by Jordan Helsley
reviewed on PC
Playing Amnesia with a gun feels weird. In a series focused largely on being helpless, wielding even a World War I firearm feels powerful and unnerving from the first moment you're given control holding it. It’s easy to see past your revolver, to understand what it really means in a game such as this, but the feeling of control over your fate lasts quite a while.
You start in the shoes of French soldier Henri, traipsing through the trenches as the gunfire of WWI envelopes the world around you. This premise alone is chilling, but Amnesia: The Bunker wouldn't be able to honour its namesake without something more sinister brewing below the surface. After an attempt to rescue a friend goes wrong, you wake up in the titular bunker to do what all the protagonists do in these games: find answers and survive.
The French bunker feels right at home. It's dark and dingy, but persistently beautiful. Scary, yet it has pockets of comfort. And while you don't remember how you got there, your mission to escape is simple and clear: blow open the exit tunnel your superiors sealed behind them as they fled, because The Beast stalks the halls. A fellow soldier feeds you this information after handing you a revolver once more. As you begin to load those powerful bullets, your new friend succumbs to a too-timely attack by The Beast, reminding you what the food chain here looks like.
Make Yourself At Home
Amnesia: The Bunker features a map that's mostly free to explore, thanks to its semi-open-world structure. At the centre is your base of operations, a place you'll return to often. It has a map, which you'll fill out as you explore, a generator, which you'll need to keep gassed up, and a storage chest, which you'll use often, lest you run out of inventory space.
As your belated comrade explained, your ticket to survival rests in two key items: dynamite and a plunger to detonate it. And while he told you exactly where to get them, things won't be so straightforward, as locked doors and dark hallways stand between you and those objectives.
The generator mechanic provides a management aspect. Throughout the halls of the bunker you'll find switches that activate strings of lights, useful for seeing but also warding off a beast that hates them. The more lights you activate, though, the quicker the gas burns, and the stress of that next gas canister can be as real as the beastly noises echoing through the halls.
Sound plays a huge role in the darkened halls of the bunker, and it's good enough to get under your skin even at moments of safety. Whether it's a pure silence that can only be found this far underground, or the motions of a hunting monster that bounce around just enough to force you to question the direction of their origin, every noise feels crafted with care and purpose. That includes the noises you make, which also adds to the tension.
Your main light source is a dynamo flashlight, which you crank to receive a brief respite from the darkness. In any other situation the dull spinning of the armature and whir of the crank would be a minor annoyance, but in these damp halls they're downright chilling, even before considering that those actions act as a siren song leading The Beast to your position. Which brings us back to your sidearm: the revolver that feels loud to simply wield, let alone fire. This is less a weapon, and more a tool for horror.
Whether you want to make an obviously futile attempt at slaying your stalker with your limited ammunition or not, you'll end up firing this gun. The game forces you to. And that's not even the loudest noise you'll be forced to make along your journey. The first time it was clear to me my next action was an explosion that would reverberate through the walls there was a palpable sense of unease. It was akin to holding a gun for the first time, unnerved by the act of pulling the trigger and unleashing the unknown.
Still Running, Still Hiding
These elements all add up to familiar feelings. Much of your exploration and backtracking (of which there will be plenty, to and from your main safe space) will include mentally noting hiding spots and mapping out escape routes. It's still an Amnesia game. You're picking up notes to piece this story together. There are (admittedly minimal) puzzles to solve to progress through this space. Most of these are centered around combination locks that require you to find dog tags with the codes etched into them. Some of these are guarded by the other, much easier to deal with, enemy that exists purely to force your hand: rats. Easy to kill if you want to make some noise, but you can also trade off a bit of health by just rushing past them. Usually the decision depends on how many times you're likely to use a particular hallway.
The other series mainstays are here, too. The "grab and drag" method of opening drawers and doors doesn't seem to be going anywhere, nor does the ability to close and lock doors, push boxes into walkways, and just generally make futile attempts to slow down your stalker during a chase. Somehow, though, despite it being the first foray into an open-world type experience, it feels more straightforward than it has in the past. I never felt challenged by the game's objectives, aside from searching for pickups in dimly lit rooms. Puzzles require little in the way of consideration or creativity, despite the inclusion of some systemic interactions commonly found in immersive sim games.
Keep Moving Forward
The foundation laid down by Amnesia: The Bunker could easily mark a new path for the series. With a bit more care put into making its open-world type setting matter, it could easily move a little closer to a Resident Evil-level puzzle box, benefiting the series as a whole. Right now, it doesn't do quite enough beyond that generator management to make it a revolution. It also seems painfully clear that your inventory limitations are such to incentivize runs back to the storage box, too. All this backtracking helps you familiarize yourself with the bunker's many paths, but even in a runtime of a handful of hours it becomes tedious.
Escaping The Beast
While it may not entirely hit as a whole, Amnesia: The Bunker marks a high point for the series in many ways. It continues to feature impressive graphics and sound design, and a few of the mechanics here should join other constants.
It falters a bit in its story, which is suitably mysterious and mystical, but at least partially predictable from a very early stage. It doesn't drag the experience down too much, but just enough. Still, it feels like a best-in-class dread simulator that doesn't overload you with a series of ever changing objectives, keeping your mission tight and focused throughout, allowing that sense of dread to be its main propellant. The "hunted by the monster" feeling was more organic than orchestrated, and thus not overly frustrating on its normal difficulty. Most importantly, its atmosphere overshadowed its faults, and by the end of the experience I desperately wanted to know where the next in the series would take things.
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Dreadful atmosphere punctuated by its sound design and organic feeling monster.
Plenty of backtracking which makes its mostly-rudimentary puzzles more busy work than challenge. Main plot twist is a bit too telegraphed.