Frictional Games has one thing in common with its haunted, nightmare-afflicted protagonists: something stalks them from the shadows. For this well-known studio, that something is a looming amalgamation of its players’ expectations and anticipation — a natural by-product of Amnesia: The Dark Descent's seminal success at redefining the first-person survival horror genre as well as SOMA's exceptional storytelling and unparalleled ability to send its players into an existential crisis. So, following the announcement of Amnesia: The Bunker, I couldn’t help but wonder if this new entry would stay true to the hallmarks responsible for putting the series on everyone’s radar: immersive sound design, desperation for scarce resources, and free-floating dread amidst unspeakable horrors. This new instalment not only keeps Frictional’s legacy of creating bone-chilling horror games intact, but it is also a great reminder of why you should still be afraid of the dark — just in case you got too comfortable in the 13 years since you navigated the haunted halls of Brennenburg Castle.
As someone who has loved Amnesia’s penchant for nerve-shredding tension since 2010, The Bunker immediately reeled me in with its familiar inky darkness and silent protagonist à la The Dark Descent’s Daniel. But while it feels like a return to form, compared to Rebirth and A Machine for Pigs, it also excels at refreshing the series’ format and style, from doing away with the sanity meter to arming you with a revolver gun. These games are known for sparking your stress levels, but now you can fight, standing your ground if (or when) the monster comes for you. In fact, you get to play as one of the most capable Amnesia characters we’ve ever seen, and it’s just so enjoyable. But don’t mistake The Bunker for an FPS title; running and hiding is often your best bet for survival, and your gun is just as much a tool as it is a weapon. One thing is for certain: a revolver in your hand doesn’t make the experience any less terrifying. You’ll never feel safe, and you’ll always feel watched.
The year is 1916, World War 1 is being fought, and you play as Henri Clément, a French soldier who has lost his memory following an attempt to rescue his friend and fellow soldier, Lambert, after he went missing on a routine patrol. When you find Lambert during the game’s opening, gunfire and explosions quickly complicate the situation, and you’re badly injured on your way back. Once you wake in the titular bunker, no one is at your bedside, the halls you explore are bloody, and suspicious tunnels have been carved into the thick concrete walls. It’s clear a beast, monster, creature — whatever you want to call that… thing — is hunting anything that moves or makes a sound, which means you’re next and you need to get out of there, simple as that. Except it’s not that easy; your only exit was blown closed by the officers who fled and you need to blow it back open. Retrieving the dynamite and the detonator handle needed will send you deeper into the bunker — Hell, in essence — and the monster can hear every step you take.
The Bunker makes you an active participant in a game of cat and mouse, but are you the predator or the prey? The answer depends on how you manage and utilise your resources, particularly your light sources. The interplay between light and darkness is what Amnesia does best, and you’ll notice the mechanic has evolved with this instalment. The monster thrives in the darkness, and leaving the safety of your hub in the Admin Office without proper lighting puts you at a massive disadvantage. You won’t hoard tinderboxes or matchbooks to silently fuel your safety, nor will you be subjected to madness if you find yourself in the shadows for too long. Instead, you’ll have a noisy dynamo flashlight and a generator that keeps the lights on throughout the bunker. Both work against you as much as they help you, though; the generator will only keep running if you refuel it with canisters of petrol, so when you’re away from your hub, you’ll have to periodically check your pocket watch, which shows how much time you have until lights out. And trust me, you want it on — this means you’ll have to pay attention to how deep you go into the bunker, how much time you spend hiding or sneaking around, and how much fuel you have in your inventory.
There were many times when I had to veer off from my goal because I ran out of fuel, and desperately needed to find more. I’ll admit I even restarted a save after I wasted so much time because I was too terrified to leave a room after hearing the monster’s distorted growling outside the door. But you might be thinking: why not rely on your flashlight? The cool thing about the dynamo flashlight is that it’s designed after a real item from that time period; you turn it on by pulling on the chain which temporarily generates light. The not-so-cool thing is that it makes a ton of noise, alerting the monster to your location if it’s already nearby. I loved this touch as it added to the tension, but in its current iteration, it would have been a more balanced experience if it emitted light for a longer period of time. As it is right now, it’s more of a nuisance to keep it running.
When you venture into sub-sections of the bunker, you’ll face environmental puzzles, such as booby-trapped doors, locked cells, or a powerless radio keeping you from getting a tool or code that you need to move forward. The Bunker won’t explain how or what you need to do in order to solve these obstacles, and you’ll have to experiment to find a unique solution. Additionally, you’ll often be looking for bodies of your fellow soldiers, collecting their dog tags, and using their locker codes to gain access to vital resources, letters, or new tools to help you survive. Most elements of the game are randomised, including item locations and traps, so each playthrough should feel new and challenging in its own way. The Bunker’s semi-open world also means you get to experience the narrative and gameplay in a non-linear fashion as you work towards gathering what you need to blow open the exit. While I loved the layout of the bunker, its visual design wasn’t my favourite; many rooms felt similar to one another, and others felt empty and unfinished, though it may be unfair of me to expect a WW1 bunker to be as interesting as a 19th-century castle. It’s also unfortunate that I experienced so much stuttering and FPS drops from one area to the next as that section loaded in. It’s not ideal, but I would have preferred a loading screen over my game suddenly freezing, breaking the game’s well-crafted immersion.
If you played Amnesia: Rebirth, you might be wondering if The Bunker is as narrative-heavy, and it’s definitely not. Instead, this entry relies heavily on active gameplay and player agency while the story lightly unfolds via letters from fallen soldiers. So, you’ll spend most of your time playing, planning, and surviving; it’s engaging all throughout. Perhaps the best gameplay component is that many of your inventory items are multi-use, which is really fun to play around with. Sure, you can splash fuel on the ground and light it to start a fire, but do you have enough fuel for the generator? Maybe you want to combine a cloth with a bottle to make a contraption, but do you need the cloth to make bandages instead? You can shoot that padlock off, but can you spare a bullet? It gives you plenty of freedom to be creative, which also extends to how you engage with the environment. Most of the time, there are multiple ways you can get into a locked space or manoeuvre around threats other than the monster, letting you take stealthier routes or noisier ones if you’re feeling brave. It’s also highly satisfying to rearrange boxes in an effort to delay the monster from coming out of its tunnels.
For those who love horror games that lean more on psychological frights versus jump scares, The Bunker continues Amnesia’s long-held tradition of freaking you out long before you meet the monster face-to-face. My fear was palpable from the start, and I blame it on the amazing sound design. Making too much noise draws the monster to your location as it travels within the walls of the bunker, so if you’re like me, you’ll be highly anxious about moving any boxes, grates, throwing bricks at locks, or doing anything else that makes any sound. Everything feels too loud, especially your footsteps, and it’s simply great. The lack of UI also increases your immersion tenfold. Plus, the fact that you can hear the monster and see the lights flickering rapidly when it draws near ensures you’re shaking with fear before it even appears. Despite having an inventory of bullets, grenades, and make-shift explosives, that ominous foreboding never dissipated. You can shoot the monster all you want, but it only slows it down. Even your safe room isn’t that safe — I learned the hard way that if you sprint in there without locking the door behind you, the monster can waltz right in, and well… you know the rest.
The trouble is, The Bunker goes through so much effort to present a tight six-hour experience that it’s disappointing when visual bugs break your immersion. I encountered visual glitches more often than I would have liked, such as parts of the environment clipping through walls, rats poking their heads through closed doors or falling through the floor, and in one instance, an extra-large bucket fell through the ceiling after I threw a burnt skull at it. Additionally, it’s terrifying that the monster can pull you into its tunnel if you stand too close, but in my case, the tunnel was blocked by a barrel, and so I was pulled into a semi-transparent barrel as well, which was honestly a bit odd. The Bunker could have used more polish to work out these quirks and could have benefited from more time to improve other visual aspects of the game that, unfortunately, feel dated. For instance, I couldn’t help but notice the water in the flooded tunnels sounded like it was splashing and moving realistically, but visually, it looked like it was hardly registering that my character was swimming or treading through it.
Amnesia: The Bunker is one of the best titles since The Dark Descent, as it masterfully uses sound and light to create a truly terrifying experience. The gameplay and the semi-open world offers up plenty of replay value, letting you experiment with different ways to handle the obstacles and using randomisation to keep each playthrough feeling brand new. Frictional Games has done a great job of giving you more agency while maintaining the fear-inducing ambience from start to finish. It’s a worthy entry in the Amnesia series, and if you’re looking for a good scare, you’ll find it in The Bunker’s pitch-black darkness.
Amnesia: The Bunker (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Amnesia: The Bunker is excellent, offering the dread and terror you’d expect along with engaging new mechanics. Some technical issues occasionally break the immersion, but Frictional’s approach to frightening and challenging you still offers its best thrills.