We’re not alone down here…”
Back with the fourth installment of their long-running psychological horror franchise: Amnesia, Frictional Games are once again raising the pulses of their fans with The Bunker, taking the franchise away from the Otherworld and into the confines of a claustrophobic and desolate WW1 bunker.
Known for their emphasis on psychological horror, Frictional have doubled down on the formula whilst also taking the time to let it evolve somewhat, taking inspiration from some of horror’s greats, such as Alien: Isolation and the Resident Evil franchise.
Having released worldwide on 6th June 2023 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Series S & X and PC (PlayStation 5 is absent for some reason) I’m going to be going over the time I’ve spent with the PS4 version of the game; detailing the good, deconstructing the bad, whilst ultimately discussing whether it’s worth your time and money at the £19.99 asking price (UK PSN Store).
The Evolution of Horror in Gaming
Horror as a gaming medium may have existed with the likes of Haunted House (1982) for the Atari 2600, or the pre-cursor to Resident Evil that was Sweet Home (1989) for the Famicom, but it arguably came to life with the rise of the 3D polygon with and Sony PlayStation, with titles such as Resident Evil (1996) and Silent Hill (1999) solidifying how nerve-shattering the genre could be.
For the next decade the genre would see the release of some truly genre defining titles that solidified horror in the annals of gaming history, but it was Frictional Games and Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010) which took the genre and turned it on its head, changing horror video games forever.
Billed by many as one of the scariest games ever made, it took away the player’s means of defense, which was the safety net of many horror games up until 2010, and placed a stronger emphasis on psychological horror, evasion and atmosphere so thick you could choke on it, which resulted in a cocktail that is still as blood-curdling now as it was back in the 10’s.
The Legacy of Amnesia
Since the first installment we’ve seen two other titles in the franchise, the poorly received Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs (2013) by The Chinese Room, and the sequel to Dark Descent: Amnesia: Rebirth (2020), which finally takes the player to the cosmic-horror laden Otherworld, that Daniel read so much about in the first game (see my review for the game here).
Despite Rebirth being arguably more narrative driven (with some pretty major ramifications for the overarching lore) the latest installment: Amnesia: The Bunker, goes back to the series roots, with a stronger emphasis on environmental storytelling to link the plot to the overall franchise.
A Journey into Darkness
The game places you in the trench-soaked boots of Soldat. (private) Henri Clément, a French infantry soldier stuck somewhere in the western front fighting against a German line.
Following a failed rescue attempt of one of Henri’s brothers in arms, he gets wounded in a German ambush, waking up several days later in a desolate, dark and foreboding bunker, with not another soul in sight.
Not long after awakening, it becomes apparent that something evil is stalking Henri within the claustrophobic halls of the bunker; having been sealed inside with the monster by the bunker’s officers, it’s down to Henri to scavenge whatever he can in a desperate attempt to stay alive and ultimately escape the bunker, all the while learning about the tragic events that took place within.
Atmosphere and Gameplay
From the get go, the narrative is a lot simpler in comparison to its predecessor, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the main objective that you have is to simply escape the bunker by finding dynamite and a detonator handle, with the story and events that transpired before all being fleshed out by in game notes, environmental cues and exploration (which all ties in nicely with the rest of the franchise) all of which is all in aid of the game’s strongest feature: atmosphere.
What Lies Beneath: The beast that stalks you in the bunker has AI similar to the Xenomorph in Alien: Isolation, making logic and silence the key to not being ripped to shreds.
Despite being light on the narrative front (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) The Bunker is by far the most versatile Amnesia yet in terms of gameplay, featuring a semi-open space with multiple methods of completing objectives, giving rise to creative thought, in place of rigid puzzles as seen in the previous games; for example, locked wooden doors can be blasted through with a shotgun, or had a brick thrown directly at them a number of times to force entry; the former being costly as ammo is rare and noisy, with the latter still being somewhat loud, but somewhat more resourceful.
In addition, items such as health, ammo weapons and codes are randomised, ensuring that each new playthrough is somewhat different to the last.
Henri’s main objective is clear from the get go, but getting access to the items he requires isn’t so straight forward.
Unlike past Amnesia games that had enemy variation, there is only one creature stalking you in the bunker and he’s a mean-spirited bastard to boot.
Opting for a single creature has afforded Frictional the scope to really go to town on AI, which is on par with the Xenomorph from Creative Assembly’s stellar: Alien: Isolation (2014).
The Bunker is also the first game in the franchise that affords the player the means to defend themselves by shooting the monster directly, with the caveat being that ammo is extremely rare, reloading takes forever and the creature will come back later twice as pissed off and aggressive than before if engaged.
Aside from firearms, the beast is sensitive to both sound and light, with the former being what draws the beast to your location and the latter being something that the creature actively avoids.
Light comes from three main sources in game: a WW1 circular wind-up torch which has to be charged, which is noisy to boot, a stick and rag which is silent, but cannot be extinguished, eventually burns off, and requires a lighter to use (which is a rare item in the bunker).
The final and possibly the most important light source is the bunker itself, as the generator can be fueled by gasoline cans (which are few and far between and extremely finite) which allows the bunker’s lighting system to be restored, albeit on an extremely limited timer that Henri can time his pocket watch to in order to see how much time the generator has left.
The game also relies heavily on backtracking, and along with resource management the game can sometimes feel reminiscent of the likes of Resident Evil (which is by no means a bad thing) with the five or six hours it’ll take you to complete the game (the radiant nature of the bunker however heavily incentivizes several playthroughs).
The best approach is to make sure the tank is topped up at all times (even when off) and that you learn the corridors of the bunker, as knowing which areas have been switched on and have light vs. those that don’t is key to Henri’s survival.
Primal Scream: Henri has a solid arsenal of defense in The Bunker, but using weaponry of any kind is advised under extreme caution due to finite supplies and the aggressiveness of the creature.
In terms of general performance, The Bunker is somewhat of a mixed bag. For starters Frictional have decided to leave out a native PS5 version and only make the game available on PS4 (which is playable via backwards compatibility) but arguably doesn’t hurt the production all too much. The game runs at a sub-par 1080p resolution across on PlayStation systems…