I think that Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was much better than Dark Descent. There. I said it.
Wait...where are you all going? No! Stop, come back!
You can't be a horror fan and not have at least some sort of lingering knowledge about Amnesia: The Dark Descent. When it first came out (and I'd argue, to this day...), it was everywhere. That game was the words on everybody's lips; it seemed like everybody had praise for it, and not an ill-word to be heard about it. I like to think of myself of a pretty well grounded horror fan, and I'll be honest, it got to the point where people actually seemed surprised that I hadn't played Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Somehow, my disinterest in playing it seemed to baffle most people.
Time and time again, I had to explain myself. Medieval castles and otherworldly dark magic just really isn't my thing. I did eventually get around to playing The Dark Descent, and I was met with a lot of what I had sort of expected, already. The story didn't appeal to me. The setting didn't appeal to me. The game mechanics and the sanity meter actively turned me off of the game. If I could have had less than zero interest, I'm sure I would have. I think I had pretty much written the franchise off, when something caught my ear and grabbed my interest.
A Machine for Pigs.
I can't exactly explain what it was about the title that caught me. There was something disturbing and demented in the title alone, leaving me to wonder just what was so scary about a pig machine, that it had earned itself the title of an Amnesia game.
As I learned more about the game, I felt as if it had been made especially for me. The setting seemed more accessible, and the story was more emotional; the music was grand and beautiful, yet still haunting and tense.
I was so glad to see the sanity meter gone, as well as having to ration out oil to balance my dwindling sanity. From what other gamers have said, the hate for Machine for Pigs comes from that lack of game elements. I'm well aware that a lot of people loved those very game-like mechanics, but to me, it felt like they were things that stood in the way of the story. I'm not a hardcore gamer by any stretch of the imagination, and I really appreciated not being bogged down by things that would have ultimately taken away from the experience. Even the puzzles and tasks that I had to deal with were manageable, and made the experience so much more enjoyable.
Instantly, I fell in love with Oswald Mandus' world. My heart sank as he lamented and searched for his children. As he descended further into the machine of his own making, I feel like he came to understand and regret his actions so much more than his predecessor did. The whole narrative just felt so much easier to relate to, and on a whole, it felt deeper and more complex.
The monsters that I was faced with in Machine for Pigs also felt so much more effective than in Dark Descent. I'm not saying that I wouldn't crap my pants in fear if I ran into the latter, but the manpigs had so much more going for them. They were these horrible creatures; they were scary and disturbing, but they also had complexities. We learn, during the game, that manpigs are made from the rejects in society. Orphans, the severely handicapped, the homeless and the insane. Suddenly, seeing a manpig looming in his cage isn't just scary, it's also heart breaking. If you look closely enough, you can see his sad eyes and a sense of innocence as he stacks wooden blocks or cries in a corner. If I hadn't been won over yet, I certainly was when I was given a villain to both fear and pity.
A Machine for Pigs also snuffled it's way into my heart through my love of music. I touched on the soundtrack in a previous blog, but I feel like it's worth mentioning again. I'll be honest, I can't think back to one memorable piece of music from The Dark Descent. Nothing sticks out in my mind and I don't really remember ever being made to feel anything by the music from that game. Jessica Curry's soundtrack for A Machine for Pigs never failed to leave me with goosebumps. The music was a mix of tender moments, warm strings, and beautiful vocal work, paired with guttural, industrial groans and clanks.
I felt like the surroundings of Castle Brennenburg was boring, and aside from a few interesting aspects (that bloody fountain, am I right?!), it felt monotonous and uninspired. That could be my disinterest in medieval masonry coming into play, however. The dark otherworldly horrors theme has been played to death over and over again, and has seen it's fair share of creepy old castles. It was a relief to explore the sentimental and richly decorated Mandus estate, and I was absolutely thrilled in exploring the titular machine. I have a deep admiration for abandoned and worn down factories and asylums, and perhaps that's what thrilled me the most, but there was something else, too. There was a tangible feeling of reality in this larger than life machine. I wish I had a proper word to describe it, I really do.
A Machine for Pigs incorporates the same sort of grotesque wonder that I felt when playing some of the better Silent Hill games. There's tension and horror around every corner, but also a feeling of pure love, longing and sentiment that makes the game so much easier to relate to.
I would also argue that Machine for Pigs stayed with me so much more profoundly because of the ending. I had always felt that for how much the collective gaming world had given The Dark Descent sloppy praise filled blow jobs for it's genius, that the ending was...well, really silly and ridiculous. The ending of Dark Descent always felt like they didn't quite know how to make an ending that felt final.
The ending of Machine for Pigs is probably one of my favourite final moments I've ever experienced in a game. It carries a mix of nostalgia and redemption, and it feels profound, matching the overall feel of the story.
I love this game, I love it so damned much. It feels like a story that I wish I could have written, and it makes me wish I could go back to the beginning and experience it for the first time, all over again.
Does it bother me that other people seem to dislike it so much? Well, perhaps a little, but at the same time, this game seems like it was tailored so closely to my own likes and needs that it might as well be just for me. That's fine by me, I'm just as happy to sit alone and braid flowers into the hair of a manpig than to ever consider revisiting Castle Brennenburg.
Among the Sleep was one of those games that I instantly began anticipating the moment it was announced. It was billed as a survival horror game where you play as a two year old kid, exploring his household at night time. There were a lot of trailers with spooky atmosphere and it looked like you couldn't take part in combat, but rather, all you could do was hide. Considering how much I've loved other games that use that game mechanic, like Outlast and the Amnesia series, I was hooked right away.
A horror game with an interesting concept, and a lack of combat so I couldn't fuck it up and get stuck being repeatedly assaulted by enemies?
Oh, yes, please.
As time went on, Among the Sleep stayed in the back of my mind. I'd check out tumblr posts and teasers about it, and there was always something to keep me drooling and awaiting the game. I'll admit, I was so interested in how Among the Sleep would play out, I even forced myself to watch idiot gamer PewDiePie bumblefuck his way through an early demo of the game. Which, I will mention, gave me a huge headache and I will never submit myself to that sort of torture again.
When I finally got my grabby little hands on the game, I was pretty stoked. My first impressions sagged a bit; the animation seemed a little bit too saturated and cartoony to me. I'm not sure what really bothered me about it, but the graphics seemed a little bit off putting.
Like I was promised, I got to play as a small child on his birthday. Just before I got to receive my gift (which would end up being my new BFF, Teddy), mother was interrupted by the door. You could vaguely hear her mentioning that it was my birthday and she didn't have time for whoever it was at the door. I mean, that's a really mean thing to say to the mailman, but what do I know? I'm just a toddler drooling cake on herself.
It's important to mention that at this point in the game, I figured that would be my stereotypically absentee father at the door, or some other such interference. It had to be, after all, my mother seems pretty rad and sweet.
The cut scene progresses with being taken to my room, and at this point, I got to try out some of the game mechanics. I was pretty impressed, there were a wide range of motions I could make, and I instantly took a liking to crawling about. It was speedy and effective. I could climb shelves and drawers if I pulled them out, and I got to know Teddy.
Now, I'm not sure what Mommy laced my birthday cake with, but Teddy, who is supposed to be a companion in this adventure is a wide eyed, creepy fuck. His voice and words are all very nice and comforting, but I'm a two year old tripping balls with a dead eyed teddy bear. It's an odd situation.
The real game play comes after bedtime. The player escapes the crib, and so the adventure begins. The atmosphere is really nice, and I admired the mix of familiar objects seeming more big and menacing at night. After exploring the home, the player ends up in a weird dreamscape filled with memories and symbols. The way it was animated and the logic of the areas really reminded me of American McGee's Alice, which is treated in high regard as a personal favourite of mine.
With Teddy at your side, you wander around this weird place, collecting memories and dodging what seems to be a raging hag monster in the later levels.
I wasn't a huge fan of solving the puzzles or collecting the memories. I found it boring, to be honest. The atmosphere was meant to be tense and darkly exotic, but it just felt sort of run of the mill and uninspired. What kept me going was trying to piece together the 'meaning' of the game. There are drawings littered all over the walls and hidden in areas in every level that seem to be done by the main character; drawings of the baby and teddy, Mommy, I think even Daddy was illustrated at times, as well as drawings of the hag monster.
Along with the drawings, other items laying around will give the player a good idea of the meaning, long before the big reveal. There are lots of toys and child-like items, but it seemed out of place to me that there were glass bottles just about everywhere.
“Hmn...” I thought to myself. “Somebody has a drinking problem, and I don't think it's me!”
When we finally find Mommy, at the end of the game, the narrative takes a sharp left turn. She's slumped over on the floor, emptied wine bottle in tow. Oh. Mommy's an alcoholic. Cool. She doesn't seem to pleased to see us either.
Between the memories that were collected and flash backs to our drunk mother playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we realize that she's not the perfect woman, like she was portrayed earlier. The game goes so far as to end with the main character being “rescued” by the father at the door.
In most games, I would have loved this dynamic of peeling back the layers with the help of memories and clues. I mean, basically, that's what every Silent Hill game is, short of whacking things with a pipe. But in Among the Sleep, it felt pandering and frankly, unfair.
The mother is presented as such a good person at the start as a strawman, and we never get too many hints to her being anything but, until the very end of the game. It was startling, but not in the way I think the game makers wanted it to be. It was never implied that she was physically abusive with the child (if it was, I missed it). Even the memories they showed of her when she was drunk and angry didn't seem too extreme. More like she was frustrated and angry but held herself back from taking it out on her baby. Finding the mother drunk on the floor obviously didn't paint her in the most responsible light, sure, but she came across as somebody who was in over her head and needed help, not somebody who should be vilified as a raging hag demon. Don't get me wrong, I understand the concept of the child's comprehension being much different than reality, but it felt really unfair and manipulative.
Among the Sleep took an interesting concept that hadn't been done before and played it out fairly well. At the end of the day, though, I feel like it missed it's mark. I'm not sure it earned the genre title of survival horror, as it wasn't really all that scary, and the bigger picture of the game just seemed a little bit too mean spirited and randomly thrown together. I'm glad I got to check it out, but I'm not sure I would go back and replay it, or even recommend it. read
I've been waiting in anticipation for Outlast: Whistleblower for what feels like forever. Probably ever since I found out that it was in production. That would have been around the time when I played the first game with my boyfriend. Knowing that I have a love for all things abandoned and historical, and that I would need to fill the void that was finishing Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, he suggested that we check out Outlast.
He was right.
We played the first game huddled around the glow of my laptop. Playing the game this way made for a special sort of special game experience, as my laptop really isn't up to gaming standards. There was some lagging and chugging, often turning the chase scenes into an almost comical experience. But overall, I really loved the game. Traversing the dilapidated Mount Massive Asylum really appealed to the urban explorer that my soul houses, and the part of my personality that loves learning about the history of mental asylums. I came to love the music, the atmosphere, and more so than I expected, the tormented and traumatized victims of the Murkoff Corporation.
This past week, we took the plunge and got ourselves a copy of Whistleblower, and prepared for our return to the asylum of the damned.
My first concern about the DLC was that it would be more of the same. Don't get me wrong, I fully enjoyed Outlast but I hoped that the second game would enrich the experience. And it did. We got to visit some of the old haunts from the original content, but even more excitingly, we were given the chance to explore new areas. It seemed like the range of motion for our character had been expanded; now we could climb up onto sub-roofs and scale walls a little bit better. There were areas of the game that I couldn't have ever predicted would have existed, that allowed me to once again capture that feeling of nervous exploration.
Whistleblower also provided the chance to see some of our old fiends (no, that's not a typo) from the first game. It was neat to see the naked twins (whom I nicknamed Edwin and Enoch...heh...), Father Martin, Chris Walker and Dr. Trager's torso. It was all a great reminder that we were in the same universe still, and helped to solidify a timeline for the events of the DLC. The game didn't rely too heavily on fan service moments like seeing old characters, and certainly offered a host of new characters who were just as interesting and twisted in their own, broken ways.
The atmosphere was perfect, and the music achieved the same quality that worked so well in the first game. It drew a violin bow over my tightly strung nerves, making the experience all the more tense and pleasantly unpleasant.
What I admired most about Outlast: Whistleblower was that it seemed to be an intentional love letter to the original game's audience. Now, when I say love letter, I don't mean the nice kind that you look forward to getting on Valentine's day. I mean the kind of love letter that you find on your porch at 3 am, suspiciously crumpled and covered in a vaguely sticky substance.
Yeah. It was that kind of love letter.
The game seemed to directly address criticism that was given for not having women patients and staff in the game, even though you travel through the women's ward at one point in the original game. As it turns out, the fate of the women in Mount Massive was much worse than even the Murkoff Corporation could have expected, and they were shipped off to their very own facility. God knows what that place might have to offer, but I really want to see it at some point. Perhaps in a sequel. We also meet Eddie Gluskin (a darling amongst the Whistleblower fandom) and learn about his dark proclivities towards women.
Another criticism that the game seemed to meet head on was the ending of the first game. A good chunk of the audience seemed to think it was a huge downer ending. Personally, I liked it. The ending for the DLC seemed like a bright and hopeful ending, until you consider the implications that the Walrider is now free to cause havoc outside of the walls of Mount Massive.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time playing Outlast: Whistleblower. I think it struck a good balance of referencing old material and bringing new material to the table. The characters are once again, unforgettable. The ideas presented in the game are just as disturbing as they need to be to stick with you long after you've stopped playing. I feel like I need to take sometime to mull over the themes in the game before going into more depth about them, but for the time being, let me just say that Whistleblower stands on it's own two feet in terms of being a great game. read
There are a lot of factors that contribute to a videogame being scary. Obviously, your visual surroundings need to be at least somewhat disconcerting, and the ideas that the game offers need to be unsettling on a base level. However, I think the sound design and soundtrack of a horror game can make or break the experienc for the player. A good deal of my memories and experiences with horror games come more from wandering around the abandoned streets of my hometown at night with my trusty iPod, than from parking my butt in front of my computer and actually playing them. When I roam around listening to different soundtracks from games, that's when I really reflect on the plot, what the characters might be thinking or feeling, or even how I would have reacted in a similar situation. It really does help to enrich the whole experience.
Music is just that powerful of a thing for me.
It's important, however, to note that a good game soundtrack is more than just an effective score, or a few songs with lyrical relevance. What makes a game soundtrack work for me is when it comes together to be a sum of all of it's parts.
To better describe the audible horrors that have brought me so much awe over the years, I took some time to pull open my iTunes library and compile a list of my top five horror game soundtracks.
5. Left 4 Dead/Left 4 Dead 2 (Mike Morasky)
When I started taking music classes in school (both junior high and high school), one of my favourite ideas was that each instrument not only had it's own part, but it had it's own personality. I loved the idea that you could represent a story through instrumentation, and without lyrics, could get your message along just fine. This idea in action was what made the soundtracks for Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 really stand out for me.
In both of the games, music is used sparingly. You notice it's absence just as much as you notice it's presence. And when it is present, it's present in a big way. I've always admired that the music was composed in a way that it represents each zombie type; the growing dread of the Witch theme with it's delicate piano keys and vocals that crescendo into high pitched flutes, the heavy percussion and nervous woodwinds that introduce the Tank, that's the sort of thing that I've always really admired.
Aside from the score, the Left 4 Dead games also have some of the best lyrical songs. I have such a soft spot in my heart for the fictional Midnight Riders, and I don't think I've had a playlist that 'Save Me Some Sugar' hasn't been on. I like that the Midnight Riders only seem to exist within the context of the games, but their music is independent of the plot. It just always seemed to make the experience that much more authentic.
4. American McGee's Alice (Chris Vrenna, Tweaker)
I'm just going to put it out there, I love Chris Vrenna's band, Tweaker. Call me a spoopy goth girl, but I love that he took the musical sensibilities from Nine Inch Nails and transformed it into his own one man band. I'm sure that in time, I would have come to find Tweaker on my own, but it was American McGee's Alice that pushed me in their direction.
The soundtrack for Alice is one of the creepiest and most listenable scores I have ever heard. A lot of the music was composed using old Victorian instruments and toys for that authentic twang of despair. Even the voice clips taken from the game are nestled in so lovingly and skillfully that they never interrupt the listening experience.
Flying On The Wings of Steam is probably the piece of music that stands out the most in my mind when I think of Alice. It's by no means aggressive, but it is creepy as hell. I love the inclusion of throaty-sounding strings, the gentle yet insidious tinkle of a music box, and the addition of wind effects and gentle industrial noise in the background.
This was my go to soundtrack for creative writing in highschool and to this day, pieces of the Alice soundtrack seem to always make their way into my writing and ambient music playlists.
3. Alan Wake (Petri Alanko)
Alan Wake is the perfect example of a game that hinges on it's soundtrack. That is to say that a lot of insight to the plot and themes of the game can be found right in the soundtrack. I love the inclusion of lyrical songs from all different sources to really enhance the game's experience.
I was a fan of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Poe, Depeche Mode and quite a few other featured artists long before Alan Wake came out. Having the credit music at the end of each episode really helped to solidify the themes of the game and made it come to life in a wholly different context.
On top of the music at the end of each episode, you can't ignore the work put forth by Poets of The Fall for the game's soundtrack. I loved that there were actually songs by the fictional Old Gods of Asgard, and that those songs reflected, once again, the overarching plot. This alone would have made Alan Wake's soundtrack a masterpiece, but then there's the original score by Petri Alanko.
The score that was written for the game is epic in the most pure sense of the word. It's breath taking and really does express the familiarity and doubt that seem to be experienced simultaneously in Bright Falls. There's inspiration and curiosity in Alanko's score, and it somehow captured that feeling of making a turn on a mountain encrusted highway, just to see a small town stretch out in front of you, with all of the possibilities that experience entails. It's the perfect score for autumn country driving, and most importantly inspires a feeling of homesickness for a small town that doesn't even exist.
2. Silent Hill (Akira Yamaoka)
I think that I actually got into the Silent Hill fandom through the soundtracks before I ever played one of the games. The music is a wonderful twist of aggression, loneliness and ambiance. It fully embodies what the games are all about.
I'm most partial to the soundtracks for Silent Hill 2 and 3, as I feel those games had the most listenable music. I've mentioned before, using game scores for inspiration while writing, and the various soundtracks are perfect for this. Aside from a few lyrical songs, which again, speak perfectly to the game's themes, the ambient music in this series is so easy to get lost in.
It's perfect for wandering the streets on a cool foggy night, writing furiously for National Novel Writing Month, and even drifting off to sleep to in a bubble bath. Yes, I've done all of these things while listening to the various scores from Silent Hill, and have fond memories from doing so.
Akira Yamaoka drew from so many different sources when he designed the sounds and music for the series. I remember watching a documentary on the making of Silent Hill 3 where he discussed trying to come up with a sound for a certain area in everybody's favourite rusty gratey world, and deciding that he wanted it to sound like a Hieronymus Bosch painting. That's not just being musically talented; that's thinking outside of the box completely. It's complex concepts like that, that make the music stand out. I can promise you (again from experience) that if you were to find an abandoned building to stand in, and you just let the sounds of the building wash over you, along with the stale coolness of the air and the inevitable feelings of lonesomeness, you would be able to match Silent Hill's soundtrack directly to those experiences. Say what you will about the steady decline of the franchise, but you cannot discount the success of the music and the atmosphere that it created.
1. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (Jessica Curry)
Jessica Curry's score for Machine for Pigs is right up there with the soundtracks for Silent Hill and American McGee's Alice, that is to say, her music is darkly emotional, fiercely original and authentic to the plot and settings of the game. Some tracks are a pleasure to listen to, to get lost in and write to, and other tracks challenge the listener with pants shitting terror and anxiety.
The strings are robust and at times, sound as if they are going to swallow you up whole, the piano pieces are so delicate and shy, but can also drive the music as is heard in The Factory Gates and Mandus. I really wouldn't be surprised if the music took cues from Chris Vrenna (especially with the use of music boxes) and Petri Alanko.
What I thought was a real treat in the game, and throughout the album, was the inclusion of lyrical operatics. They stood out throughout the game, especially the piece of opera music Dieses Herz, that was used to calm the manpigs in the monstrous factory. There was such a dissonance between the ugliness of the machine, and the soothing beauty of this piece of music. I remember thinking to myself, “I need to find that song!” When I did find the song, and the translated lyrics, I found that the song was meant to be a lullaby, though the lyrics carried some dark implications about the plot of the game.
It doesn't get much better than that.
Any gamer who enjoys listening to the soundtracks of the games that they've played owe it to themselves to check out Jessica Curry's score for Machine for Pigs. Just as much for the mechanical, hollow music from within the machine as for the faithful and soothing piano pieces that express a fondness for Mandus' family and their home.
I'm not sure what the general Destructoid ruling is on introductory blogs. When I decided to join Dtoid as a member and not just a creepy lurker, I poked around and saw a few introductory blogs, so I figure my head shouldn't be remotely imploded if I take a moment to introduce myself. That's always a good sign.
I'm a girl in my mid-twenties, and for the most part, I enjoy gaming. Note how I said enjoy and not 'am good at'. I wouldn't lie to you this early on in my membership. I'm from the frigid wastelands of Canadaland, though as we edge further into May, I guess it's getting a little less frigid here, everyday.
I was introduced to Destructoid through my boyfriend's activity here (you might know him as Wrenchfarm), and always sort of watched the activity from the sidelines. Lately, though, I've realized that I really don't have too many people to talk about games with. Granted, I have lots of friends who are gamers, but a lot of them don't share the same cup of tea that I partake in, which is horror gaming.
My decision to join Destructoid and to start a blog is one fueled by the hopes of getting to discuss horror games; picking apart my old favourites that I always come back to, and of course, celebrating the new stuff as it comes out. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm not so great at the actual mechanics of gaming, but I will grind, shoot, hide and barely live my way through a horror game so long as the story is interesting and the characters have something to offer.
Some of my favourite games include Silent Hill 3, Alan Wake, Outlast, and Amnesia: Machine for Pigs. This list is ever growing, however, as I expand my gaming collection.
Beyond the realm of gaming, I'm just a boring girl. I went to University and promptly found myself in a job millions of miles away from what I studied. I run a horror blog on the side, fancy myself a writer and artist (though the claims of my artistic aptitude can be and have been wildly disputed), and take Bollywood dance classes.
I'm not sure who all will be reading this, but you should definitely let me know what some of your favourite horror games are, and even better, leave some recommendations for games that can be played on PC, XBox 360, DS Lite, PSP, PS2 and the Wii. I realize my console collection is a little bit outdated, but that just affords me the chance to get the games at bargain bin prices when I'm lucky!
I'm super looking forward to getting to know people in the community and writing about my experiences and opinions on horror gaming! read