It roams the claustrophobic halls around you. Relentless. Bloodthirsty. Eager to eviscerate any living being it hasn’t already disemboweled or decapitated. Fueled by malice and warped by eldritch sorcery, the fanged monstrosity took more of your men than the enemy combatants. The German soldiers were predictable, mortal. But this thing isn’t human. It’s something more — something worse. And it’s after you.
Tense unpredictability defines Amnesia: The Bunker. Paranoia lurks in each pocket of shadow, as the unspeakable terror stalks and torments players into submission. This atmosphere of distrust and fear elevates the sequel to must-play survival horror.
Much of The Bunker’s tension is derived from its spontaneity, which keeps players in a constant state of unease. The creature embodies this design ethic, as a malevolent and unkillable antagonist that relentlessly pursues the player. This is a common trope seen in many of the best games in the genre. But unlike famous examples, such as Resident Evil 2‘s Mr. X or the regenerator in Dead Space, The Bunker’s beast is ever-present and not relegated to scripted “stalking sections.”
It lurks around the tunnel system, ever-present and stomping about the barracks. If the player is wounded, it materializes and tries to snuff you out. Barbaric snarls and thunderous footsteps are tangible reminders of the threat that double as eerie ways to keep loose tabs on it.
There are times where the creature is occupied in a remote area, but those precious respites are all too brief. Players spend most of their time ducking, hiding, and carefully tiptoeing around, which is chilling because of how it gets players to lean forward and stay engaged. It’s not even any less scary because of the added defensive options since they take skill, luck, and a sizeable amount of time to use effectively.
By being mostly unscripted, The Bunker asks players to frantically avoid a grisly death at a moment’s notice. This is unlike past Amnesia games, where the monsters only patrol certain sections. It’s a brilliant approach that unshackles scares from scripting. There’s more focus on mechanics and immersion versus comfort in rote memorization, which is where some horror games lose their luster.
Future runs will always differ, too; locker combinations, traps, and some item locations are procedurally generated. Even the final encounter has multiple layouts. Shifting items around displaces the player, and ensures not even a guide or prior knowledge can save them. Key items are still kept in the same places, however, which undercuts the otherwise thoughtful randomization.
Despite being a labyrinth of claustrophobic corridors, however, The Bunker is more open than its peers. Often, the game borders on immersive sim with the sheer variety in terms of exploration. Unlike previous entries, this Amnesia gives players tools that interact with each other and the world in different ways. When combined with Frictional Games’ signature physics engine, The Bunker gives players a handful of ways to solve problems. Wooden doors can be unlocked or blown open. Rats can be distracted, burned, or shooed away with a makeshift torch. Not every door or objective can be cracked in numerous ways and that keeps it from being truly open, but there’s still enough variation.
These choices also force players to always weigh risks and rewards. This is best embodied, perhaps, in the loud flashlight players crank to turn on. Blowing up a door or killing rats with a grenade cuts out on crawling around, but the racket will attract the beast. Leaving traps untouched is dangerous, but can also be used against the monster.
Special, resource-heavy rooms players have to loudly open are the epitome of this astute design. They’re alluring mouse traps for players, with a sweet chunk of cheese smack-dab in the middle of the catch. The Bunker is a challenging experience with very few automatic checkpoints, so packing the game with these types of decisions makes it as engaging as it is tense. Every choice carries weight — the mark of great survival horror.
Frictional makes it clear that common sense solutions will work in most situations, and that freeform foundation is liberating. Combining a bottle with a rag, some fuel, and a lighter to make a Molotov cocktail doesn’t need to be spelled out. A rickety wooden door should crumble after a shotgun blast (and it does).
Objectives are also organically implemented and don’t require annoying beacons, obtrusive HUD elements, or lunar logic. Players aren’t led by the nose and have to think and analyze the game world in order to progress. It’s a refreshing philosophy that reinforces how The Bunker is built around submerging the player in its world.
The all-encompassing immersion makes a few technical shortcomings more glaring. The Bunker has jarring load screens that kick in when transitioning to a new section. It locks the whole game up for a few seconds, and often turns off the player’s flashlight as it boots in the next area. It’s unclear why these segues are so turbulent, as the game is neither large nor a graphical showpiece. Occasional crashes are also surprising and elicit a cheap kind of fear this game doesn’t need. The Bunker is far from a glitchy mess, but these hiccups are even more obvious when everything else around them has been meticulously crafted to suck the player in.
Amnesia: The Bunker Review: The final verdict
Not even an intermittent crash or clunky load screen can minimize what Amnesia: The Bunker does so well. The intimate world, wonderfully interwoven mechanics, and semi-random nature make The Bunker a nerve-racking experience that’s a natural evolution of its landmark first entry. On a surface level, it’s still about creeping through a dimly lit hellhole and evading unspeakable horrors, but Frictional has spent the last decade advancing that formula to create the best version of it so far.
Disclaimer: This Amnesia: The Bunker review is based on a PS4 copy provided by the publisher. Reviewed on version 1.41.