“You can overcome most obstacles in multiple ways. Use your wits and your brains. Experiment. If you think something might be possible to do, it probably is.”
These words pop up often in Frictional Games’ “Amnesia: The Bunker,” a new horror video game experience that seems simple until you realize how much control it’s putting in your hands. Some of it can be clunky, but that almost adds to its charm. It’s a consistently threatening game, using its wartime setting and horror structure together for non-stop dread. Diminishing supplies, darkening corridors, unexplainable sounds in the distance, the constant rumble of warfare outside—this game is a sensory experience in ways that a lot of AAA horror games ignore, focusing on details and authorship to make you feel as trapped as its protagonist. I wish some of the graphics and gameplay were a bit more refined, but I admire what the team at Frictional has accomplished here, an antidote to so many high-profile games that hold your hand. You’re alone here. “Use your wits and your brains.” If you can.
“The Bunker” is not the first game in the “Amnesia” series, which started in 2010 with the wildly acclaimed “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.” Independently released online for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, “The Dark Descent” was a critical hit and a word-of-mouth smash, eventually working to the PS4 in 2016 and the Xbox One in 2018. Like many breakthrough indie games, it’s a simple concept that taps a relatable nerve—being trapped in a threatening location. In the case of the original, it was a castle. Thirteen years later—and following two other installments in 2013’s “A Machine for Pigs” and 2020’s “Rebirth”—the series has shifted locations drastically, moving to a bunker during World War I.
You play as a French soldier who narrowly escapes death in the game’s opening scenes and awakens in what seems like an abandoned bunker. The first-person perspective keeps you locked as you explore the corridors and rooms of this game’s setting, mostly searching for supplies to blast your way to freedom—the door is blocked by rubble. The main problem is one of power. There’s a generator that you can fill with fuel to give yourself light, but it runs out pretty quickly, meaning the game has a constant ticking clock. How far can I go into the bunker before I’m plunged into darkness again? And there’s something in that darkness. Something that’s hunting you.
“The Bunker” is essentially a puzzle game. How can I get through this locked door without making too much noise so whatever monster is in this underground lair to find me? You will occasionally find weapons and ammo, but gunfire alerts the creature hidden in the walls that has left behind the decimated bodies you happen upon. Is that rumble from the war outside or the monster around the corner? Should I run? Should I shoot? Should I just cry? I’ll admit to having a lot of “The Bunker” left to explore—my review of the massive “Diablo IV” and the pending review of the massive “Final Fantasy XVI” have been a little time-consuming—but what I like about the first hours of this game is the sense that I’m in control of my fate here, authoring the game as much as being guided through it. It’s true survival horror.
Like that hint instructs, you often need to get creative. Maybe the fuel would be better used to light something on fire to protect you. Maybe it’s worth blowing open that door with a grenade to get through it and risk what comes. The story reveals itself slowly—the bunker exit was blown closed to trap inside what the soldiers discovered deep underground when they created this shelter. “The Bunker” is basically a maze game with you and a monster, and the maze even changes on replay, putting key items in different places. That’s presuming you’re not too scared to return.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.