Amnesia: The Bunker has rendered me more afraid of going to war than a history lesson ever could – I should know, because that’s what I study. I will admit that playing jumpscare-based horror games is not my strong suit and that they usually result in my faint heart putting them down at the first sign of danger. However, I decided to push the boat out on this one and was rewarded with an engagingly frightening experience. The Bunker comes as the fourth instalment to the series by Swedish developer Frictional Games and is the first in the series to feature a semi-open world. This time, we are transported to the gritty trenches of World War One, an already gloomy springboard from which the game develops a macabre tale. Its predecessors and many other games in this genre, such as Outlast and Alien Isolation, were widely popularised by playthroughs from well-known content creators from the earlier days of YouTube like PewDiePie and Markiplier, characterised by their over-the-top reactions to scary moments. That being said, after playing The Bunker, I started to empathise with them.
After a brief opening sequence that teaches you the basics, the game quickly gets to the point when you fall unconscious in an explosion and awake in the titular bunker, not knowing how you arrived there or anything about your past. It immediately becomes apparent that you are not alone here. The bunker has been conquered by a monster who has massacred your comrades and you are its next target. Through environmental storytelling and the troubled scrawlings that your fellow soldiers left behind, The Bunker retrospectively reveals the monster’s origins and how the whole situation came about. The truth is grim, but I’ll let you find out for yourself. That is if you are brave enough to try it.
The Bunker constantly makes your feeble position very clear as you try to survive against the odds and search for a means to escape. Stealth, resource management and paying close attention to the cleverly placed clues are paramount to ensuring success. Frictional Games have done a fantastic job of ensuring that finding the way out isn’t too complicated, while at the same time, the solutions to the problems aren’t thrown in your face. The stakes are cleverly raised by the monster breathing down your neck, causing you to think less practically.
Surviving in The Bunker is all about using your wits to outsmart your opponent
The atmosphere and creative design of the map are what sell the experience. You are in control of the lighting, which disrupts the monster’s activities so long as you keep the generator fuelled. Knowing your way around is essential in order to hastily navigate back to the saferoom in a blackout because you forgot to top it up. From time to time, you might be spooked by sporadic shelling from above, which always seems to loudly interrupt you as soon as you start feeling safe. Of course, the shells can no longer reach you down here and it’s just an abstract threat.
The real concern is your omnipresent foe, who thuds around in the walls, ready to emerge and hunt you down when you make too much noise. At times, you are given no choice but to do this in order to progress. Locks need to be shot or barrels of explosives blown up to clear the way. Situations like this caused me to think twice and plan my route to a hiding spot before taking rash action. They also made me loathe the developers for intuitively creating these events through a combination of world design and player action. While this is the first game in the series to equip you with firearms, combat isn’t really a main feature. Don’t feel too empowered by the impressive arsenal available. Although it’s usually easier to take an all-guns-blazing approach, this will only lead to unwanted attention. Surviving in The Bunker is all about using your wits to outsmart your opponent.
My main issues with the game were largely technical. I found object manipulation and the physics in general to be clunky at times, which detracted from the experience because the game heavily relies on both of them. Moreover, the tension of being chased was often broken by a several second long stutter that occurs each time you enter a new area. The more I played, the easier it became to stay alive by predicting the AI’s behaviour and learning the hiding spots. Although this provided a feeling of accomplishment, it made the latter half far less intimidating. The game itself is also not very long, with my playthrough only taking seven hours in total. However, the game offers a degree of replayability by regenerating the codes you need to progress and adjusting minor aspects of the environment each time.
Amnesia: The Bunker cements itself well into the horror game canon. The thrills may wear thin by the end, but I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who can play it through without being mildly shaken at least. While I want to reiterate how frightening this game can be, don’t be dissuaded if you think it may not be for you for that reason. I would have fallen into that crowd before I decided to give it a chance. Looking back, I’m glad that didn’t happen.