Updated: Sep 21
A new formula breathes life into a stale horror staple.
If you told me the next Amnesia title would remind me of Darkwood, one of my favorite games of all time, I wouldn’t believe you. To my surprise, Amnesia: The Bunker follows a similar flow to that indie great; you gather fuel, keep a generator running, and make frequent runs for resources while avoiding threats. While the franchise has typically been in the realm of borderline walking simulators, and outside of the original Dark Descent, the series has stumbled every step of the way. Frictional Games brought the existential dread to a peak with Soma’s smart storytelling, but the formula was wearing thin, and Rebirth did little to dissuade longtime fans. Enter Amnesia: The Bunker, a stripped-down horror survival game that does a lot with little. The Bunker brings back fear in a big way, taking cues from survival titles, classic horror games like Resident Evil, and more inspired sources, such as Alien: Isolation. The mix is a surprisingly potent brew of procedural scares, creative problem-solving, exploration, and resource management, making for a truly tense and terrifying romp.
In The Bunker you play as a French soldier in WW1, trapped underground with your comrades, you wake up after being wounded, and everyone is missing. Unfortunately, there is something else in the bunker with you, and it has stalked and killed everyone. Your only goal is to escape, but the monster will hunt you every step of the way. Whereas previous games in Frictional’s catalog have followed a linear structure, The Bunker lets you loose in a semi-open world based in a small underground complex. You can explore freely; even the codes, certain items, and elements are randomly generated every playthrough. If anything, The Bunker plays out like an immersive sim as much as a survival-horror game. You set out from a central room, running around the bunker, exploring, collecting resources, and returning to the center to rest and store items. The catch is that there is a generator you must keep fueled up, and if it runs out, the lights go dark.
The Bunker plays out like an immersive sim as much as a survival-horror game.
This is where those Darkwood comparisons come in—making runs, keeping the lights on, and surviving by the skin of your teeth in a reactive world. Whereas usually, it is attracted to loud noises and specific actions, if the lights are out, it is free range for that murder cow. This is where the tension lies; as you explore and collect resources, you must use fuel, but if you stay out too long, you’ll wander back through a maze in the dark. Every element of The Bunker is timed, but careful play left me with a good supply of fuel, and it was rarely an inconvenience on the normal difficulty. Ultimately, when it was running low, it only served to ramp up the tension and my enjoyment of the game. The more that goes wrong in The Bunker, the better.
The Bunker is driven by systemic gameplay. The titular location is open, and for the most part, progression is not blocked by specific items or requirements. Doors can be beaten down with stones, blown up, smashed in, and more. Solutions are varied, and creativity is rewarded constantly. There are many tools and a lot of fun physics that drive every interaction; you can even block off the monster with debris or use it to your advantage to clear paths. This is a game that is all about experimentation. When you leave the safe room, you save, and all progress from then on until the next time you return is on the line. Stay out too long and get killed, and you may lose a lot, but you will gain knowledge, and your wasted resources will be returned. While it can seem like a steep price, it is much better than being stuck in an unwinnable situation out in some dark corner.
The Bunker never lets up. It is soaked in tension, worships at the altar of making you squirm, and does it with a smile.
The game’s star is the monster, which I found to be pleasantly predictable to some extent, but also truly terrifying. It constantly surprised and scared me, but I was incredibly careful and, as such, only ever caught faint glimpses for most of my run. It only increased the tension when I finally faced it, but it always remained a threat. You have tools to fight back for the first time in the series, but they serve only to slow down the creature. A precious bullet only slows down the monstrosity and provides a brief respite. The best you can ask for is that it decides to run off in pain instead of finishing you off in a fit of rage. Ultimately, it felt fairer and more consistent than the Xenomorph in Alien: Isolation.
While the AI in that game is far more adaptive and intelligent, that doesn’t necessarily make it fun to play against. Isolation was full of long-winded chases, instant deaths that felt incredibly unfair, and waiting in lockers for 5-10 minutes as the alien refused to leave. That experience is also stretched over a dozen or more hours. But this isn’t a takedown of Isolation, an excellent game for many reasons, but it only highlights what The Bunker does right. It is a much tighter game that only lasts 5 or so hours before the credits roll, but the tension is so thick the whole time that you could cut it. The monster feels fair in a way the alien never did, but it is no less terrifying.
This is a game for horror fans with a masochistic streak.
The Bunker does many things right, from its intricate level design to its rich atmosphere, but the overbearing adherence to horror eventually makes it wear on the senses. Being isolated in a pitch-black bunker with only a murderous beast as company can run you down quickly, and The Bunker never lets up. It is soaked in tension, worships at the altar of making you squirm, and does it with a smile. While this is appealing, it is a lot to manage, and this is a game for horror fans with a masochistic streak. Find the best pair of headphones, sit in the dark, and get your creative thinking cap on, because The Bunker is a survival horror experience to rival the best in recent memory. When it all comes together, when your back is against the wall, gun drawn with a single bullet left, and the beast is bearing at you down a dark hallway, that is when this game sings. In those moments, it reaches the heights of the genre greats and its progenitor.
Rich, nightmarish atmosphere
Procedural, emergent gameplay
Addicting, terrifying loop
Aged game engine
Too intense at times
Reviewer Played on Microsoft Windows.
Amnesia: The Bunker is available now for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. No key was provided by the publisher.