Amnesia: The Bunker review - A horror you won't forget

Amnesia: The Bunker review - A horror you won't forget
Images via Frictional Games

Written by 

Tarran Stockton

Published 

5th Jun 2023 14:00

Despite the popularity of the Amnesia franchise and the giant effect Amnesia: The Dark Descent had on the horror genre in gaming, it has received a somewhat mixed reception amongst fans. Its brand of horror is often criticised as cheap and one-dimensional, giving you no real options beyond running and hiding in terms of gameplay.

This type of survival horror was very much a product of its time, but in a world where Resident Evil has returned to its roots, with the genre coming full circle in relation to what design choices are favoured, Frictional Games needed to try something new - or risk Amnesia becoming another series that faded out before reaching its full potential. 

Going far beyond putting a new spin on the survival horror genre, Amnesia: The Bunker's immersive design and levels of interactivity make it the most compelling - and terrifying - game in the franchise, while also setting a new standard for future titles to build upon.

GGRecon Verdict

Shifting towards a more open-ended structure, Amnesia: The Bunker's dynamic encounters and emergent gameplay make for one of the most terrifying horror experiences in recent memory. 

The Great War

an image of Amnesia: The Bunker gameplay showing a trench
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Amnesia: The Bunker has a surprisingly action-filled beginning, which works wonders as an introduction to both the world and its mechanics. As a French soldier during WW1, Henri Clement, you'll find yourself out in the trenches as the battle rages on around you. 

While this section may be short, it's crucial for helping you get to grips with The Bunker's controls and new features, putting those mechanics to the front and centre. This is almost certainly a deliberate response to the complaints of the previous game focusing too much on narrative and not developing the gameplay enough, as The Bunker is ostensibly a gameplay-first experience, and it's felt throughout the final product. 

Further into your journey, you'll help out a fellow soldier in a tight spot before waking up from a coma below ground in your platoon's bunker. It's immediately obvious that something is amiss, and the conflict raging directly above ground quickly becomes the least of your worries as you find yourself trapped in the bunker with a monster that can stalk you almost anywhere. 

While the plot has taken a backseat in favour of gameplay - the story boils down to escaping the bunker by blowing up the entrance - there's plenty of attentive worldbuilding that forms its own narrative. This is done through environmental storytelling and in the form of notes you can find around the world - but it paints a clear picture of how things went wrong in the bunker, while also presenting a mystery about the origins and identity of The Bunker's monster. 

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A new era of Amnesia

an image of Amnesia: The Bunker gameplay showing a dark corridoor
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Amnesia: The Bunker adds more to the franchise's formula than ever, while retaining what makes it unique. Whether it's the first-person physics-based interactions with the environment or the visual effects that appear whenever the monster comes into view, it's recognisable for anyone familiar with previous entries.

It's the gameplay loop and structure that helps to keep it feeling fresh, with a complete overhaul in favour of a more open-ended and dynamic horror experience. For starters, once you arrive in the titular bunker, you can freely explore the open world of your own accord.

Of course, there are plenty of obstacles that block your path, from locked doors to large rodents (or the monster itself), but within the confines of the game, you can experiment with its systems and mechanics to solve these problems and continue exploring - leaving Amnesia: The Bunker closer at times to immersive sims like System Shock or Deus Ex

It's still undoubtedly a horror game at the core, though, with these elements all feeding back into cultivating the atmosphere and raising the tension, creating a palpable feeling of dread about what's just around the next corner. 

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Resident inspiration

an image of Amnesia: The Bunker gameplay showing the inventory screen
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The original Resident Evil makes a clear mark on the design of The Bunker too. Your only safety comes in the form of a safe room found at the centre of the bunker, where you can save manually. A limited inventory space also forces you to be careful about what you decide to take out on runs - and what resources to bring back with you.

This caused me to be very particular and plan my travel routes, with some of the most terrifying moments coming from me having to adapt on the fly as my plan went sideways.

Perhaps the most hardcore design decision here, and something I can see being contentious for some people, is the generator and lighting system. Your safe room has a generator that can be kept running with fuel found around the bunker, helping to keep the lights on, which stops the monster from coming out (unless you make too much noise). 

If you don't make it back to the safe room before the lights go out, The Bunker's difficulty ramps up massively, and you'll be forced to use all your survival skills to avoid the monster in the pitch black. Due to the focus on resource management, though, you can entirely run out of fuel before finishing the game, forcing you to complete whatever objectives are left totally in the dark.

This can feel like a punishment for taking too long, adding a level of tension and stress that feels very at home for a survival horror - and one that very few games can replicate as effectively.

Another way that Frictional shook up the formula, is the addition of randomisation that changes with every run of the game. This doesn't have a massive effect on the core of how you'll play The Bunker, but it does remix the locations of resources, locker codes, and some key items. This is an effective way to keep that visceral sense of fear alive in your subsequent playthroughs, as you can never get too comfortable with everything found within the bunker's confines.

It's in the walls

an image of Amnesia: The Bunker gameplay showing a silhouette of the monster
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With a new Amnesia game comes a new star of the show - the game's sole monster and enemy. This elusive monster spends most of its time in the walls, and you'll often hear it scurrying about above, below, and to either side of you as it follows you around the bunker.

What's more, it can't be killed. You do, however, have the option to fight it off with the tools at your disposal, whether it be with a couple of shots from a revolver, or by throwing a grenade right at its feet.

There's a definite inspiration from Alien Isolation here, and you'll need to learn the monster's movements and behaviours if you want to survive. Sound is a particularly important mechanic here, and Frictional have employed excellent sound design across the board to ensure the motor of your torch or the creak of a door puts the fear into you as you worry whether or not it's enough to draw out the monster.

Despite the game allowing you to understand the monster to a point (and essentially how its AI works if you do enough experimenting), there's still enough of an unknown quantity to how it behaves that the spell isn't totally broken after a few hours.

It's easy to direct overwhelming praise at Amnesia: The Bunker for the atmosphere it creates, but there are some technical issues that hold the experience back, the most consistent of which relates to loading in the world, with noticeable stutters and freezes whenever moving between the bunker's different areas. In my own playthrough, I came across an issue where an important item phased through the floor after I dropped it - meaning I had to reload a save to pick it up. These problems aren't enough to ruin the experience, but they appear consistently enough that it's worth addressing their existence. 

The Verdict

an image of Amnesia: The Bunker gameplay showing the rats
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Shifting toward a more open-ended structure, Amnesia: The Bunker's dynamic encounters and emergent gameplay allows it to remain freshly terrifying and tense throughout the several hours your first run will likely take. 

Beyond just claiming the title of the best Amnesia game to date, it's also one of the best survival horror experiences of recent times, and a perfect entry to spearhead the future of the franchise into a new direction. 

4.5/5

Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.

Tarran is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon. He previously wrote reviews for his college newspaper before studying Media and Communication at university. His favourite genres include role-playing games, strategy games, and boomer shooters - along with anything indie. You can also find him in the pit at local hardcore shows.

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