Amnesia: The Bunker (Xbox Series) Review

Oh, rats!

After a decade of drifting away from and then back towards its survival-horror roots, Amnesia: The Bunker brings Frictional Games’ long-running IP full circle with a systems-heavy experience closer to 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent or their original Penumbra trilogy.

It’s still very much a modern Amnesia game when it comes to the shared universe, narrative themes, oppressive atmosphere, and visual design – for better and sometimes worse – but it has a less-forgiving structure that prioritises gameplay mechanics over narrative and spectacle.

Did I miss something?!

Amnesia: The Bunker is easy to enjoy as a standalone experience but – if you’ve not played the prior games or miss too many notes hidden in the gloom – it’s entirely possible to reach the end with little understanding of what you just survived.

Aside from an awkward but mercifully brief opening sequence that introduces the World War I setting and the bond between protagonist Henri Clement and Augustin Lambert, Amnesia: The Bunker begins as every game in the series has: Henri is suffering from short-term amnesia after an artillery strike, he was guilt-ridden about an event that almost took the life of his friend, and he probably did something terrible in an attempt to save him.

Thankfully, Amnesia: The Bunker still has an interesting story to tell despite the familiar premise and a few reveals that existing fans of the IP will figure out well in advance.

Amnesia: The Bunker The Beast

A terrifying early encounter reveals your situation and basic goals: cowardly officers blew up the bunker exit to seal a monstrous creature within; there’s enough dynamite in the arsenal to clear the rubble; and a detonator might be found in the excavations of ancient ruins the soldiers were trying to use to circumvent German lines.

Simply getting out of the bunker is more than enough motivation to push forward, but it’s incredibly satisfying to piece together past events as you stumble across the bodies of Henri’s former compatriots, take in bits of environmental storytelling, and sift through dozens of notes describing events that lead up to the emergence of the beast and doomed attempts of those that tried to stop it.

My biggest issue is that while several important notes are found in the same spot as critical tools – including a handful of narrated entries from Henri and Augustin – everything else is optional and the three potential ending sequences are brisk and ambiguous. Even with a distinctive shimmer, it’s easy to miss many documents scattered throughout the environment, especially when exploring under duress. It’s a shame as the writing is excellent, many notes provide much-needed context, and the gradual descent of the bunker into a state of paranoia and fear makes for unsettling reading that enhances the atmosphere.

Amnesia: The Bunker Notes

Alien Amnesia Isolation

To Amnesia: The Bunker’s credit, the dynamic gameplay loop is engaging enough that it doesn’t need a strong narrative thread. Your path is littered with obstacles – both man-made and monstrous – and simply surviving each excursion is a thrill.

Many Amnesia basics return intact or refined. You’ll still spend your time creeping around in the dark, simultaneously terrified of what could be lurking just out of sight but comforted by your reduced visibility. You’ll methodically rummage through the environment for notes, key items, ammunition, and crafting supplies. You’ll feel rising panic as you awkwardly use the mouse or thumbstick to manually open and shut doors; engage latches and light switches; remove vent covers or planks; and drag around heavy objects to open or block a path.

Amnesia: The Bunker Complete Map

Where Amnesia: The Bunker differentiates itself from its predecessors is its less linear structure. You swiftly discover a central “safe” room with access to a generator, storage chest, and the only manual save point – well, almost the only one – from which you’ll need to push out into five discrete sections of the titular bunker on the hunt for the clues and tools you need to escape.

It feels like an evolution of the small hub areas found in Amnesia: The Dark Descent and lends itself to a methodical yet unpredictable and high-stakes gameplay loop that – given the behaviour of the beast that stalks you and tool-based progression – owes more than a little to the excellent Alien Isolation.

Maintaining a fuel stockpile and running the generator whenever you can becomes a core mechanic as power means light, which not only keeps the beast scuttling through the vents until you make significant noise – like shooting a padlock or blowing up a barrier – but also limits the amount of time it’ll spend patrolling and allows you to activate several devices needed to progress.

As a result, you’ll want to fill the tank as much as possible and carry the stopwatch to keep track of time; move cautiously to avoid noisy traps set by Henri’s fallen comrades, giant rats looking for corpses, and the monstrous beast that can kill you instantly; open shortcuts between objectives and the central bunker; and constantly scavenge for more fuel and supplies to ensure you’re prepared for the next excursion.

At this point, it’s worth noting Amnesia: The Bunker lacks the dynamic difficulty feature of its predecessors, but it’s not without standard difficulty modifiers, modern niceties, and streamlined elements to make death less frustrating.

There’s no discrete sanity meter to worry about; your dynamo flashlight is loud but always offers 15 seconds of pitiful light before needing a crank; documents pertaining to your current goals are flagged in Henri’s journal; door and locker codes are automatically recorded; significant locations are automatically circled on maps found throughout the bunker; and there are no penalties for cautious players that want to backtrack and save after completing any minor task.

What I enjoyed most – and this was something I only appreciated in a second playthrough – was the randomised item placement, codes, and puzzle elements, coupled with multiple solutions to circumventing barriers, dealing with packs of damnable rats, or driving off the beast.

A handful of tools are used to control progression, but many obstacles can be circumvented by finding vents, stacking crates, or simply blowing them apart. Bodies can be burnt and rat holes blocked up – ideally with explosive barrels – to prevent giant rats from congregating, but you can also use the simple crafting system to strap a rag to a stick to drive them off with a torch or maybe lure them into a trap with a hunk of meat. When it comes to the beast, keeping the lights on and staying silent is optimal, but going on the offensive with the revolver and shotgun, or by tossing a grenade into a hole you can hear it lurking in, still buys you a decent chunk of time to explore and complete objectives without risk.

Video game logic can rear its ugly head at times – like how you can squeeze beneath a bunk bed to hide yet not between similarly-sized shelves to avoid an obvious maze-like trap – but Amnesia: The Bunker facilitates most choices and, at least on easy and normal difficulties, ensures resource constraints won’t scupper a playthrough. Even if an outing has gone south and you burn through resources scrambling back to the safe room, you can go on low-risk supply runs to prior areas, while the dog-tag codes you recover to unlock supply lockers close to the safe room.

Beauty and the Beast?

As a lower-priced indie game, it’s easier to forgive their ageing HPL Engine with its rough textures, basic anti-aliasing, wonky physics, and simplistic animations, as Amnesia: The Bunker impresses where it matters most in this genre: lighting, audio, and the atmosphere that generates.

You feel completely alone in the bunker despite the distant sounds of gunfire, earth-shaking artillery strikes, and a few tantalising glimpses of sunlight to remind you it’s in an active warzone. Complete darkness is almost unnavigable and your flashlight barely penetrates more than a meter or two ahead of you. In contrast, harsh sunlight, the glare of electric lights, and radiant fires bring with them sudden clarity – but also the terrifying sensation of being visible and exposed.

The music is mostly subdued and moody outside of a few key moments, but the creepy ambience and directional audio are excellent, allowing you to track the movement of the beast through the vents or by its thumping footfalls when it stalks the halls. Not since Alien Isolation have I been so terrified by every distant sound.

Overall, it’s an impressive package that runs well and, aside from a few rough edges, manages to generate an everpresent fear of death both above and below ground.

Oh, rats!

Ultimately, Amnesia: The Bunker is an impressive return to form, even if the scope and scale feel reigned in when compared to games like SOMA and Amnesia: Rebirth.

There’s a well-written and horrifying tale that you need to work for if you want to understand it all; there’s an almost immersive-sim-like approach to level design and progression mechanics; and there’s a stalking beast that demonstrates a fine balance of predictable and random behaviours, allowing for high-stakes gameplay without being too frustrating.

If you’re a fan of the more mechanics-focussed Amnesia games, first-person stealth-focussed horror, or a depressed Alien Isolation fan still hoping for a sequel, Amnesia: The Bunker is easy to recommend.

Amnesia: The Bunker was reviewed on Xbox Series consoles using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One, PS4/5, and PC.

Amnesia: The Bunker (Xbox Series) Review

Amnesia: The Bunker (Xbox Series) Review
9 10 0 1
9/10
Total Score

The Good

  • A return to classic survival-horror mechanics and environmental interactivity
  • A plethora of weapons and tools to facilitate exploration or fend off the beast
  • Exploring against the clock adds tension but rarely limits progression
  • Dynamic AI coupled with randomised item placement and puzzle solutions encourage replays
  • A must-play for Alien Isolation fans

The Bad

  • It's easy to miss out on a lot of narrative details
  • Not all logical actions are accounted for
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