Welcome back to The Backlog, a column where we review various video games. October is the designated “spooky” month, and it would be remiss not to cover the potentially scariest game of 2023.
Any longtime horror game fans know the name “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.” This first of the series has become a staple point of the survival horror genre, and one of its defining characteristics is how even the darkness can harm the player. The fourth installment of the series came out on June 6 of this year, titled “Amnesia: The Bunker,” and was published by Frictional Games. It can be played on PS4, Windows, XBox One, Series X and S.
“Amnesia: The Bunker” follows its predecessors of having the main character wake up with a case of amnesia, where the player must survive by finding hints of the story sprinkled throughout the map. This game is different from previous ones as it doesn’t feature the defining “fear of darkness” mechanic like the others have. Also, it has a much more open-world aspect, where the player can return to explored sections of the underground bunker instead of going through the story in a linear fashion. I’d argue that this makes the game scarier, the feeling of being trapped underground with a monster that is capable of immediately finding you.
I am not a huge fan of survival games, not because they are bad but, because I jump at anything remotely scary. The atmosphere is already creepy, with flickering lights and the general ambiance. Sound design is essential to a good horror game, and “Amnesia: The Bunker” does this perfectly by equipping the player with the loudest flashlight known to man. But anyone who has played the game will know that if there’s one thing you want to do, it’s to keep the lights on.
Spoilers for “Amnesia: The Bunker” story beyond this point!
The game is set in France during WWI, where the player, Henri Clément, is a French soldier trying to escape an underground bunker while being hunted by a creature that the gaming community has dubbed “the Beast.” By searching the game’s files, however, the Beast is also referred to as “the Stalker.” I’d argue that the Beast is one of the scariest enemies, specifically because of how smart the creature is. While you cannot kill him until the end of the game, players are still able to find ways to stun or prevent the Beast from reaching them. This includes little tricks like blocking tunnels, pouring gasoline on the floor, hiding in rooms with metal doors, or shooting it with their revolver. What’s impressive is that the Beast is more than a mindless monster; it’s capable of bypassing traps the player sets up, finding alternative routes or even opening doors like a human would. Its intelligence is what makes the Beast terrifying, especially since he cannot be killed with conventional methods.
Moving on to what makes an “Amnesia” game unique is how hopeless players can feel. Frictional Games has mastered the art of “shut up and don’t move” with this installment. The Beast is attracted to any sounds, which makes being quiet a priority for Clément. Unfortunately, many necessary items are loud; shooting the pistol, for example, is a surefire way to attract him. Not to mention the flashlight that sounds like a lawnmower. While it doesn’t require fuel like the lamp in previous games, it does require the player to pull a cord repeatedly, similar to a motor. Also, it’s incredibly loud, so players must make the conscious decision to either keep the generator fueled to keep the lights on, or make do with the flashlight.
Another running theme of the franchise is that players are usually unable to defend themselves– they have to use stealth or tricks to avoid getting caught by the enemy. “Amnesia: The Bunker” does give Clément, the player, a revolver, yet its real usage should be for anything besides defense. The Beast can only be stunned by the gun, but it becomes extremely apparent as you play the game that bullets are scarce. This genius game design lets the player know that they should never be used for something as hopeless as beating the Beast. Instead, the gun should be used to solve puzzles. A good example is how some doors are locked and the locks can be broken by shooting it. Personally, I find this feature quite clever, as it forces you to be conservative with your decisions and, pun intended, not jump the gun.
There are countless other aspects that make “Amnesia: The Bunker” one of the most terrifying games of the year. The level of immersion makes you feel less like you are playing a game and more like you are trying to survive a “Saw” situation. Your limited inventory, dwindling resources, the clever Beast chasing you and the constant reminder that the Germans are knocking on your door makes this game one of the scariest experiences I’ve had.