In the Game: ‘Amnesia: The Bunker’ is a Terrifying Standout in the Very Crowded Genre of World War I Games

Amnesia: The Dark Descent revolutionized the horror genre and single-handedly launched many YouTube careers. Famously, many creators did ‘Let’s Plays’ of the game and amassed a ridiculous amount of views. People were thrilled to watch someone cautiously roam in the pitch black and get jump-scared. I personally could not watch these videos because I have always been very paralyzed by any sort of horror media.

Watching people play horror games sounded like a horrible time to me. Going to see a horror movie with friends has always been out of the question. I still have trouble watching anything even remotely scary. Playing horror games (for the most part) is something I’m okay with. But typically, I like my horror games with some action; Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, Alan Wake, and Resident Evil: Village make up some of my favourite games. Those games are scary and fun to play. Oddly enough, they are very comfortable games to me. As much as I love comfort, I also like to be challenged. Lately, I’ve been intentionally consuming more horror media in an attempt to make my brain turn fear into fun. I’m happy to say that Amnesia: The Bunker absolutely rules.

You play as Henri Clément, a French soldier fighting in World War I. You fight alongside your close friend named Augustin Lambert. The game opens up in the heat of warfare; bullets whizzing by, bombs being set off, bodies everywhere you look. You and Lambert go through many close calls and eventually you both get shot by a fleet of German soldiers. Henri wakes up dazed and confused in a bunker. Your goal is to escape the bunker while being hunted by “The Beast.”

My girlfriend, who is arguably more of a baby than I am when it comes to horror, cuddled up with me on the couch like an absolute champ and watched me play. Something that we both liked was that Amnesia: The Bunker is a very tight and sleek experience. My first playthrough was just shy of six hours of gameplay. Personally, I often play games with no ending or games that have absurdly long time sinks. But I do have a soft spot for games you can beat in one or two sittings. My girlfriend and I spent the first two or so hours freaking the fuck out and the remaining four having a blast.

Explosions are often happening above you and they violently shake the screen and leave Henri’s ears ringing. The bangs are a constant reminder of the literal war happening above you. It’s a fantastic detail that really makes you wonder if leaving the bunker is a good idea. Every now and then you’ll hear a roaring howl of “The Beast.” This hulking mutated monster roams the bunker with the sole purpose of taking you out. The Beast will only approach you if you are directly in its sight or if you make too much noise.

Noise is both your enemy and your ally. Everything that you do causes noise; turning on your crank flashlight, opening doors, throwing items, tripping one of the various boobytraps. These are all things you need to do to further the plot. These noises attract The Beast. So every few minutes or so, you’ll need to play a terrifying game of Hide & Seek. This works both ways as The Beast is also causing a bunch of noise. He roars and loudly shuffles through the halls. There are also visual telegraphs that hint toward him being nearby. Sometimes the lights will flicker or holes in the wall will have dust clouds shoot out of them. Every time the lights would begin to flicker I would hide under the nearest table. It’s a thrilling gameplay loop.

What I found to be the most thrilling aspect of the game though was when I would get caught. This is the first Amnesia game where you’re actually able to fight back. Admittedly, fighting back doesn’t do much as The Beast is immune to damage, but, a shot to the head will slow the monster down and give you time to run to the safe room. When this happens it is exhilarating. I haven’t felt a sense of relief as intense as getting into the safe room while The Beast trailed only a few feet away from me. You die in one hit. Sometimes you can get knocked over and stunned but once you’re hit, you’re dead. You can make as much noise as you want while in that safe room and nothing can happen to you. It truly is the only time you have to catch your breath.

The safe room also has a generator that you are able to fuel with gasoline you can find around the bunker. I never ran out of fuel once due to the abundance of gasoline that is in this game. I would argue that once the vast majority of lights are on, Amnesia: The Bunker loses a bit of its fear factor. I didn’t even know that the generator was something I could use for the first hour, and that was hands down the scariest chunk of the game for me. If it’s possible to do a no power playthrough, I think it’d make for a scarier experience. However, I felt like the generator was there for people like me who maybe have a tough time playing games like this due to how scared I get. I actually appreciated that playing with a ton of lights on was an option. But playing in the pitch black without any power felt so scary and so fun.

The story is told through found letters and journal entries littered throughout the bunker. Think System Shock, Bioshock, or any of the games inspired by those two. I read through every letter and listened to every audio log and was very into the story. Due to the length of Amnesia: The Bunker, I don’t want to say too much more about what the story is about. But trust me, it gets weird. Having never played the other Amnesia games, the presentation of the story had me seriously considering giving the other games in the series a try. I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve always assumed Amnesia games were all jump-scares and no substance. Amnesia: The Bunker really has me reconsidering that mindset. If the other games have as much nuance and attention to detail and sound design as this one, then I have been fooling myself.

Amnesia: The Bunker is a shocking surprise to me. I have always struggled to enjoy horror games unless they had a healthy helping of action or levity. Not once did anything in this game make me laugh or feel like a badass. I always felt scared and helpless… and yet… somehow… that’s a total plus. I really enjoyed my time with Amnesia: The Bunker. The sense of fear sometimes goes away due to the abundance of light you get from leaving the generator on. If gasoline was a little more sparse and the generator used fuel at a faster pace than we could have had a genuinely terrifying game here. I am happy that the generator was there. It made the game more accessible to a total wimp like me. But it could definitely be a major negative for someone hoping for a really scary experience. What Amnesia: The Bunker lacked in constant scares, it made up for in great pacing and an addictive gameplay loop.

It’s very easy to recommend Amnesia: The Bunker. Frictional Games did what I was trying to convince my brain to do. They were able to turn fear into fun.

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