Half Worth Remembering
HIGH A Machine For Pigs.
LOW The Dark Descent.
WTF I’ll never get used to holding R2 to open doors.
During my time with Amnesia: Collection, I kept thinking about its target audience. Why? Because it should be me.
My only experience with Frictional Games prior to this was Soma. That title ended up as my 2015 Game of the Year, so naturally, I was keen to play their previous works. However, I’ve never been a PC gamer, so Amnesia: Collection offering remastered versions of their previous PC-only games on PS4 seemed perfect.
When Amnesia: The Dark Descent originally launched in 2010, it set a new standard for atmospheric horror games. Instead of focusing on combat and killing, it stripped players of the ability to defend themselves and only allowed them to run and hide in dangerous situations. Contemporary survival horror titles such as Outlast, P.T., and even Slender grew out of the exploration-based atmospheric horror The Dark Descent spearheaded. Although I respect its role in creating its own subgenre, this pioneer hasn’t aged well.
As the title suggests, Amnesia: The Dark Descent has players shaking in the boots of Daniel, a man who willingly drank an amnesia-inducing potion prior to the start of the adventure. Fortunately, pre-potion Daniel was nice enough to leave a trail of notes for his post-potion self to follow, although one wonders why he erased his memories at all if he intended to carry out a plan that he created himself. If I gave myself amnesia to escape a terrible situation, I’d leave notes telling me to vacation in the Bahamas, not continue doing the same dark deeds that drove me to my troubles in the first place.
Unfortunately, my first session with The Dark Descent started poorly. I encountered a scripted event that slowed the framerate so much it could have passed for a PowerPoint presentation, and a staircase that I needed went glitchy and completely disappeared from the environment. After getting stuck and running around for a while, I looked up a guide and confirmed that the game had messed up. Back to the title screen I went to start over.
The Dark Descent got better after that unfortunate incident, but anyone playing it for the first time (like me) has likely already played a better horror game during the six years it took for Frictional to bring it to consoles. Its biggest issue is that its mechanics don’t mesh well together.
For example, The Dark Descent has a sanity system that causes Daniel’s vision to blur (among other things) if he spends too much time in the dark. To combat this, players have a lantern. However, the lantern runs on oil, which is occasionally hard to find. The result? What should be a slow-burn horror tale becomes one where I constantly felt the need to rush to the next area in order to preserve my oil. A horror game should never cause someone to rush unless something threatening is trailing close behind.
Another fault (also present in 2015’s Soma) is that when an enemy shows up, they become increasingly aware of the player the longer the player stares at it. This sets up an odd scenario where anytime an enemy shambles in, players are encouraged to hide and not look at the enemy — it’s the most obtuse way to keep tabs on its location! Instead of delivering suspense, it boils down to staring at outdated wall textures while hoping the enemy leaves.
By the time I finished The Dark Descent I was ready to give up on Amnesia: Collection, but I pressed on to A Machine For Pigs, and I’m glad I did. Although it was co-produced by Frictional and The Chinese Room (Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture) it’s obvious the latter developer did the heavy lifting, and players familiar with their work will notice obvious influences.
For Pigs, many of Dark Descent‘s mechanics are stripped-down, but for the better. The sanity meter is nonexistent, the new lantern now lasts forever, and enemies don’t rush players upon first glance. Pigs also avoids repeating the fantasy castle and cavern environment that Dark had and instead opts for a pseudo-steampunk Victorian setting that was more grounded in reality. Finally, where Dark reveled in illogical and difficult puzzles, Pigs focuses more on environmental storytelling and tight, suspenseful progression.
In stark contrast to Dark Descent‘s oil-fueled need to rush ahead, several areas in A Machine For Pigs had me crouched and crawling slowly through environments with my lamp off to stay quiet and hidden. A masterful horror game elicits true fear by making someone terrified to take a step, and this one did. However, it’s not perfect.
Although A Machine For Pigs’s first half is exquisitely paced, it’s one of those games that I thought was going to end about five different times before it actually did, and the true ending’s story beats left me wondering what the hell was going on the entire time.
After going through both games in this collection, I found A Machine For Pigs to be the smarter, more sophisticated entry. I’m apparently in the minority here, as I tend to see people championing The Dark Descent. However, I have a feeling those who hold it up as the better work are doing so out of nostalgia instead of how it actually holds up over time. The Dark Descent might have been amazing six years ago, but A Machine For Pigs is a better experience today, and offers a more pure, timeless sort of suspense.
Also included in the Amnesia: Collection package is Justine — a DLC episode for Dark Descent. It’s more of a short, challenge room pack than a progression of Dark Descent‘s story. Players wake up in a prison cell and are instructed to avoid monsters and get through each area. Some moral choices also exist — players can choose to save or eliminate NPCs in each area. I didn’t find Justine particularly engaging due to its obtuse puzzles and sparse narrative setup. If I had enjoyed Dark Descent, I probably would’ve enjoyed Justine. As it stands, Justine is just more of the collection’s inferior half.
Although Justine is a throwaway and The Dark Descent doesn’t live up to its reputation, they both come packaged with A Machine For Pigs, so it’s not a pick-and-choose affair. Players in the target audience for these titles (like me!) who’ve been waiting for this storied series to come to console will find the package worth exploring even if there’s only one real reason to buy in.
Disclosures: Amnesia: The Dark Descent is developed by Frictional Games and Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs is developed by The Chinese Room and Frictional Games. Both are published by Frictional Games. This collection is currently available on Playstation 4. This copy of the game was obtained via Publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player modes, and each game was completed once. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Violence, Blood, Nudity and Strong Language. Each title in Amnesia: Collection is full of atmospheric horror. They feature all of the descriptors above, so I wouldn’t recommend them for kids or for adults who don’t handle horror well. It’s also worth noting that The Dark Descent features occasional full-frontal male nudity, which is pretty rare in games.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I would not recommend any game in this collection for deaf or hard-of-hearing gamers. Sound design is important and often tips the player off to enemy locations and scary moments. No visual aids exist on the screen to accommodate these audio cues. Both titles can be played with no sound, but they might be more difficult and less atmospheric.
Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable The Y-axis can be set to standard or inverted and the control stick sensitivity can be adjusted.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options. Many areas in both games are dark with only a lamplight to sparsely light the environment. A Machine For Pigs also features a handful of dark areas that have an odd bluish-green tint to them, which could provide additional visual obscurity.