The Bunker Review

The Bunker is definitely an odd one. Really mostly it's odd for the fact that it exists TODAY. In 2016. We're past the days of multimedia gaming being the thing everyone fawned over, back when we were like "WE'RE ALL GONNA BUY 3DOS AND MAKE MARKY MARK VIDEOS" and thought it was a good idea. So long after Sewer Shark was yelling at us to check our niner. So long after games like Phantasmagoria and Night Trap wowed us with the fact that we were playing actual humans. But I guess Full Motion Video is having a bit of a comeback – from the simple use of embedding video, a la The Witness or even as far back as Metal Gear Solid 4, to more complex uses, such as Her Story's non-linear file exploration or Press X to Not Die's cheeky weird first-person shenanigans.

In a way, The Bunker stands apart from all of these in its simplicity – it's an extremely linear adventure game, no inventory management, about a bad day in a nuclear bunker leading to an eventual escape. If you think that's a spoiler, please let me direct you to Rom's Law of Nuclear Bunkers in Fiction:

Rom's Law of Nuclear Bunkers in Fiction 

If a story begins in a nuclear bunker, at some point, one or all of the characters will escape it.

This goes for really anything that has multiple characters confined to a space. Sometimes you see it; sometimes you don't. But it always happens.

While the thrust of the game's plot is giving you a reason to get out of the bunker and then doing it, the story being revealed answers what happened in here, why at the beginning of the game you and your mom are the only ones left, and what all these flashbacks of a dude with an axe chasing you down are all about. I'll be the first to talk about how games are not movies are not games. And It's why I'm glad that the FMV game became a subgenre, and not the norm. It feels more like it's the ultimate example of what happens when graphics are put above anything else. "Look! You're playing real people! It's SO REALISTIC," it almost seems to be saying. A shallow experience, save for the novelty of real humans doing real things.

In the case of The Bunker though, I think it adds a degree of verisimilitude. It was filmed entirely on location in a real decommissioned nuclear bunker in jolly old England, so the look, feel, cramped quarters – this is all something that was actually really designed in the actual real world for the express purpose of keeping people alive should the bombs fall (and I think they do tours if you're into that kind of thing).

Having a real performer also definitely helps. Adam Brown (apparently he was in some of the Hobbit films as Ori) has to anchor the performance solo, and he does fine job. It must be difficult to carry something solo like this, but he plays the scared, confused, panicked John rather well. All of the emotions are very heightened, and for as far as we've come with performance capture, it would have all been too stiff had the game been entirely in-game models instead. Seeing the fear on his face, the tears leaking down, the pain as he injures himself, really adds a lot.

I don't take issue with the gameplay itself, not even enough to put 'gameplay' sneer quotes. It's about escaping somewhere that had been familiar to the character – not about puzzles, barely even about using an inventory to solve anything. After an opening section of the character going through the same routine multiple days, something goes wrong, and then it's just a push to get out of there. But games are not movies and the combination of movie and game that they're going for here suffers from not being a good marriage of the two. Neither takes the strength of either. There's a feeling of people trying to figure it out but the delivery of the story and the cutting back and forth with the gameplay all seem to be aspects that could have been tightened up.

So, with the story being the crux of the game, it's a shame that it misses. It's the kind of thing that hinges on a twist at the end, but it's a story that didn't feel like it NEEDED one. The mystery of what happened in the bunker could have been delivered in a more straightforward way, with the character himself just putting together the clues. I feel would have been good enough on its own, but the fake out of making it look like a slasher movie also makes it look like it's trying too hard. Because the answer to what happened is actually good, if a little predictable, and could stand on its own if it were presented better. But on top of it being too much of a setup (to try to make you go "WHOAAAAAAAAA" the whole time), the writing doesn't have enough faith in the player to understand it when the pieces fall into place. Instead it has a moment where it's all very clearly stated, but then some minutes after it still plays back through almost every single flashback that had played out before as if making sure you REALLY understood it all. Some of these are scenes you'd seen mere minutes ago even, but nope, here they are again! This, combined with some other general issues with pacing and editing, cause it all to fall pretty flat in the end.

Additionally, I don't know how a point-and-click adventure game using an arrow that navigates around the screen like cursor doesn't use the PS4's trackpad. There are a couple of QTEs and moments in the story where you have to move the cursor to the right point in a time limit, which I only barely made because the cursor moves so slow. I actually missed one right at the very end of the game, literally a minute from the end, which was especially bad because it wound up with me having to replay a chunk, totally wrecking the buildup.

While I did like The Bunker, it definitely feels like it suffers from the same things that old FMV games like this always have, feeling like the only difference that's occurred in the 20+ years since the first FMV adventure game was released is fidelity. With a stronger script, the game would be an easy recommendation, but as it is it's mostly coasting on novelty, with just enough hooks to get you going through to the end.