It seems as though everybody wants to bring back old-school flavours these days. Whether it’s re-releasing & remastering older video games for current hardware, creating micro versions of classic consoles, or simply being inspired by and taking ideas from the games and genres of old – it would appear that a lot of developers are looking to the past as a way of moving forward. It’s no secret that video games have changed massively over the years, and as more mature, serious titles and First-Person Shooters dominate the market, what’s wrong with evoking a bit of nostalgia and doing something to break the norm?
One such title to go down this route is The Bunker, an incredibly unconventional video game billed as a so-called “live action experience”. What does this mean, exactly? Well, do you remember Night Trap?
Okay, so it’s not totally like Night Trap – it has none of the hideous cheesy dialogue or terrible acting, for one – but similarly it is a video game that makes full use of FMV sequences rather than utilising computer generated graphics. In other words, the on-screen action has been filmed entirely using real-life actors and locations. It’s a novel approach to game design and, thanks to the higher standard of production quality that can now be achieved, The Bunker demonstrates that live-action video games are a much more viable option in 2016 than they were over the last few decades.
Above all else, The Bunker succeeds in looking the part and avoiding most of the hiccups that games of a similar style had suffered from in the past. While the production budget is clearly far away from the likes of your favourite Hollywood movies, by no means does any of the footage appear lacking. The greatest strength of The Bunker is found in its visual presentation, an aspect that has clearly undergone a lot of care and attention. Every single location in this game is dripping with atmosphere and detail, and from the very beginning until the end, the game is consistent. Taking place entirely within an underground bomb shelter, the whole environment is set up in a way that makes it feel lived in. It’s an incredibly convincing location, and when working hand-in-hand with superb lighting, great camera framing and a neo-retro soundtrack packed with plenty of dark ambience, the locations feel distinctively eerie and do well to make you feel uncomfortable. It’s just a real shame then that the story the game has to tell is nowhere near as interesting as the walls it’s confined within.
The Bunker tells the story of John, the sole survivor of an underground nuclear bunker who’s monotonous, daily routine is interrupted when things start to go wrong around him that he must attempt to confront. What follows is a very personal, character-driven story that finds John exploring the depths of the bunker while also dealing with his past. While there is a series of childhood flashbacks that occur intermittently throughout that add context to the wider story and introduce the player to other characters, John is the central focus of the main narrative, but unfortunately I found myself really struggling to stay invested in him. While his story does start off interesting and does enough to peak player interest early on, the further the story progresses, the harder it becomes to maintain the same level of interest, no matter how hard the game tries to weave in its big mystery. The game attempts to preserve a sense of tension throughout as John struggles to face his fears and fix his safe-haven, but the sluggish pace of the whole game considerably dampens much enjoyment, and the action feels sedate. I feel like The Bunker has an interesting story to tell, but the execution here leaves a lot to be desired.
To put it bluntly, the game has a serious pacing issue, and I ultimately believe that a lot of this stems from the lacking gameplay. While I understand that this is not your typical video game and the narrative is at the very heart of the experience, The Bunker limits player interactions down to the most minimal of inputs. The vast majority of this ‘gameplay’ is simply clicking on items in the scene and watching something happen. Occasionally you might be required to swipe some objects downwards (to pull a door handle, for example) and there’s even some tedious QTE sequences that need a speedy clicking finger, but that’s about the extent of your interaction. There are optional ‘collectibles’ that can be found too, but they don’t really add too much to the game or hold much value either. Collectively, the gameplay feels like the very barebones of a point-and-click title, but without any of the meat to go alongside it such as a real sense of exploration or any tangible puzzles, it can be hard to forgive the game for stripping so much interaction away from the player. Teasing the player early on with a choice that effects the following scene, it’s also a shame that the game doesn’t continue with any other moments of choice until the very end, culminating in a narrative that is incredibly linear. As a result, the game itself isn’t even in the slightest bit interesting to actually play, but at least this isn’t a particularly drawn-out affair.
Clocking in at under 2 hours in length, The Bunker lasts no longer than your average movie and probably could have done with being even shorter. By focussing so much on a limited cast of characters and almost entirely brushing the game world to one side, the world feels empty, and it’s hard to stay invested in it no matter how great it might appear visually. Offering only a handful of glimpses into the wider world through discoverable notes, letters, and voice recordings, it’s a shame that the game doesn’t put more of a focus on the history of the bunker and the rest of its occupants. The few instances that do give insight into the world lore had me interested, but they’re so few and far between that my levels of interest were not maintained during moments of downtime, or where John’s story begins to lack. The main narrative does snowball (albeit extremely slowly) towards an interesting conclusion as the flashbacks, on-screen action, and narrative twists all intensify at once, but unfortunately it’s too little, too late.
Not even the acting itself was able to capture my full attention until the credits decided to roll, and while the actors at least put in adequate performances – with some being better than others – perhaps my enjoyment would have increased had this aspect been better. Adam Brown who plays John is by far the strongest cast member, and though his performances may come across a little flat and awkward at times, is at least convincing as the deprived, lonely ‘hero’ of the piece. Grahame Fox, on the other hand, isn’t so convincing in his role, playing the bunker’s Commissioner and putting in a rather cliché ‘villain’ performance that feels often too dramatic.
The Bunker, then, doesn’t even make a particularly great movie, let alone a video game. With limited control, an excruciatingly slow pace, and a narrative that doesn’t do enough with its time, I found it incredibly hard to keep my interest for the roughly 120 minutes of play time. I wanted to like this game – honestly, I really tried – but it simply wasn’t enough to keep my attention despite enjoying plenty of other ‘narrative experiences’ over the years. If there’s one big positive that I can take away from this game, it’s that the developers, Wales Interactive, have certainly nailed the visual presentation, so at least that’s something. This is a game that doesn’t suffer from its old-school style and the limitations of FMV games, but instead suffers from not carrying enough substance. Maybe these types of games can make a comeback, but unfortunately The Bunker isn’t the game to kick-off that revolution.