Amnesia: The Bunker

I haven’t played the previous Amnesia games, so I went into Amnesia: The Bunker completely cold. I had an idea of what to expect, but for the most part this was entirely new to me. That said, Amnesia: The Bunker managed to deliver a compelling experience only slightly marred by cumbersome controls and at-times-frustrating checkpoint issues. I would certainly recommend it to fans of the walking-simulator end of the survival horror spectrum, though if you are not already a diehard fan of this series, you might want to wait for a sale (or get it via Game Pass).

I think Amnesia: The Bunker soars at its highest in the opening several hours (after the dull tutorial when you finally find yourself in the titular bunker). Neither the player nor the protagonist is all that clued in to what the hell is going on, and you’ll slowly piece together what your objectives are and how to achieve them. I was truly unnerved, especially when playing with my PS5 Pulse headset.

The basic premise is that you are a survivor or war — possibly WWI — who somehow ends up in a spooky bunker where all of the previous occupants have fallen to a mysterious gruesome end. You are pretty much set free to explore and solve environmental puzzles using your wits and the scant few items you find along the way, but your goal is to simply find the exit and escape.

Amnesia: The Bunker forgoes silly puzzles that use various keys with card suits to open doors, or giant rooms made up of Rube Goldberg-esque machinations. Instead, most of the puzzles revolve around using your head to solve physics-based obstacles, or else just require careful item management and utilization.

Of course, the bunker also houses a monster with a taste for ripping people to shreds and a kink for noises. As luck would have it, everything you do produces some amount of noise, from walking to using the ripcord that powers your flashlight. And even the slightest bit of noise at the wrong time — or compounded over multiple actions — can draw the attention and ire of the creature, which will make short work of you.

The sound design is by far the element that does the heaviest lifting, as the audio cements a sense of perpetual dread and unease. And although it enlists the classic trope of ambient sounds that suggest things are going bump in the night all around you (when they seldom are in actuality), it’s done well enough that the player gets lost in the game world during those incredible early segments.

When I was still getting my bearings and learning how to stay as quiet as possible, I was immensely immersed in what Amnesia: The Bunker had to offer. But once that initial new-car-smell feeling wore off, I found myself less and less sold on the experience. Eventually, I felt like I was just going through the motions of trying things out until a solution to a bothersome puzzle emerged.

Amnesia: The Bunker

The biggest issue for me is the controls — at least on the console version that I played. The more cumbersome and limiting approach does work in some regards, like when you have to manually check the chamber of your revolver to get an accurate bullet count, or when you load said bullets one button click at a time. Overall, some of the decisions for how the player interacts with the world feel even more tedious than the attempt at verisimilitude in something like, say, Red Dead Redemption 2. But even though having to use one of the triggers and the right analog stick to open and close doors never feels intuitive, it does do a great job eradicating any hope the player might have that this is a power fantasy.

Once I saw the creature in all its PS2-ish-era polygonal glory (it reminded me of a slightly darker and less imposing Hunter from the original Resident Evil), a lot of the dread dissipated. I was expecting something perhaps a bit more bipedal and and terrifying. Although it could still kill pretty much instantaneously, it was much less threatening once I got a look at the poor thing.

The save mechanic can at times be a bit finnicky and old hat, and it does occasionally result in having to redo some steps while trying to solve a scenario because you forgot to double back to light the lantern to save your progress every little step of the way. But much like with the wonky control layout, this is just yet a minor quirk that’s not a dealbreaker.

If you meet Amnesia: The Bunker on its terms, there is a good deal of spookiness and a decent — albeit slow and plodding — narrative that doles out the story via found documents and well-designed environmental clues. It’s not one of the best games I played in 2023, but I’m still glad to have experienced it.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Amnesia: The Bunker on PS5, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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