Now that I've gotten through the gauntlet of massive AAA releases like Metal Gear Solid V and Dark Souls III, I wanted to take some time to clear out some smaller games that have been collecting dust in my Steam library before diving into any other massive, time-sucking games. One of my highest priorities was the Indie sci-fi horror title Soma, developed by Frictional Games - the same company that made Amnesia: the Dark Descent. I had heard pretty good things about this game, and I liked Dark Descent, so I was eager to finally have a chance to dive into this one.
Learning from failures and forgetting successes
Soma show signs of learning from the weaknesses of both The Dark Descent and A Machine for Pigs (which was actually developed by a third party), even though it still doesn't necessarily nail the mechanics this time either. It's a far better experience than Machine for Pigs, and shows the level of quality that helped make Dark Descent such a hit. The most notable improvements from Machine for Pigs is in the depth of gameplay and monster encounters; and the most notable improvements from Dark Descent are in puzzle design and narrative.
Monsters sometimes appear in where you get important story bits to incentivize you to not just walk away.
Monster encounters do still feel very un-threatening for the first half of the game. The first few monster encounters even seemed scripted to catch the player. This was possibly done in order to tutorialize the game's healing mechanic, but it also serves to desensitize the player to the monster and the threat of death right out of the gate. Unlike The Dark Descent, you don't start out terrified and cowering in fear from a mysterious and ominous enemy that can kill you in a heartbeat, and then gradually grow desensitized to it as it kills you and you realize that the consequences of death are pretty minor. Instead, you're taught right from the start that dying is virtually consequence-free, and that it isn't really worth the time and effort to try to avoid the monster by sneaking around, or to try to hide from it. The monster's appearance is never even surprising either. There's a screen-tearing effect and static noises to indicate that the monster is near, even if you can't see him. It's the same kind of effect that Slenderman played with. So even while you're walking around, you never feel the need to peek around corners or glance over your shoulder to make sure nothing's stalking you. This kills any potential for horror that the game might have been able to establish... [More]
Is Frictional Games working on a new IP? I'm a bit curious as to why they outsourced development of the aptly-named A Machine for Pigs to the third-party developer The Chinese Room. Frictional's staff did stay on as "producers" for this game, so I'm sure that the final product is still consistent with what Frictional would have wanted if they had developed it themselves, and I think the overall story was still written by people at Frictional (but I could be wrong on that account). In any case, the change in development team has certainly had a dramatic effect on the way that the new game plays. The very core gameplay of exploring a linear dungeon with a flashlight is retained, but all the mechanics and the underlying feel of the game are completely different than its predecessor. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Amnesia: the Dark Descent wasn't perfect.
Once again, the underlying premise that sets up Amnesia: a Machine for Pigs is that your character wakes up in a mansion with no memory of who he is or why he is there. Your early exploration of the mansion reveals some vague threat, and you are forced to descend into a deep dungeon in order to discover who you are and resolve the threat. Along the way, you'll encounter deformed creatures and collect notes and documents from your former self explaining the situation, as well as have the occasional hallucinatory flashback as your memory slowly returns. But if you're worried that this sounds too much like the previous game, then fear not: A Machine for Pigs takes an entirely different approach to the gameplay and has a totally different feel to the entire experience. [More]