Amnesia: The Bunker is a chilling underground obstacle course of horror

By Brian Crecente

Learn. Adapt. Experiment.

These are the three pillars for surviving Frictional Games’ upcoming horror title Amnesia: The Bunker, where players will find themselves trapped in an underground World War I bunker with a nameless terror, as they try to find their way out.

Fredrik Olsson, creative lead on the game, says the game’s opening, which tells players they’re on their own and that they must learn, adapt, and experiment, is meant to let them know that they shouldn’t be afraid of trying things out.

“The game is essentially an obstacle course where almost every challenge can be tackled in multiple ways,” he said. “Players get the most out of this game not by hoarding resources, but by experimenting and finding out how to use them to their advantage. The message at the start of the game is meant to inspire players to adopt this mindset.”

Amnesia: The Bunker is the fourth title in the Amnesia series and the third developed by series creator Frictional Games. 

In The Bunker, players take on the role of French soldier Henri Clement. He finds himself alone in a desolate WWI bunker armed with a noisy dynamo flashlight, a revolver, and a single bullet.

A creature deep in the darkness of the labyrinthine bunker hunts you as you try to unravel the mystery of what happened and how to escape. The only sanctuary you find is in the light of the flickering bulbs strung along the corridors. But they’re all powered by a single, fuel-hungry generator that needs regular tending to run.

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Unlike its predecessors, this particular game isn’t as narratively driven. Instead, the developers decided to focus more on the gameplay and the player’s own experience rather than on background exposition.

That decision brings with it a lot of changes to the series.

“The most apparent change is the lack of linearity and the semi-open world design,” Olsson said. “This provides players with more freedom to plot their own course through the game. 

Another important difference is the ever-present stalking monster. This is a unique feature that hasn't been seen in any of our previous games.”

To make the experience both feel more original to each player, and increase its replayability, The Bunker also has a wide range of tools and an open-ended approach to overcoming obstacles. And among those tools are weapons.

“The ability to somewhat defend yourself is a bit of a throwback, as our very first game, Penumbra: Overture, actually had a few weapons,” Olsson said. “It is much more of a crucial part of The Bunker, though, and adds an extra layer of complexity and strategy to the gameplay.”

It’s important to note, Olsson added, that introducing weapons to the series wasn’t really about adding the ability to fight.

“We view them as tools with multiple uses,” he said. “For instance, grenades can be used to destroy wooden doors, while bullets can break padlocks or ignite explosive barrels. Our aim is to challenge players to make strategic decisions on when and how to use these resources.”

Perhaps the biggest addition to the game is its multi-faceted use of randomization. The semi open-world of The Bunker includes a number of randomized elements.

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“Once we settled on the core features of the game, such as the dynamic monster and hub-focused semi-open world, it became apparent that incorporating various randomized elements would enhance the player experience even further,” Olsson said. “Randomization adds a great deal of variety and replayability as it generates different setups and possibilities each time you play. It also encourages players to be creative with the tools at their disposal—a core part of the experience. We never want players to feel like they are on a linear path. Instead, we strive to constantly provide novel challenges, even on subsequent playthroughs. The game works best when each playthrough is and feels different.

“Because of this, we made sure to randomize the placement of nearly all resources, codes for the keypads, and some of the game's most crucial items. We also implemented randomized traps; the location and types of traps are randomized with each new game.”

That randomization even extends to the solutions for the game’s many puzzles, which the team believes adds an extra layer of challenge, unpredictability, and tension to the game.

“I've personally played through the game from start to finish at various stages of development more than 50 times, and I still find it highly enjoyable,” Olsson said.

While the changes players may first notice when they start the game is what has been added—like weapons, randomization, and an open-world design—what the team removed from the series is perhaps just as impactful.

That includes getting rid of the traditional user-interface elements like a health meter or ammo counter that can fill up the edges of the screen. Olsson said they decided to remove them to enhance the sense of being in the underground bunker and increase tension.

“For instance, the revolver’s clunkiness and long reload times suit this type of horror really well,” he said. “Loading that last bullet creates a strong sense of urgency, adding an extra layer of stress to already harrowing situations.”

The team also removed the Sanity and Fear levels found in previous Amnesia games, both of which were designed as tools to make the player fear the darkness in the game. But, Olsson said, they were also deeply tied to the narrative nature of those games, something that The Bunker is moving away from.

“In Amnesia: The Bunker, we set out to try something more tangible,” he said. “We wanted to create a system that would have a direct and straightforward effect on the game's core mechanics, while still emphasizing the importance of light and darkness that is fundamental to the Amnesia franchise. To achieve this, we added a generator that powers the entire bunker. If players fail to keep the generator fueled and running, they will find themselves plunged into pitch-black darkness, with a more active and dangerous monster to contend with.”

That generator that powers the lights in the bunker is a key element of the game and a main source of its tension.

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“Players are constantly aware that time is running out as the generator's fuel is steadily decreasing,” Olsson said. “The last thing they want is to be stranded in complete darkness with the monster emerging from hiding. This gives the player a constantly looming threat and ups the tension.

“At times, players will find themselves in situations where they are cornered and forced to hide and wait. These moments are even more nerve-wracking when players know that they need to move quickly in order to avoid wasting time and fuel.”

That idea of allowing players to scare themselves is one of several design philosophies that help empower both the series and this latest entry, Olsson said.

“We have always tried to leave a lot of room for players to imagine all sorts of things and thereby make the experience scarier,” he said. “In The Bunker, we tie this approach tighter to the gameplay. For instance, it is crucial for the player to listen carefully in order to know where the monster is currently hiding. This puts a lot of pressure on hearing the faintest of sounds, making players quite paranoid There is always this chance for players to misjudge what is happening. All of this adds to the player's imagination and allows them to conjure up a lot of the horror themselves.”

You can pick up wishlist Amnesia: The Bunker now on Epic Games Store. It’s expected to hit on June 6.