There are no two ways about it: without Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the landscape of gaming would be very different. The game singlehandedly popularized the “Let’s Play” genre of videos on YouTube, with screeching gamers overreacting to jump-scares and chases, which led to a revolution of indie gaming that catered more to being streamable experiences first and enjoyable experiences second.
Developer Frictional Games struggled in reaching The Dark Descent’s level of fame and tight balance of exploratory puzzles and hide-and-seek thrills. The second game in the franchise, A Machine for Pigs, was outsourced to The Chinese Room, who created an excessively linear story-focused game with minimal interactions. 2020’s Rebirth tried to recapture the original’s creepy atmosphere by going back to cat-and-mouse pursuits and maze-like level design, though ultimately lacking the freshness and innovation that is needed to fully work.
Enter the latest entry in the franchise, Amnesia: The Bunker, which might just be the finest one yet. There is a clear intent from Frictional to do something bold and go in a different direction from what they did before, and they accomplished their mission. The biggest compliment one can give to the game is that it is a fully-fledged survival horror experience that successfully harkens back to early entries in the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series.
Set during World War I, players take the role of Henri Clément, an amnesiac French soldier trapped inside a bunker with a hungry monster and only one goal, escape. Item management and scarce resources are central to the experience. A generator needs to be fueled up to keep the lights on, bandages and medkits to heal up are never enough, and ammunition is extremely limited. Yes, ammunition. For the first time in the series, the protagonist can defend himself with a revolver, grenades and booby traps scattered around the abandoned area. There is even a simple crafting system at play here, where cloth can be combined with empty bottles or wooden sticks to create torches and firebombs.
Another element that makes the game a fun throwback to the survival horrors of old is the size of the level and non-linear approach. It is possible to explore every area freely right from the get-go, and the addition of light RNG elements (changing where some key items spawn) makes for added replayability that was lacking in previous entries. Orienteering is a key skill here, as the titular location starts to feel like home the more rooms are explored, navigating it from one end to the other in just a few minutes.
The central creature’s AI is also immensely enjoyable to play around with. Running, recharging the dynamo flashlight, or shooting alert it to the player’s location, but there are multiple ways to fend it off. Its exit from holes in the wall can be blocked with furniture, bottles can be thrown to distract it, or a couple of well-placed shots in its direction will scare it off. It is an imposing underground dweller that functions like a more forgiving yet still menacing cousin to the xenomorph from Alien: Isolation. The attention put into the sound design needs special mention: shooting deafens the protagonist, footsteps are carefully brought to life, and light creaks from the ceiling become a key source of fear.
The open-ended nature of the gameplay is refreshing and much needed considering how straightforward this could have been, and the addition of fifty-two letters from previous inhabitants of the bunker makes exploration rewarding. However, claims that Amnesia: The Bunker is like an immersive sim are grossly overstated, for common logic and simple real-life rules do not always apply: if locks can be shot at, why not chains? If an explosive barrel or a shotgun blast can blow open a door, why not a grate? This leads to frustrating moments early on in a first playthrough, but, once the limitations of the slightly outdated engine are figured out, the game truly ends up being one of the most consistently thrilling and just plain fun survival horror games of the past couple of years. With a first playthrough that clocked in at just over four hours, replaying is highly encouraged and very much worth it to uncover all the hidden secrets of the bunker.
Copy supplied by the publisher.