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Amnesia: The Bunker review: a grim yet refreshing horror bottle episode

There's life in the old torture-monster yet

Aiming your revolver at a distant fire in Amnesia: The Bunker
Image credit: Frictional Games

More fool me for thinking the Amnesia story (a now-complex horror sci-fi epic about Cenobite-esque weirdos who gain immortality by drinking pain-milk extracted from people via torture at the hands of specially engineered torture-monsters) was done with Amnesia: Rebirth. Although, I suppose it actually is, because Rebirth is set in 1937, and Amnesia: The Bunker is effectively a bottle episode taking place during the First World War. And what a bottle episode! You'll spend 4-6 hours being chased around the tunnels of a maze-like bunker, winding up a dim, rubbish torch and reading increasingly unhinged diary notes from the French soldiers who've all been eaten, and boy will you have a great time.

You play a soldier called Henri who is extremely nearly exploded in some trench warfare, landing him in the aforementioned extremely beige undergound complex. The amnesia requirement is fulfilled by Henri waking up in a field hospital bed and not remembering any of what happened between the nearly-dying and the now. This is when you take over, and discover that basically everyone else is dead at the hands - rather, the weird giant claws - of the unkillable beast that now lives in the bunker with you. Like before, it can pop up basically anywhere by using tunnels in the walls (placed in almost every room, just to give you the extra heebie jeebies), and like before you have to be aware of how much light there is around you because the creature has an aversion to it.

Unlike before you have a few more tools at your disposal than running and hiding. You start with a pistol, later scrounging up a shotgun - though bullets are few. You can find flares and grenades, med packs, and a critical resource is petrol, which you use to power a generator in a central area that becomes your mission hub. The Bunker is sort of a very focused Metroidvania in that you do not progress linearly to new areas, but instead gradually open up deeper and deeper areas of the bunker. Your objective is always to find dynamite and a plunger to blast your way out of there, and you always come back to your safe room to fill up the generator, save, and play inventory Tetris.

Looking at the (small) inventory in Amnesia: The Bunker
Livin' easy
There's a slightly more forgiving story mode that starts you with a larger inventory, and lets you make more noise before the creature comes to attack. You'll still have to stay on your toes though. Getting injured, for example, means you leave a blood trail.

It creates a great interplay between safety and danger, because even as you master parts of the bunker, if you don't keep an eye on your watch the lights could suddenly go out. The appearances of the monster aren't scripted, either, so whether you decide to spend a painstaking amount of time quietly creeping around or a balls-to-the-wall explosion run will make a difference. The sound design works really well in concert with this, as you're never quite sure if what you heard was the bunker bunkering, a distant war explosion, or something coming to peel the skin off your face.

The Bunker is also a lot more immersive sim-y in a way that's very refreshing after Rebirth. There's no real HUD, there isn't a map you can pull up whenever you want, and learning the layout of the bunker is extremely helpful. To figure out how to solve puzzles you just have to pay attention: there's a duplicate key in X soldier's bunk bed; to get the mechanism when you need you have to open soldier Y's locker; to open this door you need bolt cutters. Even photographs you pick up can give you clues as to what's going on if you look closely enough at them. You can interact with the environment a lot more than in previous Amnesia games, moving boxes and items around to find different ways of progressing. Near the start the game tells you that "if you think something seems possible, it probably is", but that's not quite true in practice, and I largely took advantage of the systems to open doors by throwing cinderblocks at them.

Coming to a darkened map room you can use as a centre of operations in Amnesia: The Bunker
Preparing to throw a grenade at an unseen monster in Amnesia: The Bunker
Walking down a hallway with an improvised torch in Amnesia: The Bunker
These screenshots are press assets provided by Frictional, because when I fired the game up to take screens just now it was running in a weird potato quality that didn't represent what it actually looked like when I played it

This, of course, is a potentially dangerous course of action, because sound attracts the monster (a hulking flesh-beast that looks like that horror movie shot of someone half-way through transforming into a werewolf). You have a wind up torch that makes a lot of noise, but will crucially allow you to see what's going on, and you can also set rudimentary traps by putting meat next to an explosive barrel or, if push comes to shove, just lacing a grenade at the bastard. Reading and using an item is a methodical, slow process, so if you don't plan for worst case scenarios, running away before the creature sees you is often your best bet. This becomes more frantic the further away from your safe room you are, though, and it's easy to get lost in the dark - plus there's also a breed of giant flesh-eating rats, whose eyes shine like little headlights when you turn your torch on them.

The increase in tension, as the size of your own personal rat trap increases, works really well, as does the more restrained size of the game over all. The increase in focus makes for a really rewarding experience, and makes the theming around the war, and man's inhumanity to man, much tighter as well - though, just by dint of the theme itself, some of that feels a little played out. In a similar vein, some of the actual lore elements of it will be somewhat confusing to people who've never played an Amnesia before, and will therefore wonder why on earth the Romans are connected to any of this, but The Bunker is effectively siloed away from most of that. It might actually make a good introduction to the series if you never played any before: an intense, dark little horror truffle that you can chew on in an afternoon, and have a lovely-terrible time.

As a returning Frictional fan it shook up a slightly ponderous series to make something exciting and new. This is Frictional back on imaginative, exciting form, and I'd be happy seeing them do other slightly more contained projects like this. I'd also, of course, love to see something new - but it feels like Amnesia is a pocket dimension they can visit again. If it's an idea as well-rounded as The Bunker, I'm happy to go with them.

This review is based on a review build of the game provided by the developer Frictional Games.

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About the Author
Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

Small person powered by tea and books; RPS's dep ed since 2018. Send her etymological facts and cool horror or puzzle games.

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