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One of the rare outdoor bits, before you plunge underground...

From the moment you click ‘start game’, and a terrifying sound like a tortured soul screeching its way out of hell blasts from your speakers, it’s obvious that Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs is going to batter you into a shivering, drooling wreck. Frictional Games, the developer of this horrific horror survival adventure, claims that most players who were brave enough to take on the original Amnesia: The Dark Descent never even finished it. As traumatised survivors, we can personally vouch that we almost gave up ourselves, despite being horror connoisseurs. Frankly, that game was a sledgehammer to your naughty bits that you’ll never forget.

Hence it was with great trepidation that we ventured into Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs’ gruesome world. It’s a stand-alone sequel with a brand new protagonist, Oswald Mandus, a rich English industrialist boffin who returns from an ill-fated Mexican trip and discovers that his kids have ventured deep into his meat processing factory by themselves. A phone call from a mysterious stranger alerts him to the danger, and so he sets off alone through the dark and disgusting bowels of the factory, and into the titular machine.


Amensia A Machine For Pigs: Oh the horror!

Starting off in Mandus' creaky old manor house, A Machine For Pigs feels very similar to The Dark Descent. The deserted stone halls are dark and dingy, as if the place hasn't been lived in for decades, yet you never quite shake the feeling that you're being watched from the shadows. And although the horror builds at a gradual pace, there are some unexpected and deeply unsettling discoveries in the very first chapter that set the tone nicely.

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs effortlessly captures the atmosphere of the original, terrifying you even when there's nothing around to harm you. The grimy visuals and all-out aural assault linger in memory for a long time, and it's the simple moments that are the most effective - the ceramic pig heads that you find hidden around the town, or the painting of a wild-eyed woman holding what may or may not be a baby.

But venture deep into Mandus' plant and the sinister atmosphere becomes suffocating, as discomforting hints of horror morph into all-out terror. If few gamers ever saw the end of The Dark Descent, we fully expect A Machine For Pigs to wipe out many of its audience long before the finale. The first time we found ourselves trapped in a pitch black boiler room with the sound of something stamping around and snuffling right beside us, we had to quit and watch The Little Mermaid to try and calm us down. Even the charming melody of Under The Sea couldn't drown out our frantic sobbing.

Of course, you once again have a lantern to illuminate your way as you press on through the underground chambers, but it offers little comfort when you’re under duress. That soft glow only lights up things directly in front of you, and the damn thing tends to crackle at just the wrong moment. Even worse, it attracts the attention of anything in the immediate vicinity, so you have little choice but to kill the light and flee in darkness when your life is in danger. It’s a mechanic we’ve seen in horror games before, but here it adds massively to the terror. We’re also glad that the lantern doesn’t run out of oil like The Dark Descent’s, leaving you proper stuffed when trying to fumble your way through the pitch black environments.


Amensia A Machine For Pigs: Story and gameplay

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs tells its simple story mostly through those trusty diary pages, the kind that you conveniently find scattered around the place for no real reason at all. Despite this rather clunky method of storytelling, there’s no denying that we were both intrigued and terrified to discover what the hell was going on in Mandus’ world. That morbid curiosity kept us pushing onwards through progressively grimmer locations, even as our brains were screaming at us to say “balls to this,” and leg it back out to safety. Not that anywhere truly feels safe in Amnesia’s world.

Aside from creeping through grimy locations and crapping your pants at the tiniest sound, you’ll occasionally have to conquer a basic puzzle in order to progress. These are generally simple find-this-switch-or-lever efforts, and an excellent journal keeps you updated with your current objective, so you should never find yourself completely in the dark (ho ho!). The only real barrier to progress is how much punishment your heart can tolerate.


Amensia A Machine For Pigs: Production values

Production values on the whole are superb, from the disturbing visuals to the hauntingly sparse soundtrack. There are a few little problems, however. For one, the voice acting is amateur at best, especially the ghostly voices of the children who guide you along. Even Mr Mandus sounds vaguely nonplussed when chatting on the phone with the stranger, despite being trapped in a nightmarish world with his children in grave peril.

We also encountered a couple of bugs, such as one moment where we plunged through the floor into a glitchy sky world. The fact that you can’t save without also quitting the game makes this all the more annoying, as we found ourselves exiting and re-entering the game regularly to avoid lengthy replays.


Amensia A Machine For Pigs: The verdict

Still, these minor complaints do very little to detract from the horror event of 2013. We’d be shocked to find another game as horrible, as upsetting and as down-right dirty as Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs emerge this year. Our recommendation is thus: grab a copy and your alcoholic beverage of choice (if you’re legal, of course - else it’s ginger pop for you), and wait until it’s dark. Then plug in some earphones, boot this bad boy up, and get ready for a full-on rectal prolapse. Do it at Halloween for bonus points.

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