Amnesia The Bunker review: An adrenaline-pumping race against time

Experience terror like never before with Amnesia The Bunker (Image via Frictional Games)
Experience terror like never before with Amnesia The Bunker (Image via Frictional Games)

Ever since its inception with the original Dark Descent entry in 2010, the Amnesia franchise has enjoyed a small but dedicated user base, one that has eagerly looked forward to the next entry in the series. As such, Sweden-based developer Frictional Games has culminated all their experience, from Penumbra to SOMA, into their latest creation: Amnesia The Bunker.

This new World War 1 themed game is a step up in many areas from almost everything else from the studio. But does it stand on its own as a survival-horror experience? Given many other high-caliber horror releases this year, like the Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 remakes, it certainly faces stiff competition.

Thankfully, this is a success story for the studio. Here's how and why.


Amnesia The Bunker marries the World War 1 setting with the fear of the dark

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In a stark departure from the studio's past entries, Amnesia The Bunker takes inspiration from real-world events. Set during World War 1, players control a French soldier named Henri Clement. Past the intro sequence, Henri finds himself injured and relocated to a large underground bunker. After waking up, he realizes that he is the sole entity in this sanctuary - at least until he stumbles across notes that reveal the truth behind this crisis.

A monster of unknown origin appeared in the bunkers, slaughtering many of its denizens. The officers who managed to flee blew up the sole entryway to the bunker, trapping everyone else to their demise. So Henri must find a way out while contending with unknown horrors that lurk around the hallways of the bunker. In short, the objective is simple: assemble a dynamite detonator to blow up the entrance to freedom.

This is easier said than done, of course, since players will need to scour every nook and cranny of the bunker to find the relevant parts. To top it off, they won't be able to explore peacefully as the monster is a real and active threat to Henri's safety. Furthermore, the generator must be topped up with fuel as much as possible; otherwise, the entire bunker will be blanketed in darkness.

No lights will make further progression difficult and offer the monster many more opportunities to come out of hiding to hunt. As such, players must keep their wits about them and gather as many resources as possible via exploration. These range from fuel canisters and ammo to throwables and medical supplies. The latter is also part of the new crafting mechanic, as combining two cloth pieces allows the player to create a bandage to heal wounds.


Exploring what has changed over the years

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Quite a lot has changed over the years. Players may be excited to learn how sanity is handled in this game. But the truth is this feature which has been a staple of the series since the 2010 original, no longer exists. Instead, players must manage the double-whammy of the generator fuel and the beast at the same time.

Weapons are a thing as well, with a handy revolver accompanying Henri throughout his journey. Don't expect to find much ammo for it, though. It is more like a utility tool used for triggering explosive barrels or breaking open locks. Considering item spawns, locker codes on dog tags, traps, and so on are randomized, the experience remains fresh at every turn.

Another major departure is saving in-game progression. It should be noted that Amnesia The Bunker has no auto-save functionality; players must instead interact with lamps at specific locations around the bunker to save progress.

This simultaneously adds further tension to exploration, as players cannot afford to take too many risks. The game also features three difficulty modes to pick from: Easy, Normal, and Hard. Each affects the number of resources found, tweaks the monster AI aggression, and modifies other parameters. This accessibility keeps the experience welcoming to newcomers while also satisfying veterans.

There are still notes and photos to collect, each of which sheds new light on the events that transpired and hints at what's to come. Henri has limited inventory slots to gather resources but can be increased using upgrades found while exploring. His vitality can also be tracked in the inventory by looking at the state of his hand. All things considered, the user experience is well done.


Amnesia: Isolation

Not long after settling down into a rhythm of planning a strategy to outsmart the beast and keeping resources stocked, players will realize that Amnesia The Bunker is similar to another genre entry - Alien Isolation. In particular, the monster bears a functional resemblance to the Xenomorph threat from developer Creative Assembly's 2014 horror game.

In other words, the monster from Amnesia The Bunker is also driven by AI that reacts to player actions instead of scripted responses from the game itself. This means that handful of set pieces aside, players can actively avoid the creature as long as they are careful. Loud noises, particularly those from explosions and even the hand-cranked light, will attract its attention. Of course, it should go without saying that the monster is also invulnerable.

Items like Molotovs and gas grenades will only cause it to temporarily flee, while bullets shot from the revolver will briefly stun it. Therefore, stealth is the name of the game. Despite that, expect to die a lot, particularly when figuring out how things work, even against another handful of killable foes like large rats. After all, Amnesia The Bunker is not a beginner-friendly horror game.

Players must strike a balance between being sneaky and making a run for it since keeping track of fuel in the generator is a must. This means the game has to offer different ways of tackling problems.


Deus Ex machina

The gas grenade works well in dispersing annoying foes (Screenshot via Amnesia The Bunker)
The gas grenade works well in dispersing annoying foes (Screenshot via Amnesia The Bunker)

Amensia The Bunker unabashedly takes inspiration from the immersive sim genre. In other words, there are multiple ways to solve a problem in the game. The game's reactive physics system makes all of this possible. Want to break down a door? Try using a heavy brick to smash it apart, blow it up with an explosive barrel or lure the monster into smashing it open. Rat problem due to the corpses? Burn them using fuel and fire.

Players may either see roaring success or be forced back to square one, depending on their play style. Common sense and logic also go a long way in making things easier for players. For example, blocking off the various tunnel entrances made by the monster in set locations can allow players a few extra seconds to flee to safety. This also ties into exploration, as there are no objective markers or quest logs to follow.

The non-linear sandbox of the bunker has many locales to trudge across, from the main administration room to the creepy prison area and flooded storage sections. As such, players will be rewarded for exploration at every turn. These can be more items to collect or even key items like the wrench that opens grated vents dotted around the map. This turns the game into some sort of twisted Metroidvania.

To top it all off, Amnesia The Bunker manages to keep the pacing and flow seamless, thanks to its amalgamation of various engaging gameplay systems. This is by far its biggest achievement, regardless of whether players find the monster scary. In my case, however, I found the beast far less problematic than the generator mechanic.

The doubled urgency due to hunting around for resources while on the clock and hurrying back to refuel before lights out actively takes away from exploration. Additionally, even though this is a survival-horror game and weapons like the pistol are situational, it is somewhat immersion-breaking that ammo scarcity is a thing. After all, the game takes place in a World War 1 bunker that was fled in a state of hurry.


Graphics, sound, and performance

The visuals are moody yet striking (Screenshot via Amnesia The Bunker)
The visuals are moody yet striking (Screenshot via Amnesia The Bunker)

Graphically, Amnesia The Bunker is the best-looking entry in the series to date. The gritty, dark hallways of the bunker, rock-hewn tunnels, and other locales help sell the lonely atmosphere. However, some sort of brown filter seems to lend everything a dull look, even in bright light - like the era of brown games back in the Xbox 360/PS3 days.

On the side of sound, this is well done. There is no music score but rather an ambient one in the background. This is so players can keenly detect other noises in their surroundings, like the monster's location as it crawls around the bunker between walls and areas. Player-sounds like footsteps, and interactive ones like gunshots also sound crisp.

Amnesia The Bunker runs on a proprietary engine created by Frictional Games, which facilitates the physics-driven gameplay their past games are known for. On that note, the performance is solid across the board without any slowdowns. There are no bugs or any technical issues to report. I did notice a slight hitch each time when entering or exiting an area from the central hub, which likely has to do with background streaming as the new sub-level loads in.


In conclusion

Amnesia The Bunker is a bold step in a new direction for the series. Frictional Games' latest Frankenstein works surprisingly well. It ensures players are constantly on their toes while turning every corner, whether at a sneakily-slow pace or full-on sprinting from the horror chasing them. The approach with dynamic monster AI over cheap jumpscares shows a commitment to scaring off players' socks with more than just the shock factor.

While it may not be for everyone, balancing resource and threat management is exciting - even though the generator refueling can get in the way of thorough exploration, leaning towards being an annoyance in the long run. While a pet peeve for me, the lack of ammunition in a war setting also does stick out like a sore thumb.

However, this should not bother most players, especially given how engaging the rest of the package is. Those looking for a cat-and-mouse chase that allows player experimentation to outsmart the enemy, look no further.

Final verdict for Amnesia The Bunker (Image via Sportskeeda)
Final verdict for Amnesia The Bunker (Image via Sportskeeda)

Amnesia The Bunker

Reviewed on: PC

Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, XSX|S

Developer(s): Frictional Games

Publishers(s): Frictional Games

Release date: June 5, 2023

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Edited by Adarsh J Kumar
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