Those days – when you wake up without a memory and then are stalked by a pig-man, who tries to kill you in a vast labyrinthian underground meat processing plant at the turn of the last century.
‘Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs’ was a fantastic, creepy ride. It took all that stopped me from finishing its predecessor and threw it over board or at least reduced it to a minimum. While ‘The Dark Descent‘ was closer to a classic adventure game, with more elaborate (and annoying) puzzles, an inventory and a lot of backtracking, ‘A Machine For Pigs’ is closer to a walking simulator and therefore a much tighter experience. Freed from boring gameplay mechanics like going-insane-because-I-can’t-find-a-match, and cleverly guided through the levels, I was able to concentrate exclusively on the things I enjoyed about the game. The writing is absolutely great, as is the voice acting. I really enjoyed discovering the gruesome story, which, while pretty over-the-top, stayed mostly interesting throughout the entire game and even managed to give a satisfying ending – a thing that is seldom witnessed in video games or life in general.
It’s not just the inner values that count. ‘A Machine for Pigs’ is beautiful. Regardless wether you wade knee deep in blood or fecal matter or both, I often paused just to take a look at the scenery. Sometimes the art design reminded me of the Bio Shocks, but I prefer that it has a more realistic feel to it. The sound design also is great. The developers made a better use of agonized pig squeals than most Death Metal bands. I also appreciated the restrained use of the very good music (no Death Metal, though).
Yes, there were still things, that I could have done without. Too much running away from pig-men for example, or that short part in the middle, where the story lost me for a moment, but those are minor complaints.
I really enjoyed my three and a half hours with ‘Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs’. That may sound like a rather short experience, but I prefer a tight compact game, that keeps me excited end-to-end, to a artificially drawn out Alan Wake-like experience – at least as far as story driven games are concerned. What have I learned? There are horror games out there that I can actually enjoy and kids are great for cleaning clogged up steam vents, when they manage to get out in time.
No five minutes into the game I am told to kill someone. What’s this? Another Alpha Protocol? Sadly no, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a survival horror game, where you do the dying (if you decide to walk up to and hug the monster). It’s 1839, you’re Daniel and you awake in the East Prussian Castle of Brennenburg and, surprise, you memory is gone. You try to scrape it back together as you explore the badly lit castle, always making sure to pack enough oil and tinder so that you may not succumb to the darkness, which slowly drives you insane. Apart from East Prussia not being New England, it all feels very Lovecraftian, which is a good thing. It’s another of those games where, if it wasn’t me playing them, the person playing it might actually have great fun doing so. It still looks good (enough), it’s got a creepy, classic horror atmosphere and good sound design and it doesn’t annoy you with over-complex puzzles. It still does annoy you with puzzles though, that seem to be a notch above insulting Alan Wake-‘There are three buttons, please use the ones that got a green light above them’-level. For me, while not being nearly as exhausting as being hunted by a fantastic looking Alien, it’s just not fun hiding behind my oil lamp and running away from dark shadows. Over the years I’ve brought so much death and destruction to my virtual enemies, that now, being old and tired, I am too set in my ways to enjoy experiencing the other end of the stick. I wonder wether its sequel (the next game in line) might change my mind, and why the first steps of the mountain seem to be predominantly made from horror games.
Info: Amnesia: The Dark Descent, was developed by Frictional Games and released in 2010. You can get your uplifting horror adventure on Steam.
Alien Isolation is like owning a big, black cat, that hates you
It’s beautiful and you love it, but as much as you want to, you can’t keep it because it always tries to trip you at the top of the stairs.
Alien Isolation is probably the best looking game I have played so far. I am a fan of the original Alien movies (yes even the fourth one – shut up!) and no game in the Alien universe came even remotely close to capturing the look and feel of the movies (in this case, especially the first movie) so perfectly. That is why it’s utterly frustrating for me that Alien isolation is a survival horror stealth game – even though it’s a fitting choice. Again it’s not a genre I am particularly fond of (but I like to keep an open mind), especially if it’s so well done as in Alien Isolation. The intentionally cheap looking droids for example are a horrifying trip through the uncanny valley for me. Being spotted by one of them and starting to run straight into the arms of another one is impressively unpleasant. The sound design is great and knowing by the rumbling of the air ducts that a big, terrifying creature will probably turn up around the next corner, or from the ceiling or from a vent behind me, is exciting up to downright exhausting.
If it wasn’t so good, I could enjoy it more
The game is so well done it had me at the edge of my seat most of the time I played it. It’s just that I really don’t enjoy feeling helpless and hunted all the time. I like games to provide me with the means to live out my basic power fantasies – stealth and horror games usually can’t provide this. Yes, there are ways to fight back, but most of the time firing a gun got me into more trouble than running away screaming or just sitting in a locker, being grateful that the black monster does not seem to have a functioning nose.
It’s not just playing monster bait that bothers me, but I find that waiting in a locker, or a dark corner, or a vent, is rather boring. Especially in a game where you die often and that doesn’t allow you to save anywhere. I understand that it’s a design choice to only be able to save at certain points, because it adds a lot to the tension, but for a player like me it becomes frustrating fast. I don’t enjoy finding the perfect route to get unseen through that corridor. I want to know what happens next. Stop killing me all the time and let me enjoy my space adventure!
Alien Isolation is a great game if you are into survival horror, and it’s a masterpiece when it comes to set-design and atmosphere. Some time in the future, when I’m all grown up, I’ll give it another try.