Last week, I wrote that Amnesia: The Dark Descent undercut its psychological horror by tying that horror to game mechanics. If we assume this to be true, then the obvious solution would be to make a game without those mechanics. Don’t tie the horror to any kind of system that can be exploited by the player, thus ensuring the horror stays above any possible gamification. In that case, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs should be the perfect sequel, as it does exactly that. Developed by The Chinese Room (the makers of Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture), A Machine for Pigs removes most of the survival mechanics that made The Dark Descent famous in favor of a game more focused on narrative and theme. I appreciate the new direction, and I think it’s a step in the right direction for evoking and maintaining horror. However, it’s also a risky direction since it puts all the weight of success on the story. The entire game will be judged on the success of that one facet, and unfortunately in this case, the story can’t support the weight of its own themes.
What begins as a fascinating mixture of Lovecraftian horror and economic anxiety eventually grows too big for its own good. The story oversteps its bounds in search of its themes, and then, just to fully shoot itself in the foot, puts the blame for all of its horror at the feet of one man. What was once a Lovecraftian nightmare is reduced to a madman’s plot for revenge.