Jump scares prey on a natural human response to react. Many games and movies try to create truly terrifying and grotesque imagery to shock viewers, but this fear only lasts a moment. Real fear is something only our imaginations can create and this is where Frictional Games excels over other horror games. The creators of “Penumbra” and “Amnesia: The Dark Descent,” Frictional knows their way to striking terror without even needing to show monsters on screen. Paired with developer The Chinese Room, the standards originally set are exceeded in the sequel “Amnesia:  A Machine for Pigs”.

Amnesia strays from formulaic jump scares and focuses on outdoing its predecessor's strengths. The game is extremely immersive, so much that even deliberate efforts to break immersion while reviewing did nothing to stop myself from being sucked into the character.

While not developed solely by Frictional Games, The Chinese Room is well-known in indie circles for their mod/game Dear Esther, an incredibly immersive storytelling experience. This partnership obviously did wonders for the game, as each developer has particular strengths.

Frictional Games knows the mechanics of fear and suspense, whereas The Chinese Room can tell a story and create compelling scenes. These strengths were played to, as “A Machine for Pigs” has more expansive environments than its predecessor and a more personal and well-written story, with improved atmosphere and fear at the same time.

Horror and fear in “The Dark Descent” hinged on player involvement in the story and “A Machine for Pigs” is no different. Scares take a backseat to atmosphere, because every noise and motion builds up a player’s alertness and paranoia. There’s no need for big jump scares when the game keeps players consistently fearful.

Sound design is also a lynchpin of  “A Machine for Pigs.” Monsters are less frequent, but much better timed. Immediately in the game, players are taunted with fever dreams, laughing children, wind, creaking boards and screeching metal. Fear comes from the unknown and never knowing exactly what is making the noises around you or where they're coming from is terrifying.

Visual effects are similar to “The Dark Descent,” with just a bit more pig gore than before, but the immersive elements are what actually drive home the feelings of unease and helplessness. Immersion is designed into the control scheme; the player uses gestures made with a mouse to mimic hand motions in game. The character moves at a measured walking pace, has no HUD and just enough head bob to feel like real motion.

“A Machine for Pigs” isn’t without flaws, unfortunately. Several game elements were changed from “The Dark Descent” — namely the removal of tinder for your lantern. Light is a comfort and some scarcity to it wouldn’t be amiss. Moments of sheer panic are also less common, but have been traded in for the constant unease and paranoia. Players can also inspect the monsters now, since the sanity mechanics have been removed. Yet most of the core gameplay remains the same and the improved storytelling is more than enough to make up for the altered mechanics.

For fans of: Penumbra: Overture, Anna, Cryostasis

This article was featured in the October print issue of Reporter Magazine.