The Amnesia franchise is one that I’ve grown constantly weary of playing, with its focus on set-piece horror rather than horror itself. With Amnesia: The Bunker, the series moves forward with some great gameplay potential that manages to fix several of my issues with the game in the past but does create a few new ones.
You play as a French soldier in World War 1. After you are severely wounded, you find yourself awakening in a bunker as the only survivor. With a strange monster on the loose and no memory as to how you got there, you’re going to need to figure out how to survive fast.
Unlike the other Amnesia games, the structure here is focused exclusively on the confines of the bunker, which is made up of one central hub and several major offshoots. To get out, you will need to get the right parts to blow up the rubble blocking the one exit. And to do that, you are going to be doing the most action seen in any Amnesia game to date.
One of the criticisms I’ve had about the Amnesia series has been the lack of actual interaction the player has in the world, and how it makes its problems have more basic solutions. Here, the game adopts a similar hunter AI system that was first conceived by Alien Isolation. The beast responds based on hearing movement — knocking things over, running, winding up your very limited flashlight, and so on. You can block off some of its ways in, and shockingly enough, you are able to fight back. There are different guns, traps, and explosives you can craft.
Do enough damage to it and the beast will run and hide; giving you a few precious minutes of complete freedom. An interesting dynamic is found in the use of lighting. The beast hates the light and there is a generator you can turn on to make it less likely to go after you. The problem is that there is a limited number of gas tanks and ways to carry the fuel you find, and the generator goes through it all quickly. Astute players will find the means of getting a near-infinite supply of fuel if they can survive long enough to unlock it. Playing against the beast is designed interestingly and gives Amnesia: The Bunker a better feel compared to previous games, and even to Alien Isolation.
I like the more intimate structure of the bunker and its areas as a game space and would like to see something like this expanded on, with each area having unique situations, rewards, and goals to achieve.
The game will randomly place minor items and some clues at the start of each new playthrough, but the actual required items will always be in fixed locations. The developers have added a “shell shock mode” that further randomizes essential and minor item locations, but I haven’t been able to play that to test it. There is a different kind of pacing as you explore an area for the first time, probably in the dark, and then return with the advantage of light to grab items and do what you want. Since you can only save back at the hub area (and before one section), this means that you are always at the risk of losing progress if you’re not careful.
While I did end up liking it more than I first thought, it still doesn’t make me enjoy this kind of horror.
Stay out of the Bunker
Amnesia: The Bunker’s design is like the horror games of Puppet Combo, who have built up their brand over the 2010s with this kind of “hide and seek horror”, most famously with Nun Massacre and Stay out of the House. The problem is that what makes things difficult doesn’t quite work for me, despite the improvements and variety of solutions that Amnesia: The Bunker has on the formula.
I’ve come to realize one thing: I am entirely fed up with any game that uses visibility as a form of difficulty. In Bunker, while you can be as quiet as a mouse, you’ll still need light to see. Run out of fuel for the generator, or try to conserve it as best you can, and your only other source of light is your incredibly noisy flashlight, which lasts maybe 1 minute when fully charged. Wind it up out in the open in the dark, and there’s more than a good chance that the beast will come after you. The original Amnesia with the sanity effects and playing it in low light gave me quite a few headaches – not gameplay ones, but literal ones – and Bunker without the effects still started to bother my head if I tried to play it too long in the dark.
From a gameplay point of view, while the developers say that there are different routes and solutions to puzzles… there really aren’t. This is not an immersive sim (or Immsim), so if you’re hoping to figure out clever solutions and workarounds like in Dishonored or Prey 2016, this is not that game, unless you are going for speedrunning sequence breaking. To make permanent progress, there are several key items that you need that are in fixed spots, and you’ll need to find ways to get access to them. Each one adds more options for getting around and holding back the beast, but it makes the beginning very frustrating. Due to the limited room to move around, there are very few multiple routes to the same area. Once the beast is active and looking for you, like in most of these games, your only real solution is to wait it out until it gets tired and goes back into the vents.
But just like in Alien Isolation, you’re not really fighting a mysterious alien monster out to get you, but an AI-driven program. I didn’t like how certain areas had fixed events that would trigger the beast to show up. On hard difficulty (I don’t know if the AI is less attentive on the easier settings), there were many times that the beast would hear me from so far away that I didn’t even hear it nearby prior. Or situations where it would be able to “know” the general area where I’m at, despite me crouch-walking and not making any noise up to that spot.
The biggest threat in the game isn’t the giant merciless killer monster or being alone in the dark, but numerous rats that show up to block your progress. Getting hit by rats not only does damage but makes you start bleeding, which makes the beast far more likely to track you more easily. Once you have the resources to get past them, they become nothing more than a minor obstacle, but that requires you to reach the point where you have the items you need. There are ways of getting around any of the threats in the game, and attentive players can find items and areas that will let them circumvent the limited resource issue.
This creates the same kind of difficulty that I find in all these kinds of games — that it’s incredibly hard and frustrating to play until you “solve” the game. Once you know the locations of the major items and how the enemy AI behaves, the game becomes very easy to play, but that also completely breaks any notion of horror. By the time I finished the game on hard difficulty, I was metaphorically dancing around the beast throughout the bunker.
Fearful Steps Forward
With everything said, I do feel that this is the most forward-thinking design game from Frictional in some time. While it doesn’t 100% work for me, fans of the series looking for something with a bit more “bite” are going to love it. The game itself occupies a space between Alien Isolation and the difficulty of Stay Out of the House, which does make it more approachable than the latter. Depending on your own preference for survival horror and the series in general, you will either love or hate this one. For the first time in over a decade, it does make me interested to see what Frictional will do next, and in that way, Amnesia: The Bunker is a resounding success.
While I do hope designers are inspired by games like this, I’m still waiting to see someone really flesh out horror design beyond just finding more ways of putting the player into a nearly dark space.
The game was reviewed with a press key provided by the developer.
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