The Amnesia franchise treads into new territory with Amnesia: The Bunker. When Frictional Games’ debut title in the franchise, The Dark Descent, arrived in 2010, the gimmick that enraptured horror fans all over the world (and kicked off the careers of many a gaming YouTuber) was the sheer helplessness of its protagonist, Daniel. He couldn’t fight back against the otherworldly entities relentlessly pursuing him – he could only run and hide.
Amnesia: The Bunker does away with this idea for the first time in the franchise’s decade-long history, giving its leading man an arsenal of weaponry to push back the relentless and chilling stalker he finds himself trapped with inside the titular bunker. Series purists may find this idea off-putting, but rest assured — The Bunker is just as effective at terrifying its audience as its predecessors.
The game is set in World War I, with players stepping into the shoes of French soldier Henri Clemént. He finds himself gravely injured after he and his all-but wiped-out squadron find themselves in a tough spot behind enemy lines. Henri awakens in a seemingly abandoned bunker, suffering from – you guessed it – amnesia. Matters escalate quickly, with Henri quickly discovering that something very sinister has been unfolding inside the bunker while he has been unconscious. His superior officers have abandoned the bunker and sealed its exit shut to keep… something… inside. Suffice it to say, Henri is not alone.
Henri must explore this bone-chilling and terrifying environment, not only to piece together what happened to his battalion but to (perhaps more pressingly) find a way out of this waking nightmare. Throughout his journey to find all of the components he needs to make his escape, Henri will rediscover all of the atrocities he and his comrades have committed in the war, as well as piece together how the torrid state of affairs in the bunker came to be.
Players familiar with Amnesia games past will find the delivery of The Bunker’s story to be familiar. It leans heavily on its environment to do its storytelling, with notes, photographs, and grisly corpses littered throughout the claustrophobic shelter all serving as pieces of the game’s narrative puzzle, with hints and leads scattered throughout to guide Henri to his next objective.
It’s in Amnesia: The Bunker’s core gameplay loop where things have seen a drastic overhaul. Henri will start his journey better equipped than his predecessors; with a revolver and a single bullet. While he’s not going to be a decked-out monster slayer by the time the credits roll, his arsenal can be expanded. So long as players do their due diligence in exploring every nook and cranny of the bunker, they can find a shotgun, grenades, craft Molotov cocktails, and more.
However, don’t be fooled – Amnesia hasn’t made a full-blown transformation into your typical first-person shooter. Ammo is extremely scarce, and even when you do find some, you’ll need to manually check how many rounds you have in your chamber and painstakingly load each precious bullet one by one. You’re definitely no action hero that can reload a gun in the blink of an eye – if you have bullets, but your chamber is empty when you’re caught with your pants down, you’d best get to running.
Even if you are capable (and brave enough) of dishing out the requisite amount of damage to make the stalker retreat, rest assured – much like Resident Evil 2’s Mr. X, your monstrous adversary will be back to hunt you down before long.
The comparison to Resident Evil 2 is also fitting in an entirely different sense, as Amnesia: The Bunker is laid out much like the Raccoon City Police Station, only with the claustrophobia dialed up to 11. You start your journey in the bunker’s hub area where you’re (relatively) safe — it also serves as the spot where you can save your progress and store items. This hub then branches off into various sub-levels where you’ll find key information and items required to progress, all while being constantly pursued by a relentless tormentor. However, thanks to the game’s limited inventory and restrictive saving, you’ll find yourself working your way back to the hub room again and again, if, at the very least, to check the map.
If you don’t find this prospect stressful and panic-inducing enough, The Bunker’s juggling act only gets worse – you also have lighting to worry about. While this entry in the Amnesia franchise has done away with the light-related sanity preservation mechanic, the stalker is noticeably more active in the dark, so you’re going to need to keep the power running and the lights on by finding fuel to power the bunker’s generator. While you do have an infinite light source in the way of an era-appropriate flashlight, continuously winding it up to charge it is sure to alert malevolent forces to your location. In short, the name of the game is: stay as quiet as possible, keep the lights on, and get out alive.
The cherry on top of this terrifyingly macabre cake is the absence of autosaves – players must make their way back to the hub in the middle of the map if they want to save their progress, lest they die while completing their next objective.
All of these design decisions combine to create one of the most spine-chilling horror experiences I’ve played in some time. However, one mechanic that was a little tiresome was the need to break down doors with bricks or explosives, which seemed like an unnecessary scavenging stall that threw the pacing off, especially with the knowledge that knocking down a door will ultimately alert the stalker to your location. Substituting these destructible doors for obnoxiously creaky ones for the purposes of drawing the enemy to you may have helped the game flow a little better, but then again, this is a minor nitpick.
The Bunker may have had a significant overhaul when it comes to the core gameplay, but what’s remained relatively unchanged is its presentation and graphics. Don’t expect to be floored by its visual fidelity – HPL Engine, despite its incremental improvements, is showing its age. While the game is pretty enough to make its horror immersive, don’t go in expecting jaw-droppingly stunning visuals. The sound design, however, is impeccable and pulls the overall experience right back up. It’s appropriately atmospheric, detailed, and dread-inducing.
Amnesia: The Bunker is one of the more compact games in the series, and savvy players will likely be able to get their first clear in 5 to 6 hours. That being said, it’s certainly one of the more replayable entries. The locations of essential door codes for key items, resources, and traps throughout the bunker are randomized with each and every playthrough. Assuming speedrunners aren’t breaking the game, clearing The Bunker at blistering speeds will make for an enticing and interesting challenge. Like Rebirth, The Bunker has three difficulty options – easy, normal, and hard.
All in all, Amnesia: The Bunker takes the established and beloved horror franchise in a new direction, with a protagonist that is now able to defend himself (if you can spare the resources), and the ability to carve your own path in a claustrophobic sandbox world rather than head down a linear path. We can confidently say that Frictional’s gambit has paid off – not only has The Bunker lived up to its namesake, it elevates the horror it’s so well known for to new heights.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Frictional Games.
While ‘Amnesia: The Bunker’ is a brief, albeit very replayable experience, we’d wager that even the most grizzled survival horror veterans will be clenching their sphincters as they navigate Frictional Games’ masterclass in terror. The overhauled gameplay loop is a welcome change, though ‘The Bunker’ does fall victim to the same shortcomings as its predecessors, which makes it feel somewhat dated in places.
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