In the pantheons of indie horror there are few games that stand out as much as the original Amnesia: The Dark Descent. This 2010 title brought a particular kind of powerless horror to prominence. Rather than traditional survival horror in which you have ways to fight back against monsters, Frictional Games’ breakthrough hit saw you only able to run and hide. Later games in the series, A Machine for Pigs and Rebirth, brought an increased focus on puzzles and storytelling, but Amnesia: The Bunker now combines of both these approaches with the added mechanic of combat options. That being said, the emphasis is still very much on surviving against a seemingly invulnerable foe.
The Amnesia title seems somewhat superfluous here, as you begin in media res with your player character, Henri Clement, experiencing the horrors of World War One. You are introduced to the controls through navigating a linear trench section and discover that you can use a handgun and grenades to break obstacles – mechanics that will prove invaluable throughout your time in The Bunker. This opening is effective in contextualising the tale, but most of the game’s narrative and lore will be revealed through diary entries and notes that you’ll find as you explore.
The visuals here are lightly stylised rather than photorealistic and this works well, especially as the majority of the game takes place in extreme darkness. Light sources are restricted to fires, your own wind-up torch and the electric lights scattered throughout the bunker. These are essential as light is the best way to hold off the mysterious beast that hunts you, but none of the light sources are without issue. Fire burns out quickly and will damage you if you get close – far too easy given the narrow corridors – while your torch makes a loud noise which can attract the monster, and the electric lights require you to find fuel to refill the generator.
You will find yourself alternating between scavenging for resources and working towards the main objective of trying to escape. You have limited inventory space and a relatively small storage chest in the main save room, though dropping items on the floor seems just as effective. Your first priority is fuel to keep the aforementioned generator running, with healing, explosives, and puzzle items also needing to be juggled. While this is standard stuff for survival horror, here it mostly involves filling your pockets, running back to base, throwing everything on the floor and repeating. Obviously this approach can undermine both the atmosphere and mechanics of the game, but the lack of autosave necessitates gamifying the process.
The real star of Amnesia: The Bunker is the audio design. The echoing corridors, the frequent booms of artillery shells above, and the ever-present roars of the monster hiding in the walls mean that every moment of The Bunker is a test of your bravery. You slowly learn the telltale sounds of the monster being near – generally accompanied by a distinctive hazy sheen to your vision – and can usually seek solace when needed. Notes are voice acted and there is some character dialogue which is fine, but the music is mostly restricted to ambient drones.
The monster is terrifying in general, but less so when directly engaged with. You can scare it off by shooting it or throwing a grenade, but it will always return pretty quickly. Getting cornered will result in a quick game over and a return to your last manual save. Savepoints are rare, so dying can lead to frustration as you must repeat the same basic mechanics multiple times. This is even more true at higher difficulty settings as the monster is even more aggressive and rarely leaves you alone. Even the rats that litter the environment are dangerous with wounds from their bites attracting the monster.
The last third of the game surprisingly takes things in a different direction which made sense in terms of game design, but did feel like a betrayal of the main mechanics.