For years, Swedish developer Frictional Games has pulled off a difficult balancing act: creating gaming’s equivalent to clever and competent genre fiction. It has built its name doing horror better than just about anyone else, bucking the clichés of both AAA shooters and bare-bones indie games while drawing elements from both. In some ways, it does this by stripping gameplay to its core: after giving players a clumsy pickaxe in its first game, the studio quickly dispensed with weapons altogether, forcing players deeper and deeper into mysterious environments populated by enemies they were powerless to fight.

But the games have always been driven by the mechanics they leave in — traditional adventure game elements that force you to pay attention to the environment, penalties for looking at enemies that keep you from getting comfortable. Given this, its latest game, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, is an interesting beast. Though a sequel to Frictional’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent, it’s developed primarily by The Chinese Room, a small team known for its experimental narratives. Dear Esther, created first as a Half-Life 2 mod, asks players to walk around an island while hearing fragments of a story. Though it’s almost universally described as a moving narrative, there’s little for the player to do, and there’s an ongoing debate over whether it counts as a game at all. A Machine for Pigs is more interactive, but it raises a similar question: what do Frictional’s mechanics bring to these stories? And how far can you go in paring them down?