacing the screen tearing was frame rate loss and seconds long freezes. A disappointing situation for any game to be in as no matter how low I had the graphic settings the problems persistent. Buyers beware for those who want to try this game.
I would be lying if I said that A Machine for Pigs was not a good game. The game most certainly is (at times) very clever and engaging. Themes and ideas that are not explored often enough are tackled in a overt but interesting manner. It might be a downgrade when compared to the first game but it is no means a wholly unworthy title. I just wish the game ran better.