Amnesia: The Bunker (PC)

[ad_1]

If you’ve happened to stumble upon my prior writings on Alien: Isolation and Metroid Dread, you may recall that I have a fondness for unkillable horrors chasing after me. Maybe it’s a taste for that type of horror, or maybe it’s just a repressed desire to be considered important enough to have someone wanting to be around me at every waking moment. Whatever the case, it’s a rather niche portion of the horror genre, as probably evidenced by the fact that I had to cite a Metroid game as one of the only notable recent examples of this mechanic.

Luckily for me, Frictional Games has decided to switch gears from its usual offerings and pander to my particular tastes with Amnesia: The Bunker. The Bunker leans away from the puzzle-solving and narrative focuses of previous titles and instead switches to a more mechanically focused experience, revolving heavily around forcing the player to recall information and make snap decisions under pressure all while fleeing from a big sausage monster that wants nothing more in life than to eat your head.

The plot, then. We play as a soldier who gets injured during a conflict in World War I and slips into a coma. Upon finally waking up, we find ourselves trapped in an underground bunker and confronted with two terrifying realities; the second more horrifying than the first. One, there’s an unkillable monster on the loose that’s slaughtered nearly everyone in the area, and two, we’re French. With no one else alive, we’re left to try and escape on our own. The aforementioned monster would really prefer we didn’t, however, which sets up the dilemma for the game: trying to escape while also not having your face bitten off. Not exactly complex as backstory goes, but who needs lore when we can have face biting instead.


The gameplay, on the surface, is pretty simple. After a quick introduction where we get a flashlight and pistol, we’re set free to start exploring the bunker. Progress is made by discovering items and codes that unlock new areas. Puzzles are simple, especially compared to prior titles, and mostly just involve exploring until you find a code or object to open up a new pathway. At times it feels a bit like trying to find a bunch of items from a grocery list at a supermarket, albeit a very dark and poorly maintained supermarket.

But that is, of course, not the end of it. The gameplay isn’t really just about performing a laundry list of tasks; it’s about doing so while avoiding the monster. Like the Xenomorph and EMMI before it, The Bunker’s monster has a dynamic AI that organically reacts to noises and environmental cues, like sprinting, throwing flares, and firing your gun. If it catches you, it’ll kill you instantly. Unlike its predecessors, however, you start off with far more tools to repel it. For starters, it hates light, and the refuelable generator allows you to effectively get a head start when exploring. And while bullets are scarce, your gun or a well thrown grenade can send it scurrying back into the darkness if you find it in pursuit. It’s also (relatively) slow, compared with the aforementioned “stalker” enemies that were at least as fast, if not faster, than the player. This means that, if all else fails (or if you just want to save ammo), you can always run and attempt to lose it.

This brings us to what I think will be the big divide of opinions with this entry, because what you’re looking for in a stalker enemy will probably dictate what kind of experience you have. If you’re looking for an enemy that will ruthlessly hunt you down and really make you sweat as you navigate the environment, this isn’t it (at least on normal, and the game doesn’t let you switch difficulties mid playthrough). However, if you’re looking for something that creates more of a pure psychological horror experience, then this will likely be right up your alley. The somewhat ironic element of horror fail-states is that dying makes a game less “scary,” as it were, because you’ve already seen the worst it can throw at you. The Bunker’s monster is far less of a threat from a mechanical standpoint than its contemporaries, but that means you’ll die far less frequently, which in turn preserves some of the mystique and fear that comes from it. Dying is scary largely because it’s an unknown, but if you’ve experienced that unknown, it loses that element of terror.

Having said that, I at least personally prefer the former, because while the latter may be more “horrifying,” it only takes one or two deaths for the monster to have effectively exhausted the psychological hold it can have over you. After dying a couple of times to the monster in the first half of the game (once from what I’m pretty sure was a blatant teleport on its part), it had effectively lost that terror, and at that point the only I fear left was from a mechanical standpoint. Since it’s far less threatening mechanically compared with other, similar antagonists, the latter half of the game wound up being much less scary compared to the first. 


Don’t get me wrong – the first hour or so of the game is absolutely terrifying. Navigating an unfamiliar environment, with a constant ticking clock counting down until the lights go off and the monster lets out a horrific shriek is an experience that will pose a genuine threat to anyone’s pants. But after a couple of fail-states, or even just close calls, you start to learn the ins and outs of this thing, and familiarity makes even the scariest things mundane. Unless you make a loud noise (which, in fairness, isn’t as easy to avoid doing as it sounds), the monster will usually “attack” by hiding in one of several obvious holes in the wall, and make very loud breathing noises when you get close, providing a big fat indication to turn around and go another way. Even if you do walk past it, it won’t kill you immediately, instead slowly crawling out and screaming very loudly in case you somehow missed the first ten thousand indicators before giving chase in rather lukewarm pursuit. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there’s a late game segment that basically involves performing tasks while the monster constantly chases you, and the sheer absurdity of watching an eldritch horror lumber around trying to catch me as I jogged from one interactable to the next just made the whole thing laughable.

So by itself, the monster isn’t too much of a threat. In fact, if it were just you and the monster, the game would be a pretty leisurely affair. The real challenge stems from navigating the bunker while not drawing its attention. Even while the generator is still running and the lights are on, loud noises will bring the monster right to your location. There are all sorts of things designed to either make noise or be very difficult to deal with without creating too much racket. Booby traps litter the bunker, and sometimes can’t be seen until it’s too late. While you do get a very generous window from when the trap is sprung until the time it explodes to vacate the area and avoid damage, once you trip that wire, the explosion is assured and the monster will be coming.

Rats are the second, and much bigger issue, because while you can navigate around booby traps with enough care (or just book it before the monster arrives after an explosion), rats often cannot be avoided so easily. They’ll sit right where you need to go, and if you try to bypass them without killing them, they’ll nibble your shins and cause you to start bleeding. This is where things get really problematic, because bleeding will draw both rats and the monster to your position. You can heal yourself, but healing items are limited, so sooner or later you’ll need to dispose of the rats, and that requires noise, at least unless you stumble upon some optional late game items.

If you fail to refuel the generator after a while, two things happen. First, and perhaps most obviously, it gets very dark. You have a flashlight that you can manually charge, but it loses battery very quickly and makes a ton of noise while charging, so unless you want to get your face eaten you’ll usually be operating without much visibility. There’s a map, but it’s only visible from your main hub room, so any time you leave you’ll be navigating purely on memory and landmarks, the latter being very difficult to spot when you can barely see two feet in front of your face. I’m not a fan of this decision; I understand the desire to pursue a more grounded experience by not letting the player freeze time at any point and magically see their location like in most games, but the opposite extreme winds up making navigating to distant areas more annoying than immersion building. Surely, at the very least, our character should be capable of taking that paper map with them and pulling it out to see what turn to make next, even if we don’t get a magic cursor telling us our present location. 

I suppose the solution to this is just learning the layout of the rooms better, but familiarity with environments comes largely from spending time in them and, well, actually being able to see things. And because of The Bunker’s structure, those two things are in conflict. The longer you spend in one area, the less time you’ll have to see other areas before the generator runs out of fuel and things go dark (to say nothing of the greater danger that sticking around for too long presents). You could, theoretically, spend a bunch of time reloading saves and running through areas to get more familiar with them, and given that the game doesn’t seem to randomize the codes within the same playthrough, that might even be an optimal strategy for people wanting to avoid the monster outright, but that just feels self defeating to the entire purpose of playing a horror title.

The second, and less obvious element, is that the monster starts to roam the hallways organically, and this is when the game really can get terrifying. Navigating a pitch black environment isn’t exactly cheery in the first place, and the prospect of running into something that looks like the spawn of Mark Zuckerberg and the Slenderman doesn’t do much to lighten the mood.  That being said, at least on normal, you probably won’t struggle with having the lights off for too long. Fuel supplies are pretty generous, and as long as you’re being diligent about taking them back and refilling the generator, this isn’t a major concern. As best I can tell, the monster is confined to his holes when the lights are on, so on normal, at least, you shouldn’t feel too concerned either with navigation or getting eaten.

I’m a bit iffy on this, because while it’s good to reward the player for being diligent about collecting stuff, it should never get too easy, and by about the halfway point (which, probably not so coincidentally, was the last time I died) I had access to enough fuel that the lights never ran out again. At that point all I had to worry about was watching the holes in the wall and hiding when a noise came up. So while I applaud the developers for certainly making collecting fuel worth your time, I feel like it becomes too much of an advantage and basically turns the central premise from being a claustrophobic game of cat and mouse where the monster could surprise me, to one where I got to pick and choose when to interact with the monster on my own terms. By the end, the monster was only showing up when I intentionally made noise to get his attention in the hopes of breaking a wooden barrier that would otherwise require me to use limited resources. When the primary threat of a horror title has become my personal attack dog more frequently than an overarching menace to me, it’s stopped being horror altogether.

Another area that I’m a bit mixed about is the game’s use (or perhaps overuse) of its physics engine. Frictional has been using the same physics engine ever since Dark Descent, and while The Bunker heavily scales back the physics-based puzzles, there are still some clever uses for it here. For example, if you realize you’re going to have to make a lot of noise to get past an area and there’s one of the many designated monster entry/exit holes in the wall nearby, you can stack random objects in front of it to barricade it and delay him by an extra second or two. The monster’s AI works logically with objects moved around as well. If you just try to hide by crouching under a table, you’ll likely be spotted, especially on hard where the monster seems more aware. However, if you grab a couple of barrels or pieces of stone and create an impromptu wall, you suddenly have a much more foolproof hiding spot. Ingenuity and planning is rewarded here, and building/remembering where good hiding spots are can go a long way towards saving your life if you find yourself needing to duck into a room to escape the monster.


That being said, I’m less a fan of the physics being used for more mundane tasks. Having to finagle around with a clumsy mouse cursor while every second spent in the open risks death and the potential loss of 10-15 minutes of progress is the point where solid anxiety-based gameplay starts to drift into annoyance. I want to stress this isn’t inherently a complaint about the slowness of actions. I understand the rationale behind the pacing of certain movements. Forcing a lengthy, manual reload of the pistol, for example, makes it much more important to never be caught unprepared. However, many elements just feel needlessly tedious and cumbersome. Forcing you to open a cabinet by grabbing the latch with the mouse and then moving it up and to the side is perhaps more “realistic”, in the sense that your movement more closely mimics what it would be like in real life, but whatever immersion is possibly gained from performing that motion is lost because trying to recreate a movement like that with a mouse cursor is incredibly clunky and far slower than it would be in real life. 

I’m reminded of early Wii titles that shoehorned in motion control gimmicks everywhere to show off that you could flip a switch by waving your arm around or something, and it was just as unwieldy then too. When you’re under pressure to do something quickly, watching an action fail because of the finicky nature of the mouse is where it all officially becomes not worth implementing. Just let the player press a button to perform contextual actions, and if it needs to be something that takes a while, make them hold it down for longer. 

That being said, it’s a very minor issue at most. What’s not so minor are the technical problems. The game consistently struggles with screen tearing and major framerate drops, even with performance friendly options on and a much more powerful computer than the recommended specs call for. It also struggles to load certain areas seamlessly, especially if you’re sprinting, and there are few things that more effortlessly destroy the tension of fleeing for your life from an unkillable monster than seeing the game freeze for a couple of seconds with a big fat loading symbol in the bottom right corner. And, to top it all off, The Bunker is prone to crashing occasionally, which would be annoying in any release, but is an especially egregious issue in one that only allows manual saves. I understand it’s a budget release, but I don’t recall any of Frictional’s prior titles having these issues, and it’s a notable problem for one that lives or dies on keeping the player immersed in the experience.

Before wrapping up, I do want to address the prospect of replayability, because The Bunker is a short (around 4 hours) yet more mechanically complex title that encourages repeat playthroughs, at least compared to its Amnesia brethren. There are a few extra difficulty modes: a hard mode, which I tried, and a secret extra hard and custom modes, which are in the game’s files but can’t be accessed without editing some code. The default hard mode, at least, is much more challenging; the generator runs out significantly quicker and the monster seems prone to organically stalk the hallways rather than just staying in his hidey holes until you pass by or make a noise. You have to have a very good sense of where you’re going and what the environment looks like, as you’ll be doing almost everything in the dark, and the monster is much more of an organic threat rather than just a punishment for bad observation or noise making.


There are pros and cons to this as well. I do think the greater level of freedom and imposingness the monster has on hard makes it far more interesting to interact with, and makes navigating the bunker much more tense, as the monster can pop up at any time and throw a wrench into your plans. It also makes some of the more positive elements of the physics engine really shine, as making your hiding places ahead of time is much more useful when you’re more likely to consistently use them, rather than just being able to keep the monster stuck in the wall all the time like you can in normal. On the flipside, spending some 80% of any game in darkness is simply not an incredibly visually interesting experience, and I’ll admit that after a crash lost half an hour of progress I just gave up on completing a second playthrough on hard because the prospect of re-doing all of that work in the dark felt very unappealing.

The reason I brought up the hidden difficulties not in the game yet is that, I suspect, when they do get added that customization will present the “ideal” way to play The Bunker, with say a more active/organic monster that shows up when lights are on, but lights that stay on for longer and let you actually see the environments. Of course, with the option not being available yet, I’m not factoring this into the review score, but if you happen to be reading this several months down the line after the extra difficulties have presumably been patched in, consider trying some custom options or maybe even some mods that improve visibility (fiddling with the default gamma settings looks terrible at the time of writing) – I think you might find the sweetspot of difficulty there.

The best way I think I can describe The Bunker is that it is an exceptional proof of concept. There’s immense potential here, and the first couple of hours or so are genuinely great horror, but the game doesn’t have enough tricks up its sleeve to maintain momentum. Once you get a grip on your surroundings and a decent handle on mechanics, a good horror title needs to inject something to keep things interesting. Metroid Dread’s EMMI would gain new abilities to threaten the player with, while Alien: Isolation’s Xenomorph had one of the most complex gaming AIs ever created, which allowed it to anticipate player actions based on what the player had done previously. Both of these serve a purpose: they keep the player from ever getting too comfortable. While it would probably be unreasonable to expect a lower budget title like The Bunker to have something as complex as the Xenomorph’s AI, the lack of any sort of twist means that the game is effectively over after the two or so hour mark, bar a couple more hours of running around and fetching keys/codes. I really hope Frictional revisits this idea in the future here, because the first half shows the potential for one of the best horror titles ever made, but as it stands currently the second half is just too comfy to call unquestionably good. It’s a very intriguing title, one that I’d even probably recommend for how rare these types of games are in the first place, but missing a few crucial pieces to complete the puzzle.

 

 
You will probably like Amnesia: The Bunker if: You liked Alien Isolation or other games with an overarching stalking entity. Bonus points if you either A: really like slowly repelling that entity by becoming more capable (play on normal) or B: don’t mind spending a lot of time in the dark (hard).

You might like Amnesia: The Bunker if: You enjoyed prior Amnesia entries. It’s got some similarities, but plays very differently.

You will probably not like Amnesia: The Bunker if: You don’t enjoy very hands-off game design in horror titles, and prefer a much more linear progression structure that makes it harder to get lost.

Full Article – https://www.vgchartz.com/article/457560/amnesia-the-bunker-pc/

[ad_2]

Read More

Previous post Dicefolk is like a Pokémon roguelike with dice, and it’s got a new demo
Next post The truth about how often you should wash your hair