When you think about FMV games, the chances are that you’ll either be thrown into one of two states of mind. You’ll either think back to 2015’s excellent Her Story (which pretty much redefined what a video-based title can be) or you’ll go even further back and recall the bad old days of the Sega CD where the likes of Mad Dog McCree or the infinitely awful Night Trap were on offer. Either way, you’ll likely have something in mind regarding Wales Interactive’s fully video-based title – The Bunker – before you load it up.
No matter your mindset, The Bunker quickly defines its position and sets the stage for an atmospheric experience. In a British nuclear bunker after an attack decimates the country, lead character John (Adam Brown, The Hobbit trilogy) is born to his mother Margaret (Sarah Greene, Penny Dreadful). Fast forward almost thirty years and the survivors that escaped to the bunker have strangely been reduced to just these last two.
A short time later, Margaret succumbs, leaving John alone in the underground facility. After a few days of carrying out his daily routine of taking vitamins and checking the radio for signs of life, a fault develops in the bunker’s systems. John has to venture to unfamiliar and long-empty levels of the facility in order to try to alleviate the situation and prevent radiation leaks.
Of course, things aren’t as simple as replacing a faulty part or two. Whilst John has spent his entire life in the bunker, his dialogue and general mannerisms suggest that until recently, he’s been under the watchful eye of his mother the entire time and so hasn’t exactly been prepared for life alone. Brown’s triumphant performance gets the character’s mindset across perfectly, effectively conveying the idea that despite being a grown man, he needs your protection and guidance if he’s to survive.
You’d imagine that an indie title which has arrived without a great deal of fanfare wouldn’t have the sort of budget required to provide a high-quality cinematic experience, but that’s far from the case. Filmed in a real-world decommissioned facility, The Bunker is very nicely shot and from start to finish, the game provides an overall atmosphere of constant unease, putting you on edge for the things to come. Dom Shovelton’s stylish and fitting soundtrack helps with this in no small way, complementing the on-screen performances and action without ever being overpowering.
With all of this good stuff going on, it should be said that things are a little thin in terms of actual gameplay. Across The Bunker’s two hours, there’s very light puzzling to be found in a couple of spots but the main interactions involve responding to quick time events and choosing where to go or what to examine. It’s generally very obvious as to which choice you have to make from the limited selection on screen at a time – at most there will be three or four things to choose from, usually – so the game falls firmly into the walking simulator genre.
The Bunker’s main gamification involves collecting wooden figurines which have been crafted by John over the years and are now scattered all over the facility. You’ll be engrossed in a scene and a QTE relating to picking up a toy will all but come out of nowhere, meaning that you’ll most likely miss it. On one occasion, a surprise required button-press resulted in me having to play through a section again as John fell to his death. When this occurs, it damages the good work that has been put in to the crafting of the story and the performances on offer, but not so much that you’ll be throwing the controller down in anger.
No, the story is far too good for that to happen. What exactly did happen to those other 50-odd survivors? Is there anyone else on the facility? Is it ever going to be safe to set foot outside? Once these questions have been answered, it should be noted that you’ll probably be done with The Bunker. There’s no real reward for multiple playthroughs, barring seeing the other side of a story branch that affects a single scene, or collecting the remaining toys that you missed on the first run. So a purchase decision needs to be made regarding whether or not a pair of hours of play is enough for the $20 price.
Despite featuring very different aesthetics to The Bunker, if you’re a fan of the likes of Firewatch, Dear Esther, or Three Fourths Home, you’ll agree that the asking price is fair. If you despise those games, even the slick movie presentation won’t be enough to convince you that you’ve got your money’s worth here.
Take the plunge and even though the game falls into the more premium indie pricing tier, you’ll find the experience to be an unforgettable one. If you’re expecting Call of Duty-style action, then you’ll be sorely let down (and it’ll be your own fault), but the story and atmosphere on offer here makes up for the lack of traditional gameplay. The sheer amount of tension that the game creates from very early on is such that you’ll be looking at the screen through your fingers at times just in case it turns out that John isn’t alone after all, with the major plot twist being unexpected to say the least.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
The Bunker won’t be for everybody, but those enticed by a slower-paced experience that’s rich in atmosphere are in for a treat, even if it is over in just a couple of short hours.