The Amnesia series from Frictional Games is one of the all-time horror greats. I was a fan of Frictional even before their breakout hit, though, back when Penumbra was their brand of horror. While that series has remained dormant, the bones of it still exist even in their latest release: Amnesia: The Bunker.
In Amnesia: The Bunker, you play as a soldier in WWI who must evade a monster within an underground bunker long enough to facilitate your escape. It’s a simple, but effective premise with a unique setting. Is this enough to put this series back on the top of horror gaming? Let’s find out.
A Streamlined Return to Form, but Does The Old Formula Work?
The last Amnesia game, Rebirth, was met with mixed reception due to a number of factors. On the one hand, it was much larger in scope than prior games, which are usually limited to a few locations. The narrative was also far more grand and sci-fi than I think many expected.
It was also low on scares, though it did have them. The penalty for death wasn’t very severe, and large portions of it were tense, but lacked any true threat to the player. Contrast this with the first game in the series, where you’re always on edge, and it’s easy to see why Rebirth didn’t quite land.
With Amnesia: The Bunker, it’s clear that Frictional Games wanted to go back to their roots. The concept is simple, the horror is constant, and the tension is nigh-overwhelming. It worked wonders back in the day, but I left my experience with The Bunker wondering if perhaps things became too streamlined?
Amnesia: The Bunker begins in the trenches of WWI, where explosions rock the screen and bullets fly during the tutorial. It’s a different kind of horror, but effective nonetheless. It’s not long, though before you awake in an underground bunker and soon find yourself alone with only the promise of a monster to keep you company.
The mechanics are refreshingly simple this time around. You are armed with a crank flashlight, a revolver, and limited inventory space to explore the bunker with. Much like a sort of roguelike structure, you have a central safe room with a map, a stash, a crafting table, and a generator that lets you recoup your losses between journeys out into the Bunker.
While prior games in the series had you steadily lose sanity in the dark, that mechanic is absent from Amnesia: The Bunker. Instead, the monster that stalks you is afraid of light and therefore becomes a constant threat in the dark.
The aforementioned crank flashlight helps, but the sound of winding it up gives away your position. Thankfully, you can fuel up the generator in your safe room before heading out to look for supplies and a way forward.
Don’t worry, there’s a catch. The fuel in the game is finite, so you’ll want to make the most of your time while the lights are on, and get back to the room ideally before the fuel runs out. You have a pocket watch to keep track of the timing here.
It’s interesting, because without implementing a roguelike structure, the game feels like one nonetheless. You’ll often die on your runs out into the bunker, but you’ll return with the knowledge of what you saw when you embark once more. You can’t take the map with you, but careful study and a good memory will help you figure out the best paths forward.
Codes that are found on collectible dog tags also allow you to open lockers near the safe room, and other locked objects around the game world. These codes are thankfully logged in your journal once you read them, but you’ll need to flip the dog tags over when you pick them up to see and record the numbers, otherwise they don’t get tracked.
The story in Amnesia: The Bunker is told through some cutscenes, but mostly through notes you find, which do include narration at times. It’s a tried and true method, but since you’ll be facing down against the same environments and monster across the 4-6 hours it takes to finish, sometimes the notes aren’t enough to keep me engaged all the way through.
The monster as well becomes less terrifying as time goes on. You can use limited ammunition, explosives, and other options to keep it at bay, but the creature will inevitably come at you, which means you’ll soon become familiar with its (admittedly) terrifying visage.
Of course, repetition is the bane of horror, and that’s where the repeated runs start to drain the terror. I became less scared of the monster as time went on, because once you’ve seen it, the fear starts to have diminishing returns. Even so, it’s a scary beast, and it does a good job of keeping you on your toes, especially when there’s noise or the lights go out.
I think perhaps a couple of monsters with different behaviors would have done wonders to keep you even further on your toes, especially if you didn’t know which one was out when you left the comfort of your safe room.
As it stands, the experience is tight, well-crafted, and always tense, but it doesn’t lend itself well to long play sessions, due to the repetition and the draining nature of always being on edge. For some, that’s a plus, but for me, I think it would have been nice to have some variety or more moments of safety that allowed the story to breathe.
Silky Smooth Presentation
Amnesia: The Bunker is running on the same foundational technology that powered Frictional’s first titles in the Penumbra series, and while the game’s performance and polish are commendable, the engine is starting to show some cracks.
Namely, the requirement to use the analog stick for opening doors is something that I could do without. The physics-based nature of the engine also means that you’ll need to awkwardly pick up and throw objects in certain situations, or simply spend too much time picking up and examining things you don’t need.
On the other hand, I like the option to scavenge and craft items. I also think the user interface has been improved, especially when it comes to understanding your health, which in this case is represented by blood on your fingers in the menu.
The environments have a respectable amount of detail, and the monster itself showcases Frictional’s classic design language, but the few characters you meet tend to be stiff and awkward looking. Ultimately, Amnesia: The Bunker is a game built on a rock-solid foundation, and proof that Frictional can still tap into their classic look and feel.
I wish it had done more to differentiate itself, or evolve the familiar structure in new and exciting ways, but despite playing it safe, this game will most certainly scare the daylights out of you, and sometimes that’s all you need.
Final Score: 7.0/10
Article by – Bradley Ramsey
Insert date – 6/9/2023