Frictional Games are undisputed masters of interactive dread since the first Amnesia (2010). Their signature brand of horror had always involved a defenseless amnesiac protagonist in a linear, story-rich environment, facing the supernatural terror that defies easy comprehension. They reached peak performance with Amnesia: Rebirth and SOMA, probably their best works since the unforgettable original.
Topping those games would be monumentally difficult, especially in the narrative sense, so Frictional expanded horizontally, so to speak. Amnesia: The Bunker introduces sandbox gameplay, resource management, and unscripted monster encounters, steering the “Frictional formula” into the classic survival horror waters. This latest entry in the Amnesia series doesn’t have the greatest story of them all, but its open-ended design provides unique challenges to the player. The dread you’ll face and try to survive here requires more skill and planning than you had ever needed in any Frictional game to date.
Alien: Isolation on the Somme
The Great War was a frightening experience for everyone involved, especially for soldiers living and dying in the maze of trenches. Frictional, naturally, added a layer of otherworldly terror on top of it, putting the player in the boots of a recovering soldier battling a supernatural beast. The lad in question is Henri Clement, a French infantryman who woke up trapped in an underground bunker complex. Suffering from amnesia after a shell shock, Henry finds himself in a strange predicament. Officers fled the bunker, dynamiting the only exit, condemning the surviving soldiers to death.
The end, however, won’t come due to starvation or asphyxiation. The survivors are stalked by the fearsome creature that prowls the dusty subterranean maze. It moves through walls and vent shafts in the manner of a Xenomorph and kills on sight. Regarding the main threat, Amnesia: The Bunker borrows heavily from Alien: Isolation. The beast is clever, unpredictable, attracted to sound, and unkillable. Although you DO have a weapon here, which is a novelty itself for the Amnesia game, shooting the beast only drives it away for a short time. Ammo is also scarce, so hiding in the darkness is the only dependable way of surviving the potential close encounter.
You’ll learn about the nature of the threat and the rest of the story through letters and diaries scattered around the bunker. The narrative is cleverly tied to Amnesia: Rebirth, but the knowledge of it is not a prerequisite to understanding The Bunker. It’s nice to see Frictional experimenting with the shared universe.
The Great War Metroidvania
To flee the bunker, you will need to find explosives and a detonator handle. Both devices are buried deep inside the complex network of underground facilities and repurposed ancient Roman tunnels. The progress in the game follows metroidvaniesque principles, requiring specific devices for opening the way forward. Finding the bolt cutters, for example, enables you to cut through chained metal doors which are otherwise inaccessible. There’s limited room for improvisation, though. Locked wooden door can be smashed by throwing the brick or the grenade on it, or rolling an explosive barrel next to it and liting it up with a shot. You can even try to lure the beast by making noise, hoping it will smash it whilst frantically searching for you.
Besides the beast, you will encounter rats, who will not bother you unless you step on them or disturb their feeding. The rats occasionally block the important passages, and the way you deal with them is with the resources you have on hand. Hand grenades or petrol bombs are super efficient, but the noise will surely attract the big monster. If you stumble upon cloth and the stick and make a torch, however, you’ll get an efficient and silent rat repellant which, unfortunately, doesn’t last very long. The rat bites leave you bleeding and dripping blood attracts more rats, so you need to treat any wounds promptly.
Generals win battles, resources win wars
Resource management and crafting are paramount, as all important stuff is extremely scarce. The most important asset is the fuel for the generator, which provides light and a few other crucial functions (some electric doors and pumps are essential for progress). Exploring the bunker in the pitch darkness is no fun, although you have an inductor-type flashlight. Manually winding up the meager hand light creates minimal luminescence, but makes a noise that can easily attract the beast. If you manage to find a lighter and mats for torches, you’ll have another way to light up the environment, albeit a very short-lived one.
Important resources are scattered around the bunker, but few are stored in the lockers, along with some stuff essential to progress. Lockers are protected with four-digit combination padlocks, requiring you to find the individual soldiers’ dog tags with them. Those are randomized for each playthrough, so don’t bother looking them up on the internet. Ammo for the revolver is very scarce, so you’ll need to make every shot count. There’s also a shotgun in the game, obtainable in the later stages. Firearms are primarily useful for setting off explosive barrels and fending off the beast in an emergency. You can, in theory, repel the rats with it, but that would be a waste of a precious commodity.
You will soil your pants and like it
Ever since 3D Monster Maze, a smashing hit for Sinclair ZX81 from 1981, players are enjoying games based on the concept of deadly hide and seek. Amnesia: The Bunker is the latest, but not the greatest piece of entertainment based on that particular DNA. Alien: Isolation is still the undisputed champion, and will probably remain on top for a long time to come.
The Bunker came very close, though. The game excels in creating very palpable dread, the fright you can almost taste. As a first for the series, it also offers a replay value and a potential for speedrunning competition. In any event, this is by far the scariest horror game in 2023, if you discount Resident Evil 4 remake as a fabulous, but overly campy horror. The Bunker is a real, bone-chilling, stomach acid-freezing deal.
- The first sandbox Amnesia game.
- The beast is clever, unpredictable, and deadly.
- The atmosphere of pure dread you won’t forget anytime soon.
- A bit more room for experimentation would be nice.
- The story falls a bit short compared to Amnesia: Rebirth and SOMA.