Frictional Games plays it safe. Perhaps a little too safe.

Key art visual for the horror game, Amnesia: The Bunker from Frictional Games.

Frictional Games is known for crafting some of the most memorable horror game experiences over the past 15 years. They began with the Prenumbra series, a trio of titles that gave us our first taste of Frictional's penchant for blending survival horror with physics-based environmental puzzles. The studio then saw a spike in popularity with their next release, Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent expanded upon the elements that players loved about Prenumbra. Interactions with the environment and puzzles retained that physics-based element that often served to heighten the tension when being pursued by creatures both seen and unseen. The Dark Descent rightly earned high praise from both critics and players alike thanks to its haunting atmosphere and intense enemy encounters.

Frictional Games really seemed to hit their stride with their 2015 title, Soma. Soma placed less of an emphasis on inventory management and a greater emphasis on the narrative experience. It's a shift that led to Soma being one of Frictional's most well-received releases, right up there with Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Five years after Soma came Amnesia: Rebirth. Rebirth seemed like Frictional was playing it safer than they did with Soma. There was less of an emphasis on physics-based puzzle solving and more of a push towards the supernatural. It was reviewed well by critics, but it wasn't quite hitting the same highs as Soma.

This brief history of Frictional's games may seem a bit out of left field but there is good reason for it. The studio's latest release, and the subject of this review, feels like a continued devolution of the studio's formula that seemed to be nearly perfected in Soma. Amnesia: The Bunker feels like a step back, sometimes a significant step back from their previous works, in the areas of narrative, gameplay, atmosphere, and even puzzle solving.

Amnesia: The Bunker places you in the shoes of a WWI soldier that finds themselves trapped inside a bunker with a monster of unknown origin. The idea here being that you must explore the different areas of the bunker to find a means of escaping while avoiding being mauled by this evil creature. Through various notes left by the soldiers that used to occupy the bunker, you learn that the creature is photosensitive and keeping a power generator running will be in your best interests.

The power generator needs fuel to run. Thanks to this active fuel consumption when the generator is on, the game becomes a constant race against the clock to explore an area, grab what you can, and then return to the safe room and generator to fill it back up before repeating the process. If the generator runs out of fuel, then the power goes off, which means the lights also go off. Those of you who hate timed sections in games will probably detest this core game mechanic.

Screenshot from Amnesia: The Bunker.

Keeping the place lit up supposedly reduces the aggressiveness of the creature. In my experience, it didn't seem to change the behavior all that much. Making enough noise, even when bathed in light, will still cause the creature to show up and prowl around your immediate area for a while. Even if the generator runs out of fuel, you are still mostly free to roam around and make some progress if you want. The player has access to gear that provides some measure of light. This includes a noisy, mechanically powered flashlight that works ok in a pinch. The player can also craft a torch. However, some puzzles and areas do require the power to be on to make progress. Meaning, you can't just go through the whole game without refilling the generator with fuel.

There are a few ways in which you can deal with the creature when it shows up. You can hide under a table or in a closet until the monster crawls back into the walls. You can also creep around quietly and hope that the creature doesn't spot you. I found this specific option to be a far less viable option due to the rather poor creature AI. Unless hiding in the designated hiding spots, the creature still seemed to zero in on my location even when making no noise, being out of its line of view behind barrels or other covering, and not moving. Even then, there were at least a couple of instances where I would hear the creature spawn, I'd hide in a closet, and it would still just "miraculously" know where I was hiding immediately after entering the room. This led to some very frustrating deaths due to the game just deciding to break its own established rules.

I often found it better just to try to run away in several cases. Even though running makes a ton of noise, it still often proves to be the safer option because at least then you could run to find a table to properly hide under or run back to the safe room. I eventually became so frustrated by these encounters with the creature that I started to just go on the offensive and blast it with a couple of revolver shots, a grenade, or a petrol bomb just so I could keep progressing.

I should say that the safe room should really be put in quotes. The "safe room" isn't 100% safe from my findings. There was at least one instance where I was being chased by the creature and I ran into the singular safe room in the game. I shut the metal door behind me and even locked it. The creature literally clipped through the door to kill me. As the creature isn't some amorphous blob that can phase through objects, this was almost certainly a bug and one that I hope ends up being fixed prior to release.

There are a few other ways in which you can deal with the monster. Amnesia: The Bunker sets itself apart from Frictional's prior works in that you now have access to weapons. The player is not completely defenseless, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Guns such as a revolver and shotgun allow you to damage the creature enough that it scurries back to safety and provides you with a tiny bit of breathing room. As this is still a survival horror game, ammo isn't exactly plentiful. Thankfully, there are other defensive tools at your disposal, making this ammo scarcity for weapons a relatively minor issue.

Screenshot from Amnesia: The Bunker.

Taking out the monster with guns or other items supposedly causes it to return angrier than before. This would, in theory, make the game more challenging each time you forced it to run off. It was my experience that the creature was already quite aggressive right from the start. I appreciate the idea that it would supposedly return more angry, more tenacious, and stronger but I never really saw its behavior change.

What if you run out of ammo and there are no hiding spots around? Well, if you have an inventory full of various items, chances are they can be put to good use in a pinch. It is entirely possible to craft something that can deal with the creature just as effectively as a gun. Combine items like a rag, fuel, and a bottle to create a petrol bomb. All you need is a lighter and you're in business. Hell, you can even pour the fuel on the ground directly and light it ablaze to scare the creature off. This small bit of thinking outside the box is where The Bunker really shines, but there just isn't enough creative freedom to fully satisfy my desire for truly off the wall solutions.

Still, there are times where you may encounter the creature without any ammo, items, and with no place to hide. It is this exact situation where the gameplay really starts to fall apart. It's weird to say that though, isn't it? Frictional has a history of crafting games where you are almost always completely defenseless. There were almost always ways in which you could hide or avoid enemies without resorting to violence. Crouch behind some barrels, totally out of sight, and in the dark and you would most likely be safe from harm. That's not the case in The Bunker.

This game, be it intentionally done or not, requires that you unlearn this simple gameplay element that has worked in basically all of Frictional's previous works. You would think that by now they would have perfected these sorts of encounters with the unknown and the supernatural. Instead, poor creature AI makes encountering it without items more annoying than anything. Either you hide under a table and wait for the creature to go away, sometimes wasting several minutes in one spot, or you end up dying to the creature from bad luck, bad AI, or bad playing on your part.

Screenshot showing the safe room in Amnesia: The Bunker.

Death in The Bunker is also more annoying than thrilling. Remember that singular safe room I keep mentioning? It includes just one of two "save lanterns" throughout the entire game. You save the game by touching a hanging lantern, thus "save lantern" as I'm calling it. There are no autosaves in the game. If you die, you lose all the progress made since your last save. There was one segment that I had to repeat a few times simply because the game crashed once, the creature zeroed in on my hiding spot by the apparent power of ESP and killed me, and then another time because of the aforementioned glitch where the creature clipped through the locked safe room door to kill me.

Between having to run back to the safe room to store inventory, refill the generator, and to save, the gameplay loop in The Bunker is easily the weakest in all Frictional's works. There were several times where I started to explore a newly opened area only to stop myself and run back to the safe room to free up inventory space, or make sure the generator is topped off, or even just to save because I really did not want to have to redo a particular sequence over again. It's just so much back and forth, back and forth, especially if you're running back to save purely because you were afraid of the game crashing again.

This back and forth is made all the worse by the fact that it's possible to be insta-killed from a trap you just happened to miss. Yes, there are several traps placed through the titular bunker that can and will kill you. Some traps are easy to spot, at least when the lights are on. Others are a bit more difficult to spot, such as doors that pull the pin on hidden grenades when opened. These trapped rooms are often designated with a tiny "X" on the doorframe, which are easy to avoid or deal with under normal circumstances. However, it ends up being more than a bit annoying when you're trying to get away from the creature and you quickly open a random door just to get blown up upon entering a place you thought might be safe.

Amnesia: The Bunker is Frictional's attempt to do something a little bit different. The Bunker is, I believe, their first attempt at a semi-open play environment. Outside of a few instances, you are free to visit any area any time you wish, provided you can unlock them via key, or tool, or breaking down a door by tossing a brick or explosive at it. It's just that the execution is very lacking here and it makes for a game that does not lean on Frictional's background of creating solid, mostly linear horror experiences.

Screenshot showing a post-ending message suggesting to play Amnesia: The Bunker again as items and traps are randomized.

The Bunker is also an extremely short game. Upon my first completion of the game, the statistics shared with me told me that my total play time was just three and a half hours. Steam has my play time at nearer to four and a half hours. The discrepancy could be due to the game not counting the times I lost progress due to deaths, time spent reading the game's plethora of notes, or time lost from having to redo sections after the game crashed on me (happened about three times), or because I paused the game a few times to deal with some IRL things. Even if we err on the side of the first full completion clocking in at that 4.5 hour mark that still makes it a very, very short game. Trust me when I say that I did not attempt to speed run the game by any means. I read each note I picked up, especially since they often contained clues on where to search for key items. I also explored around a decent amount, accessing several rooms and areas that weren't critical to progression.

Frictional seems keenly aware that what they have here with The Bunker is a short gameplay experience. It's why they so often talk up the game's procedural generation aspects. A post-ending message even urges you to play through the game again to experience these differences. Though the bunker's layout remains the same from playthrough to playthrough, item locations, locker codes, and trap locations are randomized each time.

The thing is, I just did not feel compelled to play through the game again after my first completion. I did attempt to play a bit of a second playthrough on the hardest difficulty, but I just wasn't feeling it. A second playthrough does nothing to address the creature AI. It does nothing to change the overall goal of the game nor the constant back and forth to store items and refill the generator. It just ends up being largely the same game where you do the same thing as the first time just in a slightly different order.

Technically, The Bunker is really starting to show the age of Frictional's HPL Engine. It is serviceable with decent, moody lighting and physics that would have been considered cutting edge years ago, but that is about the extent of the praise I can give it. This game engine is clearly not designed for a semi-open world game like The Bunker. Even though the overall area of the bunker itself isn't all that large, you will still run into obvious loading hallways between major sections. This comes complete with a full ~1-second loading pause the first time you enter an area and smaller hitch-like pauses on subsequent visits.

I also experienced a few crashes throughout my playthrough. One happened the moment I tried to read a note, but it did not repeat when I tried to read it a second time. Another crash happened right as the creature attacked me while I was hiding inside a confessional booth. A third crash happened randomly after I pulled down an object from a tall shelf. All three crashes seemed rather random and were not repeatable. The game has received a few updates since I completed it. However, given how random those crashes were, I was never able to reliably replicate them and cannot say whether they have been addressed with those pre-release updates.

There is one more technical elephant in the room when it comes to Amnesia: The Bunker: The framerate cap. On PC, the framerate is capped to 60FPS. Between this framerate cap and the smaller, enclosed setting, your hardware isn't going to have any issue with running the game. This is good for those with older hardware, as even my GTX 1080 Ti never got close to breaking a sweat at 1440p. However, this is supremely disappointing to have this framerate cap in place for those with high-refresh rate monitors.

Screenshot from Amnesia: The Bunker showing one of the several notes you can find and read.


For my personal tastes, Soma was the pinnacle of Frictional Games' offerings. It stands right alongside Amnesia: The Dark Descent as a must-play horror game. It was unique. It had a compelling and thought-provoking story. The environments were well crafted and varied. It was properly tense, atmospheric, and immersive. While a slight regression from Soma, I still enjoyed Amnesia: Rebirth. That game felt focused and while I may not have enjoyed the story as fully as the one in Soma, it was still very compelling. This is all to say that if Soma is a 5 (on TGN's scale), Rebirth would be just behind it with a solid 4 score. Then there's Amnesia: The Bunker here that continues that steady decline. It doesn't offer anything new or exciting. It somehow falters on mechanics that Frictional previously nailed down. It even takes a big step back on offering a compelling story.

Amnesia: The Bunker is supposedly coming out priced at just $25 (USD), which does soften the disappointment by a considerable amount. It is also coming to Game Pass, which is an even better deal for those already subscribed to the service. The Bunker will also include Steam Workshop support right out of the gate, which could lead to some wonderful custom content from the community. The thing is, I can't score this game based on what it could be or what the community might end up making. I can only score the game as it is and how I feel about it right now at release.

Amnesia: The Bunker just isn't all that great. I'm not saying it's a bad game either. Like the game engine powering it, Amnesia: The Bunker is merely serviceable, nothing more and nothing less. It's there. It's a game that plays it safe in so many aspects and dares not push any boundaries. It's a game that you'll see on sale in the future and go, yeah that seems like an alright choice. You'll play it and finish it in probably one or two sittings. You'll watch the credits roll and say, "That sure was merely ok!" and you'll forget about it almost immediately.

I commend Frictional for at least trying something a bit different. As the studio continued to evolve and iterate on their linear experiences, I hope that they will continue to learn and iterate on this idea of a semi-open world horror experience. Perhaps in a few years' time we will see Frictional create a title that again hits the highs of Soma but with the added freedom to explore and experiment in the game world. I would like to look back in a few years at The Bunker as being a fresh steppingstone to something greater, but right now it's hard to see it as anything other than a short, "merely ok" game from a studio that has crafted much more compelling releases in the past.


Review score showing 3 out of 5 on a scoring system that uses whole numbers only.

Additional Information

  • Amnesia: The Bunker
    • Developed by: Frictional Games
    • Published by: Frictional Games
  • Price: Starting at $24.99 (USD)
  • Platform reviewed on: PC. Also available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Game Pass. A PlayStation 5 release has not been officially mentioned but the PS4 release may be playable on PS5 hardware.
  • Release Date: June 6, 2023
  • ESRB: Rating Pending at time of review
  • This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.