At times, the horror genre employs monsters as metaphors for truly terrifying topics. However, scary video games often lack the same thematic ambition. While there are plenty of zombie games that focus on mindless shooting rather than deep social commentary, I find myself yearning for more intellectually stimulating horror games, ones that elicit the same sense of unease as Amnesia: The Dark Descent did in 2010.
So it comes as no surprise that the first game to meet those expectations in 2023 is another installment in the Amnesia series. Amnesia: The Bunker, developed by Frictional Games, takes an abandoned World War I bunker and transforms it into a sprawling haunted house. Although the ever-present and unkillable monster lurking in the shadows terrifies me, the true horror lies in Amnesia’s exploration of wartime PTSD – a crucial topic that many war games tend to ignore.
Hiding in the Dark
As I begin my journey in Amnesia: The Bunker, I find myself in a remarkably cinematic situation. Running through the trenches as a soldier in World War I, pistol in hand, with bombs exploding and gunfire echoing overhead, I feel as though I’ve been thrown into an action-packed sequence reminiscent of games like Battlefield 1. Although this differs from what I expected from an Amnesia game, the suffocating claustrophobia and stress of the situation still align with Frictional’s signature atmospheric horror.
This intense opening serves as a dark prelude to the more traditional Amnesia gameplay that follows. Soon after, I awaken in an eerily quiet French bunker. The stark contrast between the chaos of the previous scene and the eerie silence allows the violence I witnessed to sink in. I stumble through the darkness until I encounter another living soldier, but before I can ask him about our location, a monster devours him. Witnessing this horrific event solidifies my goal: to escape this haunting place.
Image: Frictional Games
What immediately sets The Bunker apart from previous Amnesia games is its open-ended structure. Once I find a way to release the bunker’s emergency locks, I have the freedom to explore various areas – from living quarters to an armory – in any order I choose. Scattered notes provide hints about the objectives in each area, but I can approach the Resident Evil-like puzzle box however I want. This thoughtfully designed space transforms exploration into a constant test of spatial reasoning.
Several significant twists heighten the tension. The bunker’s lighting system relies on a generator that must remain fueled at all times. If it runs out of gas, darkness envelops the structure. Although I have a flashlight to aid me during these moments, it is an old-fashioned, noisy device that needs to be revved up like a chainsaw. Unfortunately, any noise attracts the attention of the relentless monster that stalks the halls. After an hour of playing, the loop becomes ingrained within me. I replenish the generator with fuel, embark on “runs” through the bunker to gather resources before the lights go out, and make every effort to move silently. It feels like a frightening twist on SteamWorld Dig and possesses roguelike elements.
This loop creates a compelling and, at times, frustrating horror game premise. The stakes are incredibly high, as I can only save my progress by returning to a safe room located at the center of the bunker. The longer I explore, the more I risk losing everything if the monster kills me. The fear and adrenaline surge through my veins whenever the lighting grid goes dark. However, there is a downside: making meaningful progress can prove incredibly challenging. The monster is easily agitated, and once it begins its pursuit, it is nearly impossible to evade. After a while, my fear transforms into annoyance at the prospect of retracing the same route for the fourth time. This frustration is detrimental to a horror game and remains a constant threat to The Bunker.
Image: Frictional Games
Despite these occasional frustrations, The Bunker succeeds as an enthralling video game horror experience. Its scares serve a purpose beyond simple shock value. As I continue to explore, I discover notes left behind by the bunker’s soldiers. Some offer clues about the monster’s origin, while others reveal the struggles of traumatized soldiers coping with their experiences. The bunker becomes more than just a clever video game setting; it becomes a psychological prison that vividly portrays the inescapable nature of PTSD. The condition haunts these soldiers much like the ever-present monster lurking in the shadows. Every unfamiliar thump triggers anxiety, much like hearing a truck backfire and instinctively seeking cover. This concept culminates in one of the most chilling psychological horror games I’ve played in years.
If you possess the patience to navigate its aggressive risk-reward system, Amnesia: The Bunker is an experience that will linger in your thoughts. It tells a more impactful war story than any Call of Duty game, focusing less on the chaotic battles and more on the unsettling silence that follows. It’s not the monster that terrifies me, but those quiet moments between attacks when I anxiously await the next encounter.
Amnesia: The Bunker will be available on June 6 for PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.
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