Amnesia: The Bunker is the newest outing of developer Frictional, which encompasses the core elements that fans adore in the horror series: an almost unbeatable monster relentlessly pursuing the player, a clunky interface that necessitates physical interaction with objects, a historical backdrop infused with Lovecraftian elements, and a protagonist haunted by guilt and a forgotten atrocity.
Set in the trenches of World War I, it blends Amnesia’s adventure game origins with a more complex and open-ended immersive simulation design. The Bunker deviates significantly from the established formula. This entry stands as one of the series’ most punishing and challenging offerings, yet it also manages to be one of the most captivating at times.
Frictional’s ‘semi-open world’ description of The Bunker is misleading!
Frictional referred to The Bunker as a “semi-open world” last year, but that description falls short of capturing its true essence. The game exudes an oppressively claustrophobic atmosphere. After a brief spell of open-air trench warfare, the protagonist, a member of the French armed forces, awakens in a dimly lit bunker.
The sole exit has been sealed, and a supernatural creature prowls the tunnels, tracking every sound you make. Your objective is to acquire explosives and blast open the bunker, a task that involves navigating locks, grates, booby traps, passcode combinations, and of course, eluding the ever-present monster. The majority of this harrowing journey unfolds within five cramped areas, including a central hub housing a save point and a generator fueled by gas.
The faltering heart of the eponymous bunker lies within its generator. When the generator is switched off, large portions of the levels plunge into pitch-black darkness, rendering navigation a daunting task.
While a flashlight is available, it requires frequent and noisy winding. Without the generator, the creature that lurks in the darkness becomes a constant threat, making any extended journey in the absence of light exceedingly challenging.
The game’s systems can be punishing at times
From a narrative standpoint, one could argue that the sounds of the generator mask your own footsteps. Additionally, the presence of light may potentially ward off the creature, although electricity intermittently flickers off. However, it is more pertinent to note that The Bunker punishes players for failing to engage with its systems.
In the original Amnesia: The Dark Descent, remaining in the dark triggered “insanity” effects, and players were encouraged to light candles and lanterns. Yet, these effects were primarily cosmetic and could be ignored with practice. The Bunker, on the other hand, proves to be much harsher in its consequences, and not solely concerning light.
If you sustain an injury and neglect to heal yourself, you will attract dangerous rats the size of cats. Similarly, encountering a dead body in a corridor will also draw rats unless you burn it, depleting valuable fuel. I once became so frustrated with a cluster of rats that I contemplated starting over.
Unlike previous entries, Amnesia: The Bunker offers players weapons
In a similar vein, most items, like the fuel, serve multiple purposes. For example, the pistol, which I believe marks the first usable firearm in Frictional’s repertoire (though not the first weapon), can be employed for various tasks. Grenades possess the ability to momentarily stun the creature and drive it away, but they can also blow open wooden doors. Every item is exceedingly scarce. They must be carried in a limited inventory, including a series of tools necessary for unscrewing grates and cutting chains.
While certain areas can only be accessed with these tools, alternative approaches exist for reaching other locations, such as shooting locks or smashing doors open with a brick. However, these actions, like running or generating noise in any form, attract the creature, necessitating moments of hiding or confrontation.
The experience offered by The Bunker differs from the usual puzzle-solving and exploration found in Amnesia games. While there are still straightforward challenges that involve obtaining items in a specific order, even the simplest actions demand careful consideration of trade-offs. Should you run and risk detection, or walk and conserve generator power? Should you forcefully break down a door to acquire a map, or preserve your equipment and time?
The Bunker aims to follow games like Thief in its puzzle design
The original Amnesia possessed the essence of a classic point-and-click adventure game, whereas The Bunker evokes a stripped-down feel reminiscent of titles like Thief, Deus Ex, or Dishonored. It exudes the spirit of Harvey Smith’s classic design elements, perhaps more so than Harvey Smith’s recent game Redfall. Similar to the first Amnesia, The Bunker supports user-generated levels, offering ample potential for inventive fan missions.
The demand for strategic thinking and repetitive gameplay in The Bunker detracts from the impact of its narrative.
There are parts of this game that are genuinely horrifying to play. It is an incredibly stressful experience, and at times, it becomes tempting to start over.
The game does not make it clear which obstacles can be approached in multiple ways. For instance, why can you shoot a padlock but not a chain? The intentionally perplexing interface of the HPL Engine only adds to the difficulty of understanding its mechanics.
Amnesia: The Bunker takes Frictional into a new direction
The mere fact that unlike its predecessors, Amnesia: The Bunker gives its players weapons to deal with the monster. And yet, that monster still haunts the player’s every move, make the game a suspenseful masterpiece of a game and worth trying out.
The rare moments of open space within the game are haunting, and there is one encounter towards the end that subverts all expectations of Amnesia’s typical monsters. The Bunker feels like a studio venturing out of its comfort zone and bringing the players along for the journey.
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“Amnesia: The Bunker” is the latest installment in the Amnesia series. It is a departure from the established formula of the series, set in the trenches of World War I and featuring a mix of adventure game elements with immersive sim design.
The game was released for Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Xbox Series X and Series S on June 6, 2023 to generally favorable reviews.