2023 is shaping up to be an incredible year for horror games, with the Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 remakes in the rearview mirror, while Alan Wake 2 and Alone in the Dark are planned to launch this fall.
However, there’s one 2023 horror game that hasn’t received the credit it deserves, and it’s far scarier than anything else that has launched this year — Amnesia: The Bunker. This is a game that emphasizes dread, with a satisfying risk/reward system that makes every encounter feel meaningful. The Bunker harkens back to older Resident Evil titles while implementing its own innovative ideas, serving as one of the great — yet underrated — games of 2023.
Amnesia: The Bunker takes place during World War I, placing you in the boots of French soldier Henri Clement whose goal is to escape the bunker. In many ways, Amnesia: The Bunker feels very different from its predecessors, leaning ever-so-slightly slightly more into combat, along with the ability to explore most of the game right from the start. It also feels much more straightforward, with less of an emphasis on narrative, focusing more on gameplay.
The bunker itself is extremely dark, made even more horrifying by the deadly creature that stalks you throughout. This creature is attracted to noise, so you’re forced to be quiet as you explore and progress through the game. However, nearly everything you do is noisy, from utilizing your wind-up flashlight to breaking doors down with bricks, and even simply walking around.
But there’s also an interesting mechanic that temporarily allows you to utilize a generator to power up the bunker, lighting up rooms and opening previously inaccessible areas. While the lights are on, the creature is less likely to appear, making it slightly easier to explore. Venturing from the safe area feels like a risky endeavor, forcing you to either utilize your precious generator fuel wisely or explore in the dark — both of which come with their pros and cons.
The creature’s movement patterns, along with most of the resources you come across — such as ammo, fuel, bandages, and other crafting materials — are random, adding a refreshing layer to each run. You can’t simply memorize the game and expect to blast through it.
Likewise, you have extremely limited inventory space, which forces you to strategize and plan how to effectively use the items you come across. In many cases, it makes the most sense to explore certain areas in the dark first so you can become familiar with the layout before turning the power on (which is required to open certain doors in some cases).
While all of these mechanics may seem overwhelming and obtuse, The Bunker does a great job of giving you enough direction without completely holding your hand all the way through. For instance, the game makes it clear at first that you need to blow your way out of the bunker with dynamite, and the map in the safe room circles which rooms you need to visit to find the required items.
Once you collect all the necessary items in a room, the circle on the map disappears, which is a fantastic touch. Many similar games feel like they don’t offer enough direction, making them feel frustrating more than anything.
New in The Bunker is the ability to actually fight back, but don’t expect it to feel like Resident Evil in terms of the action. Instead, you’re given very few resources such as ammo or grenades, and these items can be used to temporarily stun the deadly creature that lurks in the shadows. Combat is more of a safety net that should still be avoided at all costs, as the creature can quickly recuperate and take you out in just two swipes or so. Still, this gives it an element of action that also alleviates the frustrations of getting caught by the creature.
There were several moments in which I’d miscalculated and ended up a few feet from the creature, with only one way out. The Bunker allows you to shoot the creature to stun it for several seconds, allowing you to quickly get to safety. It’s a nice touch that keeps things moving without making you feel like an overpowered supersoldier.
Developer Frictional Games truly accomplishes everything it sets out to do in Amnesia: The Bunker. It’s a refreshing experience that is packed with tension, and satisfying gameplay encourages you to keep moving forward. It carries over the captivating sense of atmosphere from previous entries, but adds a bit more depth to the gameplay that will hopefully stick around for future installments.