The Amnesia series has had a special impact on horror gaming since 2010. Ever since The Dark Descent, the series has shown its players the meaning of a truly great horror game once you remove the bulk of the action, instead leaning hard on the psychological terror. These games have been immersive and clever, and despite not always looking the greatest, the brand of atmospheric dread would shine through. In our review of Amnesia: The Bunker, we examine whether this latest sequel stacks up.
What Kind of Game is Amnesia: The Bunker?
Amnesia: The Bunker, much like the rest of the Amnesia games, is a first-person horror game focusing on exploration, careful rationing of supplies, and escaping deadly foes. They’ve historically never prioritized combat as the solution, which is the point: this, much like any of the other games, puts you in the role of a vulnerable protagonist, Henri Clément in this case.
As Henri, you wake up in an empty hospital bunk, seemingly completely abandoned. You have no recollection of what happened and must piece together the mystery while finding a way to safely escape and rejoin the fight. Here you’ll need to navigate dark passages, chase away pests, and even evade a deadly, tenacious beast that can take a hell of a beating while still poised to rip your head off.
Cruel, Unusual, and Exactly What I Like
As Henri, you begin the game narrowly escaping the horrible trench warfare characteristic of the war. Picture it: it’s mid-1916, merely days after the beginning of horrible offensives like the Battle of the Somme, with one of the highest death tolls of the entire war, and you’re under fire. Desperate to escape, you make it to apparent safety, with gas grenades thrown about, and gunfire picking away at you, you find yourself plunged into a deadly fall, only to wake up to something even more horrifying: the unknown.
This feels like a much more modern, polished-looking Amnesia than the original, and while it lacks similar stakes to those in Rebirth, the game’s survival and psychological elements feel far more immersive than ever. Instead of limited matches, tinderboxes, or lantern oil, you must find fuel for a generator that goes through your supply like a fleet of Hummers. What about the game’s solution for portable light? Do they give you a reasonable, helpful lantern in these trying times?
No, it’s a dinky, pathetic little dynamo flashlight ripped straight out of a 1919 Popular Mechanics article. The game even mocks how useless it is in war, its pull cord making an easily-audible noise that would alert anything wanting to kill you. You not only have to ration light like in the other games, but even the act of restoring that light will draw enemies to you. It’s cruel, unusual, and exactly what I like in a horror game.
It’s safe to say Amnesia has been an incredibly influential game in the horror genre, turning it increasingly into a prestige genre for video gaming in general. There were stories to be told, suddenly, with experiential qualities of the genre on full display thanks to brilliant concepts put out by this series.
The Bunker also wisely adapts strong qualities from other great horror games of the past decade, and this is no more apparent than with the game’s stalker, a ghastly beast that resembles a twisted, monstrous humanoid on all-fours, yet still nimble enough to contort into the holes dotting the bunker.
This beast resembles other stalker enemies from the franchise but also takes cues from other great video game monsters. It can ambush you and be heard prowling for you like the Xenomorph in Alien: Isolation; it can be stunned, but shouldn’t be fought head-on like Mr. X in Resident Evil; and hits as hard as the Nemesis himself.
I was nervous about the prospect of having weapons in this game, but the ammo for them is terribly intentionally limited. Your best option every single time is to spare as much as you can and live to run screaming another day. Besides, the beast isn’t the only enemy you have to worry about, for better or for worse.
A Game Where It’s the Player’s Sanity, Not the Protagonist, That Can Run Out
There are a lot of pressure-filled moments in the claustrophobic corridors and tunnels hidden in the bunker. I remember more than a few instances of being trapped under bunkbeds of the soldiers’ barracks as the beast prowled around the room, anxious to take out my flashlight and even check the surroundings and plan a route of escape.
Feeling trapped in a video game is a difficult sensation to appreciate, without feeling softlocked. You’re kept there, by design, and you have to either play smart or run like hell when you mess up. There’s no sanity meter, but the heavy thumping of Henri’s heart sells the immersive feeling of terror when you’re being hunted. If you don’t have gas in the generator, it will actively seek you more often without provocation, and you will have to wander the bunker in these situations more than once.
There’s more than the beast, too, such as some upsettingly large rats. You can choose to try and sidestep them or kill them with fire or gas. Try your best not to run into them, as they chip away at your health. There’s also a non-zero number of human threats you can face, directly or indirectly, and I won’t spoil it any more than that.
Everything you do must be done carefully, which makes this the type of dread horror gamers should desire in their next experience. You get a revolver in the game, but sometimes when you reload your weapon, you’ll notice the bullets are not all next to each other in the cylinder. You can chalk this up to Henri clumsily putting them in there in a moment of panic, but this means you can accidentally dry fire upon an enemy expecting them to appear, so you’ll have to know when your next bullet will come.
That’s not all, but everything, from your revolver to grenades, to seemingly your medkits, all produce sound when used, and some are incredibly loud, drawing predators. You might find yourself weighing the options of just skulking in the dark and hoping to not get lost when you know you could get snapped up at any moment.
Despite this game not having a sanity meter, Amnesia: The Bunker is a game where it’s the player’s sanity, not the protagonist, that can run out. Even moments where you, as the player, make a mistake as simple as accidentally throwing an item you’re carrying, can be fatal errors, and it’s great.
There aren’t any dealbreaker-tier issues I have with this game, with respect to how well-optimized it is despite being smallish. For ~16.38 GB I got a solid 10 hours of fun exploration, but some clear moments where the game had to prepare itself for me to see it.
This meant awkward pauses in exploration as the game loaded the area, on a technical basis. On a greater level, another notable issue was the ‘Failed to Load Config File’ error I seem to run into with every Amnesia game, which curiously never seems to be reliably fixed before launch. It’s short, but very replayable. The only other issue I took was that the endings felt more samey than before, but still quite compelling if open-ended.
But other issues are minor or preferential, like the crafting system. While it’s fun to have, I found the torch you can make to be frustratingly ineffective, while also having a good laugh as I waved it to try and ward off the beast, only for it to sink its massive claws into me, undeterred. Petrol bombs and medkits, though, were invaluable, and more than made up for this, especially since they’re made with a lot of the same ingredients.
To fully go into what I love about this game would be to spoil it, and while no two playthroughs are the same, I don’t want to ruin it by divulging some of the most fascinating details. It refers to previous Amnesia games in ways you’ll want to replay this and the rest of the series. But what I loved, aside from the visceral feeling of terror in a concise horror experience was the following:
You’re a soldier in one of the bloodiest, most brutal wars in human history who finds himself trapped in a bunker, isolated from combat. You’re also completely oblivious to everything that happened to you. In your attempts to escape, you catch rare glimpses of the battlefield beyond your reach, the sounds of gunfire and explosions pounding the earth, and sniper fire making glancing wounds as you peek from the pillbox. It’s not even safe to look out there, let alone climb out.
You’re not equipped to go back out there, and you’re forced to take your chances with a literal monster, instead, at least for the moment. It’s a sinister catch-22 and reminds you as the player that this conflict left its soldiers with shell shock, often a paralyzing feeling. Shell shock was the WWI-era original term for what would be defined as PTSD, and etched into the minds of soldiers how brutal, unforgiving, and inescapable the combat would be.
Those moments you’re trapped in a dark corner, hoping the monster passes you by, you might as well be holed up in the trenches above, before charging into No-Man’s Land and near-certain death. In a way, as a WWI soldier, you’ll find yourself right at home in the bunker. The terror and isolation you feel here is a devious construct you must outsmart to escape to the surface, and makes this feel like a true horror game in the best of ways.
- This article was updated on June 5th, 2023