Despite being quite the first-person horror genre fan, the Amnesia series had always been the one that slipped by me. It wasn’t through intention or lack of interest, there just always seemed to be other games that drew my attention away from the series. Descending into the World War 1 horror landscape for Amnesia: The Bunker, therefore, felt like I was righting a historical wrong on my part.
In an effort to move the series forward with fresh ideas, Frictional Games have made some significant changes to the formula with this outing. Insanity meters, linear progression and multiple fearsome foes to outmanoeuvre are out.
Instead, the team have turned to a more open, organic exploration approach with more emphasis on a weapon and item sandbox to forge your own path and solutions. In the depths of this dark, decrepit and oppressive bunker, have these changes proved an intoxicating thrill or a forgetful malaise? Your hunter awaits, let’s find out if it’s worth being the prey.
World War Run
The trenches and underground hellholes of World War 1 are an untapped horror oasis, just begging to be watered and nurtured into a terrifying steel forest. Amnesia: The Bunker uses the setting to tremendous effect. You begin the story fleeing from a hail of gunfire and explosions and you’ll continue to be running for the rest of your time playing, too.
Having succumbed to a particularly vicious enemy blast in the trenches, you awake in the bunker. Naturally, given the name of the game, you have next to no recollection of how you got here or where “here” even is. You’ve been here before, the notes and clues you find scattered around prove that. However, it’s up to you to now piece it all together, and survive.
The story of the bunker itself almost feels akin to the Fromsoft or Arkane method of exposition. There’s no direct dialogue outside of the introduction sequence, which leaves you free to explore and make sense of the now-derelict structure. As you venture into each area, you can infer what occurred to the previous occupants before they… departed… and use their scribblings to make sense of their fate.
For the most part, the writing is on point and having the bunker be the main character, as opposed to the physical body you occupy, was a fantastic decision. Soaked in blood, bodies, traps, broken machinery and locked doors, the mystery of this shell-shocked hole of death will keep you moving forward. Though, given what’s lurking in the shadows, you probably won’t want to.
Soldier of Misfortune
In the vein of previous first-person horror terrors such as the Xenomorph from Alien: Isolation or Nemesis from the OG Resident Evil 3, you’ll be stalked throughout your journey in the titular bunker. This creature will react should you make too much noise in any location, using rat tunnels to burrow over to you in an instant.
It will trigger at some pre-designated points but mostly it’ll turn up when you’re doing basically anything. Thankfully, Frictional Games have balanced the fear factor with some helpful cues. The creature will normally need two instances of sound to properly start hunting you. Light sources will start to flicker and glitch when it’s actively prowling about too, indicating when it’s necessary to hide.
The pace of Amnesia: The Bunker is intentionally slowed down in almost every mechanic to facilitate a careful, meticulous approach. Want to know how many rounds you have in your pistol? Gotta manually check that yourself. Want to use your mobile torch to break through the darkness? Oh yes, you have to crank that bad boy constantly, making a barrage of noise as you do.
Your tools are only as effective as your use of them, which is a fantastic way to create suspense and intensity. The creature – not only being hideous – is lethal, as one or two hits is all it will take to snuff you out. Strategising when to run, when to hide, when to use one of your preciously scarce bullets to temporarily stun it is a constant give-and-take that feels consistently tense.
Blast Your Own Path
Probably the biggest deviation from Amnesia’s previous entries is the structure and level design of Amnesia: The Bunker. Unlike more linear-focused titles, Frictional Games’ newest entry encourages experimentation and finding your own path to escape. From the offset, you can venture into 4 distinct areas of the bunker complex (once you’ve overridden the lockdown of course).
In each section, you’ll be met with an abundance of locked doors, hidden grenade traps, rabid rats and a bounty of items to collect. Effectively, each zone is a sort of puzzle box. You need X item from, say, the pillbox, but in order to get to said item, you’ll require a key from named soldier in a letter. Come across a locked door and you can choose violence by just blowing it up with a grenade, or you can find an alternate route to unlock it from the other side.
You won’t be able to access everything your first time in each zone, meaning you’ll be moving back and forth between them as you find your next essential tool. It’s an interesting approach to a sandbox-horror perspective, which meshes well with keeping the stress levels up from the persistent threat of the creature.
I did have two main issues that plagued my time with Amnesia: The Bunker, however. First is that the game only saves at one point in the centre of the base – meaning you’ll be constantly running back there to save progress or risk losing chunks of time to a rogue trap. I get that it’s supposed to keep the tension high, but having a save point in each zone would have alleviated the frustration of this tenfold.
Second is that the sandbox isn’t as wide as it initially appears. Most doors need to either be unlocked or simply blown open, effectively making grenades progression tools and therefore too precious to use for protection. I tried using my creative hemisphere a couple of times and was actually surprised it paid off, but in other moments it made the limitations of the systems a bit too apparent.
Hunker Down, It’s Going Dark
One aspect that I found to rewardingly up the tension was the need to keep the central generator running with fuel at all times to keep the bunker lit. Given that your personal torch is a shrieking homing beacon for the creature, you’d be bewildered to know how much you’ll appreciate having light available to you.
Your inventory space is very limited (though it can be increased by finding backpacks), so juggling what essential item to keep on your person (e.g gun, torch, gas mask, lighter) and what supplementary equipment to store or take (i.e bandages, grenades, bottles) is an engrossing mental tug-of-war. You also need fuel – a lot of it – to keep the lights on, so you’ll be a personal water boy for the generator often.
I found the gameplay loop to therefore be almost exactly that – a loop. Run into an area, tip-toe around scavenging for supplies or a locker code from a dog tag, then creep out to get back, fuel up, sort inventory, save and head out once again. It probably shouldn’t be as rewarding as it is, but there’s just something so engaging about juggling so many different demands on you.
In terms of the scare factor, Amnesia: The Bunker is going to be a very subjective experience. For me, because of the annoyance of losing progress due to a lack of checkpoints and the fact it’s the same creature every encounter, I lost a lot of my fear in a typical sense. However, for people who find stalker-based horror games frightening as all sin, this is going to have you petrified.
Despite the fear factor being a bit lost on me, the tension and feeling of unease were always palpable and that kept me invested despite the lack of gut-wrenching screams.
A Bunker Made Funker
As I alluded to earlier, the star of the show in Amnesia: The Bunker is the underground complex itself. Whether I was creeping through the unnerving quarters of the now-past soldiers who once roamed the halls or I was taking in the horrific scene of the creature’s nest (I won’t say where), the attention to detail to make this space feel both realistic and depraved is impeccable.
Even finer details like how your character bandages wounds and meticulously loads each round of their flimsy revolver helps sell the nightmarish nature of this world. Viewed through the prism of the brutality of World War 1, it sells its vision very well indeed.
I had the odd visual problem, most noticeably with physics elements. An easy example is how once wood shatters (usually thanks to my “creative” ways of opening doors, with explosives…) the remnant planks will flop around everywhere in quite an uncharacteristic fashion. On the whole though, graphical fidelity impressed me and the design for the creature itself is horrendously top-notch.
Sadly, I can’t be unilaterally full of praise, owing to the crashing I experienced. You know how I said the save system bothered me for causing lost progress? Well, imagine my utter contempt for losing 30+ minutes spent stalking through an area in patient fashion, only to be booted back to the Steam menu in less than a moment. It happened 3 times in my first 3 hours with the game and I’m certain it contributed to the save problem, as I was then frantically running back to save out of paranoia for it happening again.
It wasn’t a deal-breaker per se, but if you’re not going to have autosaves or checkpoints available readily, crashes are quite unforgivable.
Hope To Remember
Yet, forgive Amnesia: The Bunker I certainly did. For every frustrating moment, I’d come across a new room begging to be explored. For every crash, there was an organic moment of discovery as I set treacherous rats on fire along with myself or warded off the creature by accidentally setting off a gas trap. The Zen-like moments of discovery make descending into this twisted structure worthwhile despite the night terrors.
With three difficulties to master and a randomiser applied to codes, items and locations for every time you play a new campaign, there’s a lot of potential replayability on offer here. Discovering the nature and history of the bunker carries the experience a long way, but I can imagine there’ll be more than a few avid war-torn veterans itching to master and outwit the beast more than once.
Amnesia: The Bunker brought back a lot of positive memories from my time playing Alien: Isolation. Tense, on edge and hypervigilant throughout, it’ll evoke the same sense of dread as you question every pipe crack or desperately duck under a table to avoid a chilling encounter. Perhaps this is the start of a successful new approach for the Amnesia franchise, as it looks to its future instead of remembering its past.
Opting for a new semi-open world approach and a more sandbox-orientated set of tools to tinker with, Amnesia: The Bunker forgoes many of its previous series staples in favour of a single persistent threat and a fantastically oppressive World War 1 setting. It stumbles at times owing to crashing problems, a bothersome save system and the occasional gameplay limitation, but Amnesia can comfortably forget its memories of the past if this is the future it has lurking ahead.
Amnesia: The Bunker is available June 6th on PC via Steam (review platform) and Epic Games Store.
Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.