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The Bunker Game preview

Game preview 30 August 2016, 11:10

author: Mathias Zulpo

The Bunker hands-on – a cinematic apocalypse

Post-apocalyptic settings are widely used in video games, but we’ve never seen one presented in such a form. The Bunker is not a game for everyone, and not everyone will consider it a game.

This article was written prior to the game's release.

This text was based on the PC version.

  • Heavy and claustrophobic atmosphere;
  • Great cinematography;
  • Professional cast;
  • Original, intriguing story.
  • The game being too short;
  • Linearity;
  • Marginal interaction and choices that aren’t really there.

The Bunker appeared on our radar somewhat out of the blue, just like the nuclear war alluded to in the game had surprised people around the world. With this post-apocalyptic game, an indie studio from London called Splendy Games aspires to combine high-quality motion picture with an interactive game. After giving it a try, I now have a pretty good idea of how successful this ambitious plan proved to be. And although the bunker tour is nothing like your typical gaming experience, it would be unwise to shrug it off as a mere curiosity. You just need to go in knowing what (not) to expect from such a production.

Routine that can kill

In the alternative version of history depicted in The Bunker, things are pretty bleak – both literally and figuratively. Our protagonist John, born in 1986, has managed to survive inside of a bunker for 30 years. Also thirty years prior to the game’s story nuclear bombs had decimated mankind. Identical days turn into weeks as our hero takes care of his sick mother – of whom he seems as dependent as of the pills he takes every day before turning the radio on. Each hour spent in the bunker is subject to a certain routine. This makes you wonder if, and when, it will change.

One of the first choices. Which book to read? - 2016-08-30
One of the first choices. Which book to read?

This brief introduction itself manages to convey some of the claustrophobic character of the game, prompting us to expect elements of horror. Instead, the portion of the game that I tested featured an atmosphere of constantly rising tension – when the routine is disrupted, we’re taken into a world of retrospections and uncertainty. As it turns out, the “honor” of being the last man standing inside our bunker is not a result of all others dying of natural causes. The situation was influenced by phenomena of a rather extraordinary kind, by which I mean not only the acute radiation syndrome, but “something else” as well. Understatement is the driving force behind the production from Splendy Games and plays a paramount role in keeping the players bound to their monitors.

Most interactions are only cosmetic. - 2016-08-30
Most interactions are only cosmetic.

The protagonist is one of the pieces that make it all intriguing. His conduct and the nature of the relation with his mother make him a rather peculiar fellow. He’s a believable character mostly thanks to the way he was presented. John is played by Adam Brown, whom you might recall from his role as Ori in The Hobbit. Since the game’s cast is studded with professionals, the whole story becomes much more real and serious – which is the only way this indie experiment could work out, as the game is supposed to be a bridge between movies and games.

After spending some time with the chunk of the game provided by the developer, I became a little wary of a couple of things, namely the length and inventiveness of the story. I spent something under an hour with the game, and I felt that I’ve seen more than half of it, despite the fact that nothing game-changing had happened; my heart never skipped a beat, and I never fell off my chair. At the same time, I could not shake the feeling that a cliché ending is just around the corner, which would mean a complete waste of potential built up by the place where the events unfold. Failure to end such a story with a spectacular twist would have to be considered a mortal sin. If it turned out in the end that zombies or the (suspiciously exposed on trailers) “dude with an axe” were behind everything, the game would probably evaporate from my memory half an hour after I finished it, and only the damage done to my wallet would remind me that I’ve ever had anything to do with something called The Bunker.

The plan seems simple. - 2016-08-30
The plan seems simple.

A game meant for watching

Perhaps you feel that the above paragraphs were written under Captain Obvious’ influence, and the matters I discussed are an absolute foundation of any game. The fact is, however, that these foundations are The Bunker’s focal point. For all intents and purposes this is an interactive movie – and there are consequences of this classification. This game is about the story and the atmosphere it creates, and probably nothing will change in this respect, so we’ll have to consider the “horror in the bunker” a niche experiment. Labels such as “live action experience” have to be taken with a grain of salt.

The figurines probably play a key part in the story. - 2016-08-30
The figurines probably play a key part in the story.

In terms of mechanics, The Bunker is a “skinny” example of a point&click game. My attention was immediately drawn to the fact that the game currently enables very limited interaction with the environment – even a cosmetic enhancement of this element would be something. After all, the mouse allows a lot of input flexibility. The Bunker seems to ignore this fact, limiting the range of possible moves to up/down/left/right. It’s also apparent that the execution of these mechanics lacks creativity – quick time events are rare and limited to a simple “click here now at the right moment”.

The authors suggested some freedom, but an extreme linearity is obvious rather quickly, only allowing you to travel from A to B and nowhere else. Although from the very beginning The Bunker makes a point of convincing the player that they shape everything, it takes five minutes to discover the sad truth. Not only is the player incapable of influencing anything here, but their role is limited to that of an intelligent machine that ticks off subsequent boxes on the list of events designed by the writer. The logic side of the story seems to suffer the most because of this. It’s pretty simple anyways, but because of the lack of freedom it becomes questionable whether its presence in the game is justified at all.

The actors’ performances in The Bunker are really exquisite. - 2016-08-30
The actors’ performances in The Bunker are really exquisite.

The collectibles seem to be strongly interwoven with the game’s plot. The players learn the story of the bunker, and the circumstances under which it was populated, by means of scattered files, audio (not video – oddly enough) logs, and mysterious figurines, sculptured by the protagonist years back and connected to particular locations. Other than that, you will not find any other diversions, not to mention the fact that the world is totally closed.

Despite all these limitations, it would be totally unfair not to admit that this underground complex has an extraordinary (equally peculiar as its only inhabitant) charm. Each scene has been filmed in a real bunker in the English county of Essex, which adds credibility to the scenery without spoiling it with unnecessary special effects. The mood is further enhanced by very good camera work and proper color composition, which make many razor-sharp scenes pretty memorable. There are no “graphics” per se in this game, hence it can’t be evaluated in terms of technical proficiency – only in terms of its artistic side.

Some of the shots would make for perfect wallpapers. - 2016-08-30
Some of the shots would make for perfect wallpapers.

A hermetic bunker

Not all elements of the game have been revealed so far, but one thing is for sure – this won’t be a game for everyone, partly because not everyone will even consider The Bunker a video game. If you don’t mind a game that enables even less interaction than Her Story, replacing it by some really neat cut-scenes, you won’t consider the time spent playing Splendy Games’ production wasted. However, if you’re not big on a cross between game and movie (especially when the latter is more emphasized), then it’s likely that The Bunker won’t be to your liking. I for one am really curious about it.

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