Frictional Games returns to the Amnesia series with a bold change to its formula. Is it a change for the better? Find out in GameWatcher’s review of Amnesia: The Bunker.
Since Frictional Games took nine years to revisit its Amnesia series for the first time after The Dark Descent/Justine, it was genuinely surprising to see the Scandinavian developer return for a third round just three years after Amnesia Rebirth. What is clear is that it comes back to the psychological horror series with a reason.
Amnesia: The Bunker is on familiar ground from a narrative perspective. A protagonist (French soldier Henri Clement) stumbles upon a place of cosmic evil. This time it’s situated in a WWI bunker that happens to have been built over the wrong place. Henri finds himself trapped in this bunker after the entrance has been sealed shut with an explosion. In tried and tested Amnesia fashion, he’s a bit fuzzy on the details of his situation, but it doesn’t take long for him to discover something terribly wrong down here. Something has been unleashed and it is stalking the corridors of the bunker. If Henri is to escape, he will have to use his wits and limited resources to open the bunker entrance and escape this dank hell.
How Henri does that is where Amnesia: The Bunker diverts from the standard formula. This is part Survival Horror, part Immersive Sim. What’s remarkable is that underneath that is a plain old Amnesia mixture of monsters, madness, and a desperate need for light. The bunker is split into several sections including a prison, sleeping quarters, an infirmary, and one of the most crucial places, the arsenal.
Keeping the lights on is crucial to progress
It’s not as simple as dashing through the bunker and picking up a few items to help you escape. The bunker is powered by a generator and that generator requires fuel, which is in somewhat limited supply. The power is also on a daisy chain system, so when you do have it, it needs to be switched on in a certain order to keep the lights on. The central hub area of the bunker features a fairly safe room with lockable doors, a chest for storing extra items, a map of the facility, and of course, that generator. You can access each section of the bunker (after manually unlocking them with the right tools).
Letters and notes are strewn around the place that contains vital clues on how to get everything needed to escape so there’s actually a very good excuse to read everything you find. Frictional’s notes have always been among the best in class from a storytelling perspective, but that extra incentive really helps drag you into the self-contained story being told in this underground base.
As is tradition, you have a light source on you that has its own limitations. Henri’s pocket lamp has an infinite amount of light in it to use whenever you need to, but the downside is it needs to be charged with a series of ripcord pulls that just so happen to be incredibly loud. Ideally, Henri needs the main lights on, but as mentioned the generator’s fuel is limited and burns out fairly quickly, so every trip out of the safe room needs to be strategized. There’s more than a smidgen of roguelite in Amnesia: The Bunker because the value of taking risks that lead to failure is the knowledge and tools it can bring you. Frictional encourages failure here, which is a slight shift from the way Amnesia Rebirth handled death, but feels very much like an evolution of the way the series has handled it to this point.
There's more than a few intense situations in the bunker
The light isn’t your only tool, however. Amnesia: The Bunker sees a revolver enter your toolset, and I’m happy to say it’s used in a manner that doesn’t detract from the way Frictional’s game plan is set out. Ammo is minimal and is used as a puzzle solution rather than an offensive weapon. The dexterity of how you can approach a problem in this game is admirable, shown in the use of a single bullet.
You can drag items around in the bunker to block holes and doors temporarily, but when faced with a locked door, you can either try to find the hidden route to unlatch it or drag a barrel of gunpowder to the door, step back, and fire a round into it and viola, the door is open with a lot less sneaking about in the dark. Of course, the consequence of that is a lot of noise and the more immediate attention of the monster.
In a way that’s not too dissimilar to Alien: Isolation, the monster is an ever-present threat that is less likely to cross your path the quieter you are. It’s death if it catches you, and all you can do is temporarily stop it, run, and hide. The revolver can keep it at bay for a very short time, but it’s rarely worth it unless you have no other choice. The best thing to do is learn where every nook, cranny, and trap is in the bunker and utilize that knowledge.
So yes, the sound is your enemy, but even that can be used to lure the creature to one location so you can slip by to another. The beast doesn’t like light all that much, but it’s not a surefire way of keeping it away if it gets its eyes on you. So it’s best to keep a backup plan or two if the situation goes south.
The revolver is less a weapon and more a multi-use tool.
If there’s a complaint about the structure of Amnesia: The Bunker, then it’s that the monster feels a little too unpredictable in its behaviors. Some of that is the process of understanding it through your playthrough, but on occasion, it doesn’t feel consistent. I’d like to think it’s just a poorly communicated natural unpredictability, but it’s difficult to quantify right now.
The shift in style makes Amnesia: The Bunker a fresh experience in a series that has been so formative for horror gaming in the last decade or so. I feel it could bring in a whole new audience and the gameplay depth pushes Frictional’s series closer to the immersive sim model I think it’s well suited to.
AMNESIA: THE BUNKER VERDICT
Amnesia: The Bunker continues Frictional Games’ smart evolution of the series with an intense survival horror/immersive sim cocktail that almost balances its ideas perfectly.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Improvising your way out of a dicey situation.
Gameplay shift is welcome for the series
Smart use of notes and collectibles
Rewards on the fly thinking.
The monster is a touch too unpredictable at times