Two and a half years after the last series entry, Amnesia: The Bunker is the true rebirth Frictional Games’ first-person horror franchise needed. Gone are the old days of horror-infused walking sims (which still have their place) popularized by 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent. In its stead, the Swedish-based studio has crafted a remarkable genre transition that successfully scratches the traditional survival horror itch.
Amnesia: The Bunker follows Henri Clement, a French soldier during World War I. After a brief prologue sequence in the trenches, Henri winds up unconscious. He later wakes up to find himself trapped underground, with the only exit blocked off by mountains of rubble. This makes your goal immediately obvious — find an escape route.
Amnesia: The Bunker’s narrative structure most closely resembles The Dark Descent’s approach, relying almost exclusively on environmental storytelling. Cyber sleuths that prefer to piece narrative context together through various optional notes are likely to be satisfied. Its story isn’t as immediately compelling as Amnesia: Rebirth or Soma, but it works. While it won’t stick with you, it successfully places enough breadcrumbs to keep you wondering how its characters fit into the larger picture.
Amnesia: The Bunker gracefully manages this through its non-linear design, which rewards exploration. In fact, Frictional Games plasters a post-intro-sequence message across the screen reading, “You are now on your own. Learn, experiment, adapt, and survive.” Unlike many other titles with similar warnings, Amnesia: The Bunker doggedly adheres to the aforementioned principles. The game never lays out specific objectives outside of exiting the bunker. This forces you to wander until you stumble upon something that may or may not help you progress.
This semi-aimless wandering is its strength. The minimal direction rarely grows frustrating thanks to the bunker’s size and Frictional Games’ considered level design. After an hour, you should have a handle on the general layout without needing a map every few minutes. This awareness leads to a simultaneous sense of unnerving trepidation and blissful comfort. Through the roughly six-hour adventure, this underground hell feels almost as homely as iconic survival horror locations like the Spencer mansion or Baker residence from the Resident Evil series.
Every excursion outside the safety net of the administration office feels like a major event. You set off with a goal in mind, only to find yourself sidetracked by an optional vent or room that may contain helpful resources in such a resource-starved game. That’s because every trip without some sort of progress, be it optional gear or acquiring a key item, feels wasted.
Amnesia: The Bunker is constantly forcing you to make difficult decisions. Do you turn on the generator and risk coming back with no progress made, effectively wasting that fuel? Do you keep several open inventory slots on the off-chance you come across items to craft into bandages, torches, or petrol bombs? Do you put yourself in harm’s way to risk acquiring an optional gas mask or shotgun? The list goes on. Amnesia: The Bunker forces constant small decisions in the short term that may or may not screw you over in the long term.
This decision-making process even extends to puzzle-solving itself. Most major sequences offer multiple solutions depending on your bravery and current resources. It lends a dynamic presence to the proceedings, making you feel like you’re barely scraping by on your wits rather than following a strict instruction manual laid out by its developers. Because of this, it feels like a proper adventure.
With that said, Frictional Games isn’t afraid to make use of funneling where necessary. As one example, multiple doors can only be accessed by breaking them open, which almost assuredly alerts the beast. Additionally, more than one sequence demands a running generator to progress further. This circles back to the ever-present micromanagement mentioned earlier. Every spontaneous decision can become a regret one or two hours down the road — sometimes immediately in the case of making noise.
Unfortunately, Amnesia: The Bunker misses one crucial portion of the survival horror pie. It nails nearly every aspect associated with the genre except the latter half of its namesake. Despite all the resource management and the roaming beast’s invulnerable nature, Amnesia: The Bunker never approaches scary territory.
It’s stressful, but not in the same way as Silent Hill or Resident Evil. It can also be intense but on a lower scale than other Amnesia titles, thanks to the removal of the sanity mechanic. There’s also the matter of the beast’s design, which more closely resembles a goofy werewolf than a horrifyingly abstract figure from one’s nightmares. It doesn’t help that its dated visuals are fine enough to not offend but not so dated that it can lean on abstractions like PS1 or Dreamcast-era horror titles.
On one final note, Amnesia: The Bunker suffers from a mildly annoying case of traversal stutter. The bunker is split across several distinct zones, with each zone inducing a two- to four-second pause on Xbox Series X every time you pass the invisible threshold. Considering the integral nature of exploration and backtracking, this stutter pulls you out of the experience at semi-regular intervals.
Amnesia: The Bunker Review — The Bottom Line
- Excellent sense of exploration
- Rewarding resource and inventory management
- Multiple ways to complete most sections
- Harsh stutters between zones on Xbox Series X
- Not scary at all
- Narrative isn’t that compelling
Amnesia: The Bunker is a startling franchise revival, one whose transition is so seamless that it feels like this is what the series was always meant to become. It actively rewards exploration and experimentation, which feeds into the core micromanagement gameplay loop, which then loops back around. None of this could work without level design that nudges players in vague directions without being frustrating or providing too much sign-posting.
Nothing in Amnesia: The Bunker feels like a waste of time except a strangely out-of-place final boss encounter. And though it’s a shame Frictional Games couldn’t muster up a spookier atmosphere to elevate the experience to its zenith, this is still an A-plus horror experience that all fans should play.
[Note: Frictional Games provided the Xbox Series X copy of Amnesia: The Bunker used for this review.]
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