Monster Mania: The Beast is Frictional’s Best Creation Yet
Monster Mania is a weekly column celebrating the unique and varied monster designs in horror gaming.
Most people know the age-old adage, “War is hell.” Now imagine the hellish predicament of war, but you are trapped within the decrepit tunnels of a World War I bunker. Oh, and there’s a pissed-off monster skulking around, tracking, and reacting to your every move. That charge over the top into No Man’s Land doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?
Frictional Games has been on a tear for over a decade, delivering tactile and terrifying survival horror titles. The studio is constantly evolving from its humble beginnings with Penumbra to the more refined Amnesia series and the mind-bending storytelling of SOMA. Improving their ability to blend genre-defying storytelling with survival horror-inspired gameplay has made for some of the most memorable experiences in recent memory. And as someone who has played every one of their games, I can confidentially say that Amnesia: The Bunker is their best title to date, thanks to an innovative immersive sim environment serving as a hunting ground for the beast.
The easiest (and somewhat reductive) comparison for the game’s central antagonist, the beast, would be Alien: Isolation’s xenomorph. A deadly, lone predator is hunting the player that can zero in on their location by the amount of noise they make. The monster distinguishes itself from this comparison through its traversal of the world and how it pushes the game’s immersive sim focus.
Frictional Games’ approach to crafting a world around the beast makes this a terrifying genre standout. Part of this is attributed to how little of the creature you see. My first time crossing paths with the beast wasn’t the typical cinematic reveal that exposes it in light before it scurries away—effectively sidestepping an all too revealing preview of the monster that we are all too accustomed to in gaming. No, all I saw when first crossing paths with the beast was its elongated claw protruding from a tunnel in the wall.
These tunnels are one of the first things that players will discover as they become intimately familiar with the bunker setting. This tunnel system is effectively a highway for the beast to traverse the bunker and find the player within seconds. Given the beast’s speed and deadliness, running or cranking your (loud AF) flashlight at the wrong moment can mean instant death. My first taste of death in Amnesia: The Bunker was turning to see the beast’s claw slowly emerging from a tunnel, accompanied by a cloud of its hot breath. In a manic bout of terror, I hauled ass down a corridor, only for the beast to grab me from behind and munch on me moments later.
Typically, I like to give a fully detailed description when discussing monsters. However, I hesitate to do so with the beast, given how spontaneously Amnesia: The Bunker is in delivering organic scares. The first time you see the beast in all its malformed glory, it is shocking, and you likely won’t see all of it, allowing it to retain its scare power for the entirety of the experience. The beast is typically obscured by the bunker’s darkness or the player’s fear. The Amnesia series’ fear system returns, albeit to a lesser degree. In previous entries, the player’s sanity breaks (leading to death) if they starred at monsters for too long. In Amnesia: The Bunker, their vision blurs, and they begin hyperventilating, which consistently amplifies the terror of the beast while not completely hindering the player’s ability to react in real time.
How the player deals with confrontations of the beast is also where the monster further separates itself from Alien: Isolation comparisons. In Amnesia: The Bunker, every tool at the player’s disposal can be used to ward off the beast temporarily. Utilizing a grenade or a torch is ideal, but even a single shot from the pistol can stun the beast long enough for players to haul ass out of the area they are in. The immersive nature of the game allows for more creative means of offense. For instance, I once baited the beast with a bottle in the direction of a trip wire, which resulted in hilarity as the beast tripped it and then scurried away in fear when it exploded. Another time, I threw a grenade at the door across the map, which not only acted as a distraction but opened that previously locked door.
Creating an environment that encourages experimentation is one thing. But when you populate that space with a monster that utilizes it as a hunting ground, is when survival horror truly becomes special. A monster that feels right at home within that setting while still empowering the player with plenty of nontraditional offensive and defensive capabilities. With the fourth Amnesia entry, Frictional Games has continued pushing the parameters of audience expectations for their tactile and terrifying brand of survival horror. And the beast is their most horrifying creation yet.
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