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Amnesia: The Bunker Might Be This Year’s Scariest Horror Game

I’ve played horror games completely drenched in blood this year—nasty games with bombs and meat grinders rendered in high fidelity detail, but none have made me scream until the more straightforward Amnesia: The Bunker.

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Previously, I had only ever peeked over friends’ shoulders as they played the other three installments of Swedish indie studio Frictional Games’ legendary Amnesia psychological horror series. Though 2020’s low-scare Rebirth lost much of the original Dark Descent’s momentum, I was still looking forward to what I decided in elementary school was the definitive horror game experience. The Bunker (out on June 6) is a welcome about-face, and it proves me right. It pares back the series’ story and mechanics and leaves only the taut muscle, creating this year’s finest example of prowling, permeating, cheek-burning horror, so long as its occasional clunkiness doesn’t get in the way.

Read More: Amnesia Changed Horror Games. The Next One, Which Goes Open World, Could Do It Again

Like other Amnesia games, it puts you in the first-person perspective of an amnesiac—this time, Henri Clément, a French World War I soldier trapped in a nearly empty, suffocating bunker—who needs to run and hide from a grunting monster. Unlike other Amnesia games, The Bunker has a bare-bones story and many elements of its world, including item locations and codes, are randomized per playthrough. As I tiptoe through its pitch-black world, often with only a groaning, hand-crank flashlight in my left hand and an unloaded gun in my right, I share Henri’s vague sense of what’s happening other than the shuddering sense that I’m going to die, and probably soon.

The Amnesia series goes dark

It’s all right, I’m more focused on keeping the game’s shivering generator alive. A stopwatch tells me when the fuel I’ve surged down its spout is about to lapse, but my poor time management means I’m always in some kind of a bind until time is up, and I slink back into unforgiving gloom. So I try to make runs toward the objectives circled in red on my map quickly, searching along the way for cloth to craft into healing items, dog tags with secret codes, and heavy bricks to huck at locked wood doors and make my way out of lo-fi Hell.

Playing The Bunker reminds me of how much I hate going down into the basement by myself to get something. I’ve always been terrified of the dark, and even though I’m technically an adult, I’m still unable to keep myself from imagining white-eyed demons breathing somewhere in the shadows behind me. In that way, The Bunker is my worst nightmare.

When I am—entirely at my fault of playing games like a blindfolded cavewoman—inevitably forced back into the dark because the generator sputtered out, the glowing notes and photographs I find next to toppled chairs and soldiers’ desks encourage my fear. They hiss warnings about a “strange glowing liquid seeping from the walls,” and show me contextless photos of a disemboweled soldier on an operating table, his eyes gouged out, his skin tattered like an unloved ragdoll.

I clumsily and loudly sprint through hollow corridors until I get back to the save point, a hanging lantern in the bunker’s central area that glows even after the power’s given up. Though I often see an autosave icon blinking sleepily in the corner of my PS5 screen, it doesn’t seem to do anything at all. When I want to make sure I don’t lose a rare round of ammo or a new unlocked location in one of the winding bunker’s uncharted four sections—the prison, soldiers quarters, arsenal, or maintenance—I bumble to the lantern to save.

I’m irritated by this grind-y aspect, but it at least forces me to commit the twisty layout to memory, despite the many moments where I feel that locking the doors and crouching behind a barrel is a more reasonable gameplay decision. There is, you know, a monster around.

I venture back out, and with my headphones on, I hear its phlegmy snarling behind me, just as I feared. I open up my limited inventory and am confronted with more gore—Henri’s curled hand that gains a slick splotch of blood every time he takes damage. The game’s wheezing rat hordes are attracted to the blood, but they’ll nibble on a hunk of raw meat if I have any to sacrifice. I don’t, at the moment. A pack starts pattering toward me.

My field of vision pulses red as they bite at my feet, and though they scatter when the monster sticks its clawed, scrawny hands out from a gory hole in the bunker’s concrete walls, I don’t get the same chance. Its arms envelop me, my DualSense controller trembles, and then I’m limp on the ground.

Fighting the Amnesia: Rebirth monster

Playing mouse for this abominable cat can be thrilling. When I wander over to an unactivated light switch only to see the monster already down that hallway, backlit by the switch I just turned on, waiting for me, I hold my breath and crawl back to where I came from. Later, I spend a precious bullet on popping open a locked cabinet, and even though my muffled ears ring, I can still hear the monster’s desperate padding through the walls. I try lighting a flare in front of a nearby hole to punish it.

I like pushing back, in the limited but flexible way the game allows me to, experimenting with my defense by shattering empty bottles to create a diversion, intentionally setting off explosive tripwire traps, or dabbling in good, old fashioned hiding in a cabinet until it’s safe. I wait for the monster’s reaction with excited restlessness, either shrieking or exhaling and running back to the save point based on what it is.

But though I got close to finishing the approximately five-hours-long Bunker in my four-and-a-half hour playtime, I spend the last half hour trying to figure out what the fuck I’m supposed to do about the monster when it’s dark. A handwritten sign near the generator tells me that “the fucker hates light,” but when, out of resources and options, I shine my flashlight right into its face, it seems to scoff and carry on with its plan to kill me.

The flare I tried didn’t really work, either. I shot at it directly, once, and that seemed to startle it, but it ended up returning and shoveling me into its mouth in the next room. I try barricading myself in a pantry I want to search, closing all the doors and cramming chairs into the monster’s tunnel system, but the creature is way too supernaturally strong to be contained by 20th century carpentry.

I try sitting quietly, a difficult feat for me, but with no luck. Being a good girl makes the monster go away for a little while, but then it spawns out of thin air and slashes at me until I’m dead, again. This makes progressing in the dark feel unpleasantly impossible, since anything from winding up my flashlight once to pushing a misplaced box out of my way is apparently loud enough to summon the monster. Finding fuel is limited and the generator is built to fail, so I find myself wishing I had at least one less thing to worry about. Like, maybe we don’t need the rats. Or maybe the monster could actually respond to light, or back down after I sneak away from it.

But even with an overly eager monster and messy save mechanics, I’m impressed that, through its open-ended story and unornamented gameplay, The Bunker exploits its players’ imaginations to create an unparalleled psychological horror experience. Terror doesn’t have to be extreme or extravagant. It can be like an ant crawling up your leg, simple and true, nonetheless producing the unmistakable sense that something is wrong.

I could be making it up, I think to myself. But in the dark of the bunker, staring at its empty prison cells and bunk beds, I feel wrongness circling me. It’s waiting somewhere, preparing to pounce, and since we’re playing a game, here, I let it.

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