Amnesia: the Bunker Spiel

Amnesia has finally ran out of excuses it gives the protagonist why you are in the middle of nowhere. With all the reasons the franchise has thrown at us thus far, the Bunker throws us possibly the most realistic, yet the most boring, reason why you are stuck underground: you are there because you were sent there.

Amnesia series, time and time again, had failed to incorporate the symptom “amnesia” into the plot development without exhaustive world building. In the first game, Daniel fell to amnesia in his own hand with an alchemical potion. The Dark Descent delivered the delicious irony of Daniel’s circumstances through his amnesia, uncontrolled forgetfulness, which was completely controlled. Then sequels took a nose dive after having already built the world, going as far as ‘I had a terrible fever, now I can’t remember’. Both A Machine for Pigs and Rebirth abandoned any hopes of recouping amnesia in its plot lines, only that some mystic forces decided it so. Amnesia: the Bunker falls under the later category despite its best effort to stay away from the mistakes of its predecessors. You awake as a guilt-ridden wounded soldier, now an amnesiac. How terribly convenient.

The Bunker largely abandons most of Amnesia franchise formula: sanity system, lack of meaningful weapons, fuel-hungry light source, hiding mechanism, fragile doors that hold off monsters for few seconds, and few more. In its place, the game borrows proven systems that are, for the lack of better word, not so original and tedious at best. You know a game is more Resident Evil than existential-horror when crafting a bottle of Molotov is your daily routine. What’s truly unfortunate in the Bunker is that it shows the classic formula has not aged well. Throwable objects in Amnesia games had its moments in horror, but much less so when a simple gun can get a job done, yet throwable grenades cannot due to wanky aiming.

The Bunker tries to justify the sense of horror by saying the Beast cannot be slain and will simply return few minutes afterward. It was in the classic formula to face a formidable foe, but the game seems to have miss the memo on “formidable”. Harry and Marv came back every few minutes in Home Alone, but who in the right mind would claim the Christmas classic is secretly a Lovecraftian gore fest? With all the traps already in place, more ammunitions always around the corner, the only thing missing to become a proper ‘Bunker Alone’ is the ability to craft more traps. And credits where credits’ due, the Bunker does let you stack gas canisters and exploding barrels, a make-shift traps in Amnesia fashion.

Set in one of WWI front lines, the Bunker chooses to distance itself from rest of the series. Two previous games were set around the World Wars, or an idea of industrialized massacre like in the original The Dark Descent. This setting was frequently a plot device to prove the profound sense of guilt behind the amnesiac protagonists weren’t some fever dreams. Because they were responsible, perhaps not entirely, but definitely non-zero, it drove them to the way of madness. However, the experience in the Bunker in the hands of Henri Clément fails to make ‘sticky persuasion’ like the predecessors did. It’s a war time, and he’s in a trench. How many players would be so unsympathetic enough to hold him, in any degrees, responsible? He is certainly not an archeologist and shows no signs of education in the manner of magic nor alchemy.

What’s even more bizarre is that you are never truly alone. Not that I wish to put the Beast on the friend list, but there are other characters, alive and well, who are supporting you throughout the game. The sense of camaraderie is one of the plot elements that gets Henri out of this pickle. So you have friends outside the bunker, waiting for your return. And there are German soldiers, all armed to the teeth, who will undoubtedly prioritize shredding the unholy Beast first. To put this into perspective, the Bunker Alone has a squadron of “Old Man” Marley on standby; if he was scary and unfriendly before, think again, because he will wank that beast in the head as a good neighbor.

Also, I played PS4 version of the Bunker on PS5; an odd choice for Frictional not to support the latest Playstation on the market. Deliberate or not, this decision really backfired on overall horror-vibe in my playthrough. Current generation consoles are famous for adopting loading-free systems, and PS4 version can’t take advantage of it. Every time I was rushing through staircases and long corridors, —yes, the mandatory loading areas— the game would stutter and lag behind. And god forbid, if I fail to save after entering a new area section for the first time. The segment of the bunker seems to generate only on the first entry and will regenerate item and trap layouts again. I wager there are plenty of rooms for optimizations to support more coherent experience.

Coclusion: less Amnesia: the Bunker, more Home Alone: Lost in Bunker

All the in-game lores and Lovecraftian madness aside, the Bunker is not a good horror game. It generally lacks the elements of horror, and it is especially lacking the classic Amnesia flavor I wanted. You may be powerless in front of overwhelming foes and supernatural phenomena, but that clearly doesn’t stop you from facing them. With a molotov in one hand, trusty brick in the other, you could be that hero whom young Leon Kennedy of RCPD looked up to in the future.

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