Frictional’s Amnesia The Bunker is not the game you think it is. Yes, like previous entries it’s a slow-paced survival horror game with a heavy focus on lighting, but there’s so much more to this experience. I had a chance to play the new entry in the Amnesia series at GDC in San Francisco and chat with creative lead Fredrik Olsson. Part Amnesia, part Alien Isolation, part Resident Evil, and part immersive sim, if you’re already excited for the upcoming Amnesia The Bunker release date then strap in, as this is one hell of a ride.
The latest entry in the horror saga still oozes that famous (or infamous?) Amnesia DNA. There’s a massive focus on lighting, with a handheld crank lamp and a generator that powers all the lights in the bunker, and the heavy controls and physics are still a core part of the experience.
This time, though, you’re not railroaded down a specific narrative; you’re given some equipment and locked in a bunker with a loud, quick, and petrifying monster, and left with a single goal: escape.
By the time my hour-long preview finished in that dark hotel room, with Olosson watching my gameplay in the other room, my neck was aching and I was supremely tense, but all I wanted to do was play Amnesia The Bunker again. And again. And again.
Everything about Amnesia The Bunker is slow. It takes an age of loud whirring noises to get your infinitely reusable lamp to work, you need to manually check the revolver cylinder for ammo (of which you’ll rarely have a full stock), and moving any object in the world, especially doors, feels like moving a mountain. This might sound frustrating, but believe me, it makes Amnesia The Bunker a truly immersive experience.
You’re immediately pulled into the World War I-era bunker and all the tools at your disposal, from generator fuel to cloth, can be used in unique ways if you think outside the box. Instead of fuelling the generator you can pour it on the ground and shoot it to make fire. Instead of using cloth for bandages, you can find more tools and make a torch. You’re constantly in this cat-and-mouse game not just with the ever-present monster, but your knowledge of the game’s systems and the map itself. If that sounds an awful lot like an immersive sim, that’s a deliberate decision.
Regarding the bunker’s map, I was shocked when I asked Olosson if there were more safe rooms, save points, generators, and wall maps to be found in Amnesia The Bunker. There aren’t.
At first, I thought this was weird, but I quickly realised that Olosson wants you to know the bunker’s map like the back of your hand: remembering which doors you’ve blocked, which signs lead where, where traps and resources are, and most importantly, how to get around the monster.
The safe room, smaller but open map, and limited inventory space instantly made me think of Resident Evil, and Olosson isn’t resistant to the comparison. Frictional Games has deliberately made Amnesia The Bunker a more player-driven experience, reliant on systems that let the player form their own stories during play. It feels a lot like Capcom’s flagship horror series.
So why have I also compared Amnesia The Bunker to Alien Isolation? It’s simple: the monster is also a wrecking ball with some of the most terrifying sound design ever committed to your ears. The pacing of its colossal footsteps, scratching as it goes through the walls, and heavy breathing when it’s right outside a door are all so well done that I genuinely had to stop for a breather, just to collect myself.
The monster is ever-present, and its threat weighs heavy on you even when you can only hear it, but what about when it actually appears? Well, you’ll be glad to know that even if you make the worst decision possible – hide in a one-door room with the monster right outside – you can still get away if you’re smart enough. Turn off your lamp, load your three bullets into your revolver, and slowly open the door. You might just be able to do enough damage to scare the monster off. For a time.
Olosson says that, although Frictional Games wants to give the tools to handle moments like this (and when you face the giant rats, oh no), you may be able to use the environment, craft different items, or maybe even sneak around the monster the old-fashioned way, if you’re smart enough.
Amnesia The Bunker is a game with a highly oppressive atmosphere. It channels elements of classic fixed-camera survival horror and immersive sims while combining them with series staples to make you feel constantly unsafe. In turn, this helps you understand its interacting systems, map layout, and horror dynamics to such a degree that you could return to it blindfolded.
Once you get to the end, you’ll be free to pump up the difficulty to a hard mode where resources are more scarce, and you’ll even unlock custom difficult changes to really tailor the experience to your liking.
You don’t have to wait long either, as Amnesia The Bunker comes to PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store on May 16 – when Frictional Games will also move onto its next project, whatever that may be. In the meantime we’ve got the best war games and best stealth games to keep you busy.