A bit of forewarning, the following post is going to spoil the entirety of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and a little bit of The Dark Descent as well. If you haven’t played through either and want the plots of one or both to remain unspoiled, avert your gaze now. If you’ve already played through them, or just don’t care, then read on. This is not a review, this is my personal analysis of the game’s story.
“This world is a machine, a machine for pigs, fit only for the slaughtering of pigs!”
This line is only said once in the game, but it’s a powerful and important line. It has multiple meanings, multiple interpretations, and ultimately is as complicated as the game’s plot. But before we jump into A Machine for Pigs itself, some background is necessary.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a video game released back in September of 2010, and was a horror game predicated on the fact that your only defense was running away and hiding. It was made by a company known as Frictional Games, whose previous efforts, known as the Penumbra franchise, had a small cult following. Using their knowledge of spooky things happening in spooky places, Frictional took what they learned from the Penumbra games and created a totally new world. Frictional Games wasn’t super well-known outside the indie world, but Amnesia would change all that.
When The Dark Descent hit, it sent a tidal wave through the gaming community. Here was a game that, instead of relying on cheap jump-scares and loud noises, built up an atmosphere and generally terrified people by forcing them to look away from the monsters to spare their character’s sanity. The game jump-started the career of many a let’s-play channel on Youtube, with it being the first game many people played on their channel. The multitudinous screams of “OH GOD NO” while barreling through dark castle hallways soaked up the views, and a new video phenomenon was born.
Fast-forward three years later, and another Amnesia game was on the horizon. Would it be as good as the first one? Would it set off a new wave of terrified let’s-play videos on Youtube? No one really knew. What no one could have predicted was the incredibly polarizing effect A Machine for Pigs would have. Some loved it, taking note that the story it told was far more complex than The Dark Descent. Others hated it, citing that the shift in gameplay style and simplification of game mechanics betrayed what they loved about the original. Despite the differing opinions one truth stood out. A Machine for Pigs was a different beast than its predecessor.
So join me as I explore the tale of insanity, greed, and woe that is Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.
New Years Eve
“Daddy, daddy, please don’t kill me.”
Something sparks to life in the darkness, something that is, but should not be. A low rumbling can be heard as it begins to stir. Red lights begin to flip on as the sparking increases, foretelling its activation. And then, with a loud clanking, something spins to life, shattering the air and shaking the ground.
The game opens on New Years Eve, 1899 in London. Our protagonist, Oswald Mandus, wakes up in bed with a fever and haunting visions. Pulling himself to his feet, he can hear his children calling to him from somewhere off in the darkness, his only company aside from a diary page filled with incoherent rambling. How much time has passed? What has happened? Why can’t he remember? Steeling himself, Mandus pulls open the bedroom door and ventures out into the hallway. The game begins.
The story starts up similarly enough to other horror stories. There’s a vague call to action (in the form of Mandus’s sons) and a strong sense of foreboding. The game doesn’t take long to show us that things are not exactly good around here. For example, why are there cages on all the beds? And why are so many doors barred shut? Where is everyone?
Certainly not a standard feature in Victorian-era houses.
One of the first things we learn about Mandus is his wife’s death. “You lived long enough to see Edwin, but not Enoch,” Mandus solemnly intones as the player walks in to another bedroom down the hall. Evidently she died during childbirth, giving birth to the twins Mandus now journeys through the darkness to find.
Continuing onward, we go upstairs and into the attic, where we find a diary entry from Mandus’s sons. The page adds further fuel to the idea that things are not alright in the Mandus household. Apparently they’ve heard their father crying a lot, and there’s a creepy reference to a pig in the backyard. Grabbing a lantern, we continue through the attic, accompanied by the teasing voice of the children and a rather creepy music box tune rippling through the walls. Floorboards creak and things go “thump” all the while.
Everyone’s favorite dark happy place, the attic!
We find another page a minute later, this time from Mandus’s diary. In it, he recounts a snippet of a trip he and the children went on to Mexico. Mandus had been in search of some kind of financial opportunity, apparently in the form of some old ruins he believes to be buried deep underground.
Going downward we get our first glimpse at another common storytelling tool, the audio recording. Lying on a small table is a little hand-crank machine that looks almost like a tiny phonograph. Interacting with it causes a conversation to play back, one between Mandus and a character known only as the Professor. This one really only serves to highlight Mandus’s intention to record their dialogue, hinting at further recordings down the line.
Honey, the piano’s playing itself again!
The Machine Stirs
Continuing through the house we start to get a sense for the immensity of the machine below ground. Several times the house begins to quake and shudder as something below begins to turn on. Chandeliers sway back and forth, paintings fall to the ground, and in one instance a piano slams shut as the entire house feels like it’s about to come crashing down around Mandus. Whatever lies below the house must be massive in scale.
Going forward we learn several things. We learn that this Professor character was sent by some institute, or group, to check out the work Mandus has been doing ever since he returned from his trip to Mexico. We also learn that his trip to Mexico ended in tragedy, but of what kind we don’t know yet. We also get a glimpse at another character, a voice heard only over a strange intercom. This voice directs Mandus to restart the machine because his children are trapped below and that’s the only way to free them. Someone has sabotaged the machine and Mandus must fix it. Mandus knows the voice somehow but can’t place him.
There’s also a network of secret passageways strewn throughout the house that (in true creepy fashion) have one-way mirrors that are situated, among other places, right behind the bathrooms. Yep, that’s a thing.
Oh Mandus, you rogue.
After turning some valves we descend into some kind of steam-punk underground room that leads outside. Once outside we are treated to an audio flashback. Mandus’s children are telling him to come see what they’ve found: some kind of stone egg. Those who know the story of the first Amnesia game might make the connection here, but we’ll explore this at a more opportune time.
The steam-punk level design is truly something.
After an accident with a falling pipe and collapsing stairs, we find our character wandering in a cellar filled with some strange and unknown chemical. After fixing more of the saboteur’s handiwork, and progressing through the dark and dank cellar, we find ourselves in a deserted factory area. Not much new information is gleamed here, but it is at this point that Mandus’s diary entries begin to take on the tone of a demented philosopher, frustrated with the world at large and striving to change it somehow. He also refers to some kind of “product” that his factory is making, but there’s no clue yet as to what it is. Of particular note here is an entry about the idea of a machine that could think like a man. Mandus rejects the idea, saying that such a machine would be nothing less than a god.
These paintings are always so creepy looking, or maybe it has to do with the FOOT IN THE COOKING POT.
The Descent Continues
After a near-encounter with some monster lurking in the dark of the factory, and solving another puzzle, we set our eyes on the church, searching for a path underground. Inside the church we learn that Mandus was known for some charity he began rather recently (after the Mexico trip most likely). People revered him, and he walked among them almost like some kind of messiah. The altar, complete with creepy dead pig, is revealed to be hiding some hidden passage downward into the depths of the church.
Oh and what’s down there? Cages, lots of cages. Oh god, so many cages…
It’s a literal dungeon. Are these the “product” that Mandus’s diary refers to? One of the cages lurches forward as we pass, its occupant screaming for freedom. As we descend further, we have a run-in with one of the monsters. And it’s the first time we get a good look at it.
It looks like some kind of bipedal pig abomination, squealing and roaring if it gets too close. It trots around slowly, almost pathetic looking in a way. Narrowly escaping it takes us outside again. After another stroll through an outside area, we enter into the heart of the factory. Another recording further cements Mandus as some kind of demented philosopher. He rants and raves about people in authority, calling them hypocrites and liars. “We can bring forth paradise now,” he exclaims.
We continue onward, stoking the fires of the machine and plunging headlong into the dark depths of the factory. After a close run in with more of those pig creatures, we find ourselves in a dark lower area of the conveyor belts. And it is here that we find a diary entry which finally connects the two Amnesia games in a significant way.
Little piggy ain’t little no more…
This entry details the arrival of some corpse to Mandus. This body is described in such a way that it perfectly resembles one of the monsters from the original Amnesia game, leather straps binding the chest and all. Those that remember the original game’s story might remember that the antagonist, Alexander, created these monsters to do his bidding. And to do so, he used something known as an Orb, a sphere of incredible supernatural power that the protagonist Daniel haplessly stumbles upon, triggering a chain of events that leads him to Alexander.
This orb could also be described as, oh I don’t know, a stone egg.
So now the earlier reference to the stone egg takes on a much more sinister light. Apparently Mandus’s children found an Orb while on their trip in Mexico. Not only that, but Mandus refers to the body in the entry as being the work of his great-uncle. Presumably that would mean that Mandus is the descendant of none other than Alexander, the big bad guy from The Dark Descent. And if he discovered an Orb while in Mexico, it’s no wonder something went wrong. Things always go wrong when one of those things is involved, and I mean always.
Going forward nothing much happens. We solve some puzzles, run from some piggies, and generally creep ourselves out. One bit of information that comes up is that Mandus embarked on whatever task he set himself to with someone referred to only as the engineer or the visionary. Astute players will likely connect him to the voice over the intercom, as he is the only unknown character at this point.
So we travel through some sewers, drain some water, and hear the children calling from off in the darkness. Nothing much new is gleamed, but there is one scene I want to call attention to. It takes place in what I can only call the “holding pens”. And oh boy, is it mighty freaking creepy.
UH NOPE! NOPE! COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF NOPE!
It’s a large holding area for the pig creatures. They wander around in a downstairs area as you look down from above. There’s even a table set for them, smeared with blood and littered with what I can only assume is food for them. Going further reveals row after row of little cells, each containing one of the things. Mandus himself even notes that the creatures seem almost childlike (couldn’t have found a creepier adjective myself). Moving on we find ourselves crawling through some large pipes until we get to a new area. We descend a long staircase to an elevator. We’re almost there now.
We’ve fixed the damage. Now all that’s left is to turn the machine on. Descending in the elevator, the background walls give way to reveal a gigantic underground chamber. And in the center of it is some kind of giant metal orb. This must be the machine. Everything has led up to this point. And I must mention that the haunting music here (complete with epic choir singer) is just downright awesome. In fact, most of the music in this game in general is awesome.
“Oh dear god, dear Christ what is this place,” asks Mandus as he emerges from the lift.
The machine at last.
Finding one last bit of sabotage we fix it and return to the main chamber. Climbing a set of stairs takes us to what appears to be some kind of control room. Inside are two levers. One is lit green, the other is red. Throwing the first one causes the giant metal ball to light up.
“Now Mandus, set them free. Set them all free!”
The other lever turns green, and we grasp it and pull. The doors behind us slowly close as a massive ear-splitting rumble rips through the air. A gigantic shock wave sends Mandus flying backwards as the window in front of him shatters. And it is then that we learn the truth.
We’ve been lied to.
The lever of epic plot twists.
“I live, I breath again! I rise, I will rise to bleach the sky and still the water! I will spin the world wheel and set the future on the path to redemption!”
Two things become readily apparent. The first is that the voice over the intercom urging you onward has nothing but bad things planned. Apparently this was the voice of the machine itself, leading Mandus on to its own twisted ends. It cackles madly as Mandus screams at it. “You promised me my children,” he cries. But there is the second truth we learn, and something we probably already suspected.
They’re dead. They were always dead.
“I’m so sorry,” Mandus says softly as he picks himself up off the floor to see their bloodied faces looking down at him. In one swift act they reach inside their chests, and rip their hearts out right in front of him. And then, everything goes black.
“And, emerging, I raised my head to an uncaring sun and I cursed this world of pain and despair. This civilization built on the ricketed bones of the unfortunate, on the greed and swell of Mammon and Empire. Cradling a stone egg in my jacket, I kissed my children farewell and I crawled my way home.”
The twist involving Mandus’s sons is admittedly a bit obvious, but maybe that was the point. Maybe Mandus was so far gone into his fever dream that he couldn’t see what should have been right in front of him. Whatever the case is, we find ourselves in another elevator suddenly. Picking ourselves up, we move onward. We hallucinate the children again, and find a note that reveals something else. Mandus is the saboteur. Realizing all that he had done, he tried to destroy his machine in one last frenzy before he succumbed to the fever.
But even now, Mandus cannot accept the truth. He still asks for his children. “Why do you ask Mandus? You know the answer well enough,” the machine says to him. I feel this gives more credence to the idea that Mandus is completely blinded by the fever and the loss that he suffered that he just cannot or will not see what he knows is true.
But Mandus is not done yet. He dons the role of saboteur once more, taking apart what he put together again, ripping out fuses and breaking steam pipes. After a harrowing run through a gigantic steam pipe, we find ourselves at another elevator and with it, return to the surface. But all is not well, as the machine’s plan is revealed.
London is burning.
The earth shakes underfoot. Explosions rip through the air, casting glaring orange flashes onto the brick walls and pavement. Shrill screams intermingle with horrid squeals as people are dragged away from their homes, down to the processing plant to become part of the ever-growing mass of “product”.
“Oh no, oh god no. What have I done?!”
Mandus is in horror. The ramifications of all that he has done surrounds him. And it is with that realization that his path is set. He is determined to end this. He will find his way back beneath ground, tear apart the machine with his own hands, and end the madness of his own creations.
An End to All Things
After the harrowing moments above in the city, we return below ground, destroy vital components of the machine wherever we can. The last part of the game really reveals the depths of Mandus’ insanity, as we see objects in places where they shouldn’t, and couldn’t, be. Toy letter bricks and a little paper house pop up, which we have seen before in the nursery back at the Mandus household. Things really go off the rails at this point, as we even jump forward in location a few times without understanding how.
And we also get a glimpse at the fate of the Professor character. An audio flashback reveals that Mandus locks him in a dark room somewhere, after promising to introduce him to his engineer friend (who by now we know is the machine itself).
“We are the pig professor. We are all the pig,” Mandus says darkly. So what happened to him? If I had to guess, I would say that he became a part of that “product” Mandus was making.
But something else comes to light as well. As we travel below into the heart of the machine compound, Mandus asks why his children died, and the machine tells him the truth for once. “Of all the blood we have spilled together, the first drops fell from your hands alone,” it says.
“Then I am damned for a filicide and everything is lost,” is all Mandus can say.
So now the truth comes out. Some players probably guessed that Mandus killed his children, but this is the first time we get confirmation on it. So we know basically all that Mandus has done, but we still don’t know why yet. Going further into the labyrinth prompts the machine to try to reason with Mandus. And it is here that we find another wrinkle in the story.
“You may hate me Mandus, but I have seen the future, your twentieth century and let me tell you this: a far greater slaughter awaits you there. I seek to save the world by blood now, before millions fall beneath history, pushed under by blade, bullet, and gas.”
Oh boy, this just got complicated. He’s talking about war, and most likely World War One (WWI) in particular. If you know history, you know how damaging World War One was to the psyche of the world as a whole. Entire worldviews were shattered and re-shaped with the onslaught of this brutal event. But how does this connect with Mandus? We have to push on further to find out.
We’re getting closer to the end.
Much of this last stretch of the game seems to deal with Mandus coming to terms with all he’s done. “I would have given my soul to spare you this world…” he quietly cries as he walks among the emblems of his children, lying on a walkway far below ground where they shouldn’t be. Knowing all that he has done, and what the fruits of his labors have come to be, he is absolutely crushed. But he is not beaten. He quietly vows to make things right, and proceeds onward.
After a couple run-ins with a freaky teleporting electric pig (that’s a thing now too), we find ourselves in another area. This has some creepy machination with what appears to be a heart or something held aloft by metal pincers. We activate some odd-looking devices that light up, and then we experience another strange jump in location. The end is at hand.
The Final Moments
We find ourselves on a walkway proceeding towards a giant conveyor belt. We can hear the machine shutting down slowly, as different parts along the conveyor belt power down as we pass. The machine pleads with Mandus, begging him not to do it. “I am no more evil than you,” it says with a hint of desperation. And then, the full truth, the reason why Mandus killed his children, comes to light.
“Your sons with drown, lungs full of mud and shrapnel, on the banks of the Somme.”
Epic monologues abound.
“This is the vision we shared…”
We now know why, and we can begin to understand the chain of events. Connecting the dots, we can guess that the Orb that Mandus found showed him a vision of the future, a vision of such horrific intensity that it completely destroyed his psyche. Knowing what the coming century would bring about, and knowing their fate, he sacrificed his sons in an effort to spare them a horrible and likely slow death in the trenches of war. The vision resulted in Mandus becoming greatly dissatisfied with the world and civilization at large, knowing the face of the world was about to change abruptly. He suffered a fever of not only physical but psychological torment as well.
And this is why I find this game’s story so much more intriguing than the first game. In the first Amnesia, Daniel’s motivation for doing all the horrible things he did was to try to save his own life. He sacrificed possibly innocent people in an attempt to prolong his life until he could appease the shadowy monster that pursued him and the Orb he stole. But in this case, Mandus had a goal not of self-interest, but of twisted salvation. He wanted to save the world, but couldn’t figure out how without destroying it completely. He does horrible things, but his reasoning for doing so is almost…understandable, in a way. He is a man caught between centuries, knowing how the world will change with the advent the twentieth century and the horror of WWI.
Emerging through a set of spinning doors at the end of the conveyor brings us into a massive chamber with some kind of giant temple in the middle. We have seen the scale model version of this place lying around before, and it is presumably a re-creation of the kind of place Mandus saw in Mexico. But none of that matters now.
“Daddy.” A final cry splits the silence after the music fades. It’s time to end this.
The final ascent…
“I have stood knee-deep in mud and bone and filled my lungs with mustard gas. I have seen two brothers fall. I have lain with holy wars and copulated with the autumnal fallout. I have dug trenches for the refugees; I have murdered dissidents where the ground never thaws and starved the masses into faith. A child’s shadow burnt into the brickwork. A house of skulls in the jungle. The innocent, the innocent, Mandus, trod and bled, and gassed and starved and beaten and murdered and enslaved! This is your coming century! They will eat them Mandus, they will make pigs of you all, and they will bury their snouts into your ribs and they will eat, your, hearts!”
I could analyze this speech by the machine and make it into its own blog post if I really wanted to. The complexity of it is amazing. There are so many different allusions here. I put it here because I feel it is a very powerful and pivotal part of the game.
Mandus says nothing. His course is set.
As we approach the top of the giant temple staircase the screen goes white. Suddenly, Mandus finds himself next to a chair. The machine begs, sounding absolutely afraid now. Climbing into the chair, Mandus is surrounded by strange metal things that look sort of like pincers. A large button glows in front of him, prompting Mandus’s final act. After the button is pressed, a metallic roar is heard as something seems to charge up. The pincers suddenly close in on him, and everything cuts to black.
It’ll all be over soon…
Epilogue and Closing Thoughts
“I lay there and watched the god I had created die.”
The game ends with Mandus and the machine dead, entwined forever in the dark underground. Up above, the city merely turns over in its sleep as the twentieth century dawns. The factory doors close forever, and Mandus’s tale concludes.
There are still a lot of uncertain variables in the story. The purpose of the machine and the reasoning behind Mandus’s experiments with pigs are still unclear as the game comes to a close. But perhaps that’s for the better. From a story standpoint, the overall thematic point the game sends off is far more important than the little details if you ask me. And besides, horror isn’t horror if everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow. Horror works best when it leaves certain details up to you, when you have to fill in some of the blanks.
The machine itself is also representative of something, or maybe many things. The primary thing seems to be a metaphor for Mandus’ conscience. Several times Mandus makes reference to a moment when the world seemed to split in two for him. My theory on this is that the Orb somehow split his consciousness into two halves. The one became the machine, that side of him that has so deluded itself into thinking that the path he has chosen is the only way. The other remained with Mandus himself, the part of him that loves and cares for his children, which would explain his obsessive behavior in pursuing them throughout the game even though it was obvious they were dead. It could also just be a metaphor, who knows? That’s the nature of stories, and horror stories in particular.
Overall I loved the story in this game. It was gruesome. It was complex. It was mysterious. It had a lot of the things I want out of a horror story, and even threw some things at me I never expected. The WWI aspect of the game really took me by surprise. This game manages to capture the horrific effect World War One had on the British. I took a British Literature class in college, and one of the things we talked about was how damaging to English moral WWI truly was. No longer was war this dutiful thing you did for king and country. It was horrific. It was bloody. It meant the end of so many young lives. And nobody really knew why it happened, it just did. Even today trying to study WWI leads to confusion. We know the event that triggered it (Franz Ferdinand’s assassination), but it’s extremely difficult to figure out the “why”.
Mandus reacts to WWI in much the same way as the historical British do. His worldview is completely shattered, his faith in humanity gone. He felt hopelessness, frustration, and anger all it once. He felt that the world was no longer just. All in all, he reacts in much the same way people who actually experienced the war did. Writing and art were transformed into a movement that acknowledged the horror and pointlessness of war and death. There is a reason why WWI was called “the war to end all wars”.
And they say video games can’t tackle deep subject matter.
If you got this far, thanks for sticking with it and reading the entirety of this long analysis. I truly do appreciate it. Tune in next week for another (and probably shorter) post coming on Wednesday.