Amnesia: The Bunker – PS4 Review 1

Frictional Games have been at the forefront of the indie horror genre and their Amnesia series has been, for the most part, very well received. I’ve yet to play the earlier games but I always considered their restrictive nature to be off-putting. Sneaking around an environment with little to arm yourself or knowledge to navigate around a problem has always given me second thoughts. Thankfully, Amnesia: The Bunker has taken a slight departure by offering a more open progression and a lot of more versatility.

You’re in the shoes and helmet of Henri Clement a French soldier caught in the trenches during World War I. Wounded and gassed, you’re helped by Augustine Lambert, a fellow solider who gets you to safety. Soon after, Augustine is discovered gravely wounded in a crater and a bomb falls upon your position. Henri wakes up inside the game’s titular bunker, unsure of what’s happened to his friend. You’re alone but there’s been plenty of notes left around to piece together the mystery. Very early on, you’re introduced to this game’s monster and, as with all Amnesia games, your job is to escape whilst staying out of trouble. Cut-off from the outside world, the monster has worked its way through your colleagues.

I do find piecing together the narrative through notes and photographs to be a little boring. There is a decent supernatural, monster-of-the-week story here but I find telling it through text makes it easy to ignore. The notes reveal some good chaos and paranoia amongst the trapped ranks but there’s very little in front of your eyes beyond the present. You do get some snippets of lore in flashbacks but I do wish the story was a touch more direct.

Where Amnesia: The Bunker does diverge is in structure. The bunker itself is fairly intricate with the main areas linked by a central hub. This Administration area serves as your home base with an item box and lamp to save your progress. This also houses a generator which must be stocked up with fuel to power the lights and machinery. Doors can be unlocked to give you access to other areas but the whole map gives makes the complex feel like a bicycle wheel. The outer areas feeling like spokes to the Administration area’s spindle.

Initially, the other areas are locked to you but this introduction did help me acclimatise to the game’s more inventive mechanics. Your main objective is to blow out the exit with dynamite and escape. To do so, key items have been scattered around the bunker and the hunt can lead you all around the map. There’s a freedom of approach in terms of how you accomplish these tasks. Maps can be found to aid traversal but the main locations are also usually signposted.

Most doors can be broken apart by utilising bricks or grenades. Boxes can be stacked to circumvent barriers and vents can be opened to gain access to locked areas. I like the fact curiosity can be rewarded and it makes a change from these games usually being focused around rigid environments and puzzles. There are some stopping points but there’s also opportunities to reach areas early.

It’s not a world without threats. The obvious one is the game’s ever-present monster. The beast doesn’t have the same freedom of movement you do. There are cracks in the concrete walls he can erupt from. I did my due diligence early on and tried to block every one I came across. It seems possible to do, although there are moments when he’s scheduled to appear. Whilst I never felt he completely lost menace, it was diminished as soon as I understood how he worked. He doesn’t seem to wander autonomously so I never sensed he was actively tracking me or scouting the facility. As such, the beast can feel predictable, despite the game’s claim of something more intelligent.

The big irritant is noise. Sprinting through the halls, gunfire or setting off traps will summon the beast to your area. Another is light. Keeping the generator running can feel essential when it comes to navigating the bunker and keeping the beast quiet. You do have a wind-up torch that can provide a light source but it does run the risk of making noise. That level of compromise can accompany some of the more interesting ways to progress but, as long as I had a hiding place in mind, I would take the risk.

Encounters with the monster seem few and far between, as long as the volume’s kept to a minimum. The game’s engine is definitely showing its age but the bunker has a claustrophobic atmosphere and a darkness that mitigates some of the rougher visuals. The lighting is good, specially when your torch starts dimming or you descend further underground. The fire effects are uncanny and do spread a little before sputtering out.

The sound design does a great job of selling the isolation. With sound being such a trigger for the beast, every little knock can feel like a warning. It implies a need for careful footing although I don’t think tripping over a bucket sent the monster my way. It’s the threat that it could happen that makes the sound so nicely pitched. The acting is also perfectly serviceable in what little spoken dialogue there is.

I don’t think Amnesia: The Bunker really sells a good horror experience. There’s something about the mechanical nature of the beast that diminishes the threat. However, I appreciate and enjoy the more experimental structure of the whole adventure. It’s a fetch quest but you have a myriad of tools to tinker and ply your curiosity with. That freedom is welcome in a genre that, more often than not, preys on limitations. It does have the unintended side effect of being on the short side. A few hours is enough to see credits.

Amnesia: The Bunker
7 Overall
+ Has a fairly open structure with room for experimentation.
+ Great, tense sound design.
+ Has a decent, monster of the week plot.
+ Atmospheric lighting.
- Text-driven storytelling feels all too easy to ignore.
- Can be a little on the short side.
- Visually showing its age.
- The monster felt mechanical and not like a wild, roaming beast.
I find the horror falls flat but Amnesia: The Bunker delivers a surprisingly open experience full of experimentation. It's freeing to be given the opportunity to blow a door wide open or circumvent challenges in an ingenious way. It visually shows its age and I feel the storytelling is bland but the atmosphere remains taught and tense. The monster doesn't quite hold a threat but the ticking time pressures and compromised nature of your tools did make for an interesting game. It's short but there's definitely room to replay with a different approach.

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Mike gets all the racing games because he understands that stuff even though he doesn't drive.

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