Platforms PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO
Developer Splendy Interactive, Wales Interactive
Publisher Green Man Gaming Publishing
Release Date September 20, 2016

Review code provided

One event that has permeated human consciousness since 1945 is nuclear war. Fiction, non-fiction, books, movies, nightmares and, of course, video games have all addressed the issue. It’s one thing to think about events we can have influence on but this particular scenario is entirely something else; some suit pushes the big red button and utterly screws us all. The Bunker takes place when this exact situation unfolds. The year is 1986, the location is our Blighty and (taking cues from Hugh Howey and the Fallout series), a few scattered groups of (un?)lucky folk end up underground in bunkers to wait out the Armageddon.

The Bunker is a rare example of what I thought was a forgotten genre – a full FMV game. There’s not a jot of CGI or mo-cap in sight. This kind of game often offers something a great deal in terms of expression; as great as the progression of technology is, we’re still left with the laughter-inducing Bethesda Face and the requirement of imagination when it comes to human characters fully getting across emotion. The flip side of this coin is that, and there’s no way I can put this without sounding creepy, there’s still no real way to control a live-action person like you can a traditional video-game character. The question then becomes is the trade-off worth it? Does this stand up to other narrative games, those being the closest comparison for the genre?

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Nobody brought any books either. The past-future sucks.

Let’s get to the actual game though, and I’m really trying to avoid spoilers here. Thirty years after the initial bomb-fest, you play as John – the only survivor of this particular bunker. Without spoiling anything, the tone is set early on. You can very plausibly feel the isolation and pressurising dullness of the routine. There’s a brooding, suffocating atmosphere that saturates The Bunker, and very effective it is too. It sucked me right in, and a game I expected to complete over several sessions when I had the time, I sat and worked my way through it in one sitting. Even though it only sits at a few hours running time, I found myself compelled to keep going, to get to the end. In all honesty, I’m using the term “game” loosely, though. You don’t have a great deal of input; there’s no branching story, no choices to make except whether to explore certain areas – you can play through the entire thing as a click-to-continue film. Although, personally, that’s not a deal-breaker for me, but everyone has different tastes.

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Apparently, The Archers didn’t make it.

There are still elements of vidja game in here though. There’s a string of documents, computer files and audio recordings to absorb which actually work really well in filling out the history of the bunker, giving you context and reason as to why you’re the only one left. There’s a few collectables too which not only satisfied my OCD but really built on John’s character – something I felt was necessary to match the immersion provided by the environment. There’s an air of discovery as you unravel the secrets of the vault, not only through these tidbits of information but through some well-placed flashbacks. It’s a marvellously implicated history they’ve packed into such a claustrophobic context, and they get the story across perfectly.

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The various maps you’re exposed to show just how much we managed to eradicate everything.

Plot-wise, it’s great. Perfectly paced, and the plot twist while not entirely surprising in parts is just unexpected enough to have impact. The ambient soundtrack is brilliant, cementing in John’s claustrophobia and anxiety at going against everything he’s ever known in order to survive. There’s some pretty great jump scares which, for once, aren’t cheap. There’s one particular scene in particular that is fully nauseating, even for this steel-stomached gamer, and every facet of the game from beginning to end screams tension. I found myself utterly engrossed from beginning to end, barring one or two sections which I felt were unnecessarily lengthy, although in hindsight I can’t see how they’d have been improved and overall, I can look past them with ease.

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This looks like great fun. Seriously.

This leads us to the main facet of an FMV game – the actors. Adam Brown’s performance is utterly stellar; John’s kind of a wet lettuce mammy’s boy, something always seems a little off with him – the reasons become more clear as the game goes on, but the acting is utterly superb. From the supporting characters, capably performed by a glut of recognisable A and B-List stars right down to the camera work, the production is flawless but for one minor gripe – when the game switches from a filmed scene to an interactive portion, there’s a massively jarring pause. This didn’t ruin the experience for me, but it did slam the brakes on immersion. Whether you can look past that is up to you, however.

Quite interestingly, the developers have managed to fit almost seamless QTE’s in here. While not altogether surprising, they were challenging in terms of finger-stamina from the frantic mouse clicking, but this matches the context quite well. The main issue with this is failure – while not exactly on the level of MGS-style torture scenes, if you’re late to catch them you are forced to go back to the last major scene transition. While this isn’t frustrating in itself, you can’t skip anything in this game and, particularly near the end, this ends up being quite grating as you watch John shuffle up the same staircase with the same uttered misgivings again and again.

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I don’t like it either buddy, but there’s plot exposition just round the corner, I’m sure.

The real star of The Bunker is The Bunker. From the government communiqués to the staff recordings, from maintenance reports to the dated PC displays, from the uniform functional clothing to the battery-powered Geiger counters, this feels like a living, shallowly-breathing habitat. You can see the cookie-cutter living quarters and bland, characterless food parcels and immediately feel the monotony setting in. As previously mentioned, there’s a hell of a lot of Fallout-esque lore here, and it’s a lovingly crafted tribute. There’s not much replay value on offer, but if FMV narrative games are up your street, it’s the best to come out for a long time.

Summary

It’s difficult to summarise The Bunker as a video game. There’s not much to interact with an when you do it feels stunted insofar as reaction time, but when you sit back, let it breathe and take you on the ride it’s particularly immersive. Environmentally this is probably one of the best games I’ve played in a long time; I found myself unable to pry myself away, regardless of the rapidly-encroaching morning alarm. The acting is pretty great and the plot is right out of Fallout and Hugh Howey’s Silo series without being derivative. Flaws that I’d count against other games can be looked over here, although I can’t currently say whether that’s the novelty factor of playing an FMV game and being all nostalgic. Ask me in a few months. Again, if heavy gameplay is what you’re after then move on – otherwise, take an evening to enjoy The Bunker. It’s been made with love and with a specific audience in mind. If you’re amongst them, you’ll be satisfied.

8


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