Gamers old enough to recall the halcyon days of the early 1990’s may have memories of the infamous Sega CD game, Night Trap, produced at a time when the industry was excited about the introduction of CD-ROM technology. This enthusiasm led to an influx of FMV (Full Motion Video) games on PC and home consoles – titles in which the visuals were fully pre-recorded video and the narrative played out like a film with interactive elements.
The Sega CD was particularly fertile ground for FMV games and saw the release of many during it’s lifetime including Ground Zero Texas, Sewer Shark and Double Switch. At the time, I remember being greatly impressed by the tech on display in these games even though the majority were developed on a shoestring budget with cheesy actors, low quality sets and laughable effects. As is the case with most fads, the FMV craze faded fairly quickly but certainly left it’s mark by pioneering video techniques and software that are still used in the games we play today.
Apologies for the stuffy history lesson but I thought some background of the “genre” would put us in good stead to review The Bunker, developed by Splendy Games and Wales Interactive. While it shares the same basic formula as those old adventures from the 90’s, that’s where the similarities end. The Bunker benefits from modern production values and techniques and boasts some serious talent on both sides of the camera. The story revolves around the tribulations of John, the sole survivor of a small group who retreated to a fallout bunker in the early 80’s when nuclear war rendered the surrounding countryside uninhabitable.
Beginning with John’s birth, the narrative immediately skips thirty years and begins again with him fully grown and struggling with overwhelming loneliness and some serious anxiety issues after his mother passes away. Told via a combination of present day cut scenes and flashbacks to traumatic events from John’s childhood, the story is well written and believable while effectively escalating tension and suspense as it progresses. Things really start getting difficult for the poor guy when critical safety systems in the bunker begin to break down leaving John to overcome his fear or face the dire consequences. Suffice it to say, there are some entertaining twists along the way culminating in a surprising climax that will keep you guessing right up until the credits roll.
Bringing this drama to life is Adam Brown (Ori the dwarf from The Hobbit films) who delivers a wonderful performance as the beleaguered John. His portrayal of a man who goes from quiet routine to the edge of mental collapse as his home crumbles around him, is inspired. Backing him up are several similarly amazing efforts from Grahame Fox cast as the gruff, uncompromising commissioner and the beautiful Sarah Greene as John’s really protective mother. In fact, it’s tough to single out anyone among the actors who brings the production down – performances are conveyed sincerely and believably across the board. All the footage was actually shot on location in a disused fallout shelter which, no doubt, contributed to the authenticity of the experience and enabled all players to really fill those roles. The bunker itself gives off a pervading sense of hopelessness and slowly creeping ruin that in some way, reflects John’s descent towards psychological breakdown.
If it were a film, The Bunker would excel in the ways a good film should – narrative and characterization. However, we are judging it as a game and this is where it fails to impress. In fact, I hesitate to call it a game at all, at least in the traditional sense. More like a great movie that allows you some very basic input into the outcome. Those old FMV cheese-fests I reminisced about earlier suffered from the same problems apparent here. There is only so much interaction that can be provided for a player when each movement must be replicated by an actor in a real setting. This is why most games of this type are “point and click” style, almost by necessity.
Gameplay in The Bunker boils down to directing John to explore rooms in which you will scour the screen until the cursor highlights an object of interest like a computer to read or a drawer to open. Some rooms barely have anything to warrant their inclusion and seem to just be extra places for John to wander through on the way to his destination. There is the odd instance in which the game will throw in something novel such as getting the cursor into a circle within a short time or mashing a button to fill a meter but these don’t require any skill and failing them never alters the flow of the narrative.
While the story here is expertly told, most gamers will cruise through The Bunker within a few hours. There is a variety of collectibles scattered about the environments such as wooden figures and tape players, all of which add an interesting, sometimes tragic, perspective on events and provide some cool background information that enriches the whole proceeding. The Bunker is also very linear with little to no opportunity for venturing off the path that is laid before you by the narrative.
As such, there is no real incentive to experience the game a second time due to the player having zero control over what happens to John in those many tense, life-altering moments – the story will play out exactly the same way each time you boot it up. There is an important decision to be made right at the climax but it’s the only one in the entire game and made me wish they had utilized the same idea all the way though, maybe akin to the way Telltale gives players a say in how they want the narrative to progress.
The Bunker is at it’s best when viewed as a film with interactive elements. The story of a lonely man on the verge of breakdown who must reach deep within himself for the strength to survive, is woven in a highly compelling manner with big credit to the talented actors and crew who made this very enjoyable tale possible. An increased level of interactivity would make the gameplay side of proceedings much more interesting. Apart from that, The Bunker successfully takes that old FMV game blueprint from the 90’s and updates it with deft storytelling and professional performances to craft a gratifying post apocalyptic fable which won’t be forgotten anytime soon!
Reviewed on Xbox One.