The Bunker is an innovative concept in gaming. Evolving from the early days of text based adventure gaming available in early home gaming, The Bunker takes you on a journey as the main protagonist in a short thriller movie.
Things have certainly come a long way since the lines of text on a screen. Instead of creating hand drawn maps or simple illustrations, the adventure has evolved once more in to a live action format. In essence, you are immersed in a ‘movie; playing and guiding the lead character of ‘John’ played by Adam Brown (instantly recognisable from Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’, but with far less facial hair). Having a recognisable live action character as opposed to a voice artist leaves you feeling a certain level of red carpet glamour. Other recognisable names/faces in the albeit small cast (previous acting roles in Penny Dreadful and Star Wars) gives the sense that there has been a careful investment in the talent featured in the game. With the focus of the game being the live action, this is completely appropriate and understandable. It also does credit to the quality of the storytelling from the outset.
The location, in fitting with the title, is in a nuclear bunker. The whole filming process took place in a real, decommissioned British nuclear bunker left ‘as was’ at the end of the Cold War. This left you as the player with the uncomfortable essence of the tangible reality of the setting. The muted colours, the harsh electric lighting and the genuine sense of isolation really kicks you off to a decent start.
Initially, the game was confusing as it kept repeating itself and you get an worrying sense of the game maybe just being a ‘nuclear bunker life simulator’. But then a series of events mean that John has to break his routine and try to save his own life by making some tough decisions. The use of cinematography is exquisite as you get a view from the protagonist, flashback footage, CCTV style images and soliloquy. Soliloquy (the character talking to the audience directly as opposed to another character) is so important in this game owing to the fact that there really is only one character and the use of this type of narration as the character thinks and feels is crucial to the player empathising with him and his situation.
There were sections of the game that really were highly emotional and difficult to watch. The acting really is first class; to have tears rolling down my face at one point really surprised me as you get a real sense of the hopelessness and despair of the character. As one of my live stream viewers commented – “You just want to climb through the screen and give him a hug while telling him it will all be ok”.
The interactive sections fall in different places within the telling of the story. They are, however very limited in their scope. Simple choosing of something to explore, clicking the decision for the character and sliding the mouse to open a door are the main actions. There are also some sections where you have to click a spot repeatedly or in a certain amount of time to progress. There’s no denying it, its not advanced and I was left craving a more complex investigative process or puzzles to solve rather than simple clicking. However, the storyline is such that if too much complexity of action or puzzle were added, it would definitely effect the immersion of the player in the story line. The time and money has definitely been invested in the story and there would be far too much disruption were there too many protracted tasks to complete. Its certainly not going to have appeal for those looking for highly intense gameplay, but would be suited to a casual, relaxed gamer who would relish a good story and excellent character portrayal. A great alternative to a movie night if you fancy something a little less passive.
Each time you complete one of the tasks in the storyline, you move to a new ‘level’ (get it!) of the bunker. You really start to feel an alarming sense of being alone yet being watched as this progresses. There is a definite Orwellian vein of the establishment versus the people and corruption versus the innocent. The isolation, anxiety and hesitation really brought out some scare sweats as I made my way through the different sections. The game gets progressively darker and toys with the characters own reality which, in turn, toys with yours. You begin to question if you saw what you saw or heard what you heard. Immersion gaming at its finest. All the while you are drawing ever closer to something you don’t fully understand until the last moments of the game. The atmospherics are fantastic and the use of colour, light and sound are second to none.
This is an interesting and innovative approach which is to be commended and celebrated, especially as an indie title. It generated interesting debates about the value of the game as an interactive movie experience as opposed to a game in its own right. Some viewers felt it too expensive to buy as a game and yet still too expensive to buy as a movie. However I think the idea has excellent merit, is fresh and so well polished and presented, that it deserves consideration if your pockets allow and if you are keen on story rich, lightly interactive games. Its got masses of award nominations for these reasons. Its not going to appeal to everyone but its certainly not effecting its popularity. It became my most visited live stream to date and ranked on the front page of Twitch alongside AAA titles such as Overwatch and World of Warcraft. It’s something unique tucked away in the market of ‘same-ish’ games, remasters and re-releases.
It’s a real treat for the senses; you care about the character, you are left in awe at the environment and all because there is realism due to the live action nature. It does lack challenge and depth but I feel future titles would expand upon this. I’d also be interested in seeing how this would fare as a VR title (although that would scare me witless I think!) as it really lends itself to that sort of playability. In any case, just relishing the story telling opportunity instead of an intense level of gameplay can be very rewarding – less is definitely more.