For years I deftly evaded playing an Amnesia game for the benefit of my brain. I don't like being terrified by videogames (real life is scary enough), but a few years ago I told a friend I hadn't played The Dark Descent and he got really excited by the idea of watching me play it, so I gave in. When the lights were on, I loved the little things that still stand out about Amnesia—the analog feel of pulling doors and drawers open, the ornate puzzles, the creepy teeth clattering. But the hours spent standing in pitch-black stillness while a monster had his way with the hallway, wondering why I'd signed up to be unhappy, were so unnerving that I essentially wrote off that type of game for good.
Then I heard the newest Amnesia sequel—Amnesia: The Bunker—has a gun, and I just had to see what that's about. I've always understood the unspoken rule of Amnesia games to be a constant state of defenselessness. How can Amnesia still be Amnesia when you have the hardware to fight back?
After playing an hour-long demo of Amnesia: The Bunker during GDC 2023, I learned that, actually, you don't. The gun is more tool than weapon, and it's just one way to solve problems in The Bunker's micro open world. This is not Amnesia trying to be Resident Evil; this is Amnesia inching toward the player agency and emergent gameplay of a full-blown immersive sim.
You should also know that Amnesia: The Bunker is a smaller game than its predecessors (around 4-6 hours) and designed to be played multiple times. You're in the boots of a French WW1 soldier who can't remember the last several days. The titular bunker is the entire game world, and your only goal is to escape. My demo was a lot of fun, even if it ended in disaster. Here were my 12 big takeaways after an hour with Amnesia: The Bunker:
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The monster is always a threat
Because Amnesia: The Bunker is a largely non-linear game, its monster doesn't show up at scripted moments in the story. The creature is always around, scurrying through the bunker in its network of dirt tunnels, snarling eerily to keep you on your toes. Apparently there are several factors that make the creature more or less likely to appear, including noise and light. Creative lead Fredrik Olsson compared The Bunker's omnipresent threat to Alien: Isolation's xenomorph.
The bunker has a central hub the monster can't reach
After an introductory sequence, you find the admin office, a bastion within the bunker that you can always feel safe in (similar to typewriter rooms in Resident Evil). It has metal doors that lock, a lantern that serves as a save point, a map, a stash for extra items, and the all-important generator (more on that below). It's essentially your mission control and a pretty cozy spot.
Ammo is scarce and reloading is a process
Almost immediately you're given a nearly empty revolver. It can hold up to six bullets at a time, but ammo is so rare that I never managed to fill it up. I love how this revolver behaves: it's heavy, loud, and appropriately slow to operate. Reloading is a two-step process of holding open the chamber with one key and manually inserting bullets one at a time with another. There's also a dedicated button for holstering it because you don't really need to have it out most of the time. You won't (or at least shouldn't) be shooting things all that often.
WW1 is scary enough without hole monsters
The Bunker's brief introduction doesn't actually take place in a bunker. Instead, the game explains the basics of leaning, picking things up, and shooting the gun by making you creep through a trench in the midst of a chaotic battle. For these first few minutes, The Bunker plays more like a war game than a supernatural horror game, and yet it's just as horrific as the creepy tunnel monster stalking you in the bunker.
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Everything is easier if the generator has fuel
Probably your most important asset in The Bunker is the generator. Running the generator turns on bright lights in all the main hallways of the bunker, which seemed to more-or-less keep the monster at bay. Keeping the lights on requires fueling the generator with gas cans scattered around the map. You can optionally keep the pocket watch in your inventory to see exactly how much time is left on the generator, which is neat. I eventually got so nervous about losing light that I was checking the watch obsessively.
You check your health by looking at your hand
Another one of The Bunker's diegetic tricks: there's a dedicated button for checking your body for wounds and judging your health by how much blood is on your hand. Cool! Though you also hold your bloody hand up the whole time you're rummaging through your inventory or reading found notes, and it looks a little awkward.
Amnesia: The Bunker"
Many doors have satisfying slide locks
Almost every door I used in The Bunker had a sliding bar lock on the side. They make a really good metal-on-greased-metal sound, the same sound that makes a brand new deadbolt satisfying to bolt and unbolt. The monster can't get through a locked metal door, but Olsson told me that a locked wooden door won't stop it for long.
Shooting the monster will slow it down, but also piss it off
There's no shooting your way out of the bunker. In my hour I almost exclusively used the gun to shoot locks or blow up barrels, but you can use it for combat. Shooting the monster will stun it long enough to maybe escape its chase. Olsson warned that pissing it off will only make it more aggressive the next time you encounter it.
Amnesia: The Bunker"
The dynamo flashlight is genius
Amnesia: The Bunker ditches lanterns and oil for a handy little dynamo flashlight, a hockey puck-shaped gizmo that you charge by yanking on a string. I love this thing, partly because the light it puts out is so pathetic. At a full charge (about four or five pulls of the string, as far as I can tell) you can only see a small cone in front of you, and only for about 10 or 15 seconds. Trying to keep up a constant light is annoying, which feels like an intentional wrinkle to make sure I don't rely on it all the time. Not to mention the monster can hear you pull the string.
The Bunker plays surprisingly well on controller
I expected little Amnesia actions like pulling open drawers and doors would be weird on a controller, but it works pretty well. Analog stick movement means I get full control over how slowly I tiptoe down creepy hallways or lean around a corner to see if it's safe. Aiming the gun is a little clunky with sticks, but it's a clunkiness that feels appropriate for this kind of game.
Amnesia: The Bunker"
There's probably a smarter way to do something
Early on I encountered a locked door that needed opening, so I decided to blow it up with a frag grenade I found nearby. The door did open (well, it blew up) but the explosion also set off a tank of poisonous gas in the room and I nearly died scrambling out of there. Afterward, Olsson told me I could've just thrown something heavy at the door until it busted down. I probably couldn't just shoot it open too, but I only had two bullets left! It's cool that you can tackle problems in several ways here and I'm interested to see if the possibilities get deeper as my tool kit expands.
Randomly placed items will make walkthroughs pretty tough
I originally blew up that door with a frag grenade because I found it near the door, and therefore assumed the game was nudging me toward blowing it up. It turns out, item placements are randomized between playthroughs, so when I load up the final game I could find bullets, a stick, or even a key item like the gas mask instead. Pretty neat!