When I was growing up as a gamer, I was lucky enough to have a small taste of the classic full-motion video adventure games (FMV for short) that many people fondly remember. I always enjoyed any level of live-action cutscenes in games, even if they were a little cheesy (I’m looking at you, Command & Conquer).
That’s why I was pretty pumped when I saw that Wales Interactive was working on a full-motion video point-and-click psychological horror game. It was a blast from the past, but it had all the makings of a great homage to those photorealistic graphics we like to call “real life.” So, does The Bunker take us underground for a terrifying adventure, or should we leave this fallout shelter sealed?
Filmed On Location: The Story of The Bunker
Games like this one live and die by their stories. We know going in that interaction will be minimal (more on that later), so we depend on the moment-to-moment storytelling to keep us engaged. Wales Interactive took the unique approach of filming the entire game in live-action video.
Not only that, but they filmed the entire horror adventure within an actual decommissioned bunker! Bunker enthusiasts (if you exist) will see that it’s located in Essex, England and just about the most perfect option for a live-action game entitled “The Bunker.”
Jokes aside, the authenticity of the setting is apparent through the entire 3-hour adventure. The setting in the game also uses the leftover Commodore computers, switchboards, and NBC suits that were left behind when the location was decommissioned in 1992.
The footage in the game is all filmed in HD and at no point does it leave this real life perspective. The awesome post-apocalyptic setting is further enhanced by the presence of some really talented actors/actresses.
Fresh off his role as Oni in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, Adam Brown plays the main character, John. His mother is played by Sarah Greene, and she is a standout character in the story. They are joined by Grahame Fox of Game of Thrones fame, and Jerome St. John Blake from The Fifth Element.
I’m going to be deliberately vague with the story elements here to avoid spoilers, but the premise is this: you play as John, a man who was born within the walls of an underground bunker as bombs destroyed the world outside.
Having made it to thirty-years old, John is now alone. You begin the game by simply following his (mostly) normal routine until an alarm changes John’s entire outlook on life. This man, raised entirely underground, is now faced with a crisis that only he can solve. For someone who has quite literally been sheltered his whole life, Adam Brown does an incredible job of conveying John’s inherent vulnerability and lack of coping skills.
He really seems like the fragile, scared, and inexperienced man you would expect him to be, given his constricted life thus far. As you work your way through the story, you’ll be treated to intermittent flashbacks that reveal more and more of what happened in this mysterious bunker.
It’s in these scenes that we get precious glimpses into John’s life when people were still a part of it. Furthermore, we get to know his mother. Sarah Greene does an amazing job as John’s mother. The way she fiercely protects her only son and shelters him from the events happening around the bunker is admirable.
There’s a chemistry between John and his mother that feels real, but it also highlights how truly lost he is without her. Both John and his mother steal the show, but the supporting members of the cast also do a great job of building upon the atmosphere and foundation set by the authentic location and the performance of the main characters.
I won’t go into any more detail on the story side of things, but I really enjoyed my time in The Bunker. The game wasn’t terrifying in the way that, say, Outlast is terrifying, but it nailed the atmosphere. I felt the sense of crushing loneliness that John would feel throughout the story.
More than that, I felt the ever-growing dread as the proverbial excrement continued to throw itself at the fan as it were. Towards the end, I even felt my heart racing as more horrific elements were compounded onto the already solid tale.
If it was a movie, The Bunker would succeed as a strong independent film. As a game, with the player being a participant, The Bunker ascends to something greater.
It misses a few opportunities in terms of branching story or additional interactivity, but overall it manages to create a story that feels all the more personal solely because of the fact that you, the player, are in control. Even if you wish you could exert more control over the story, it’s still a worthy tale.
My only other caveat, is the fact that, for a game, The Bunker is relatively short. On the one hand, this creates an excellent pace for the entirety of the story, but it’s also over in a single sitting or two at the most. There are two endings to experience, which provides additional incentive to return, but I would have loved to see more from this tale.
Light Interactivity and Puzzles to Solve
The Bunker takes an approach that feels akin to other story-based games like the ones offered by Telltale. The experience here is even less interactive than that, however. You’ll point, and you’ll click, but beyond that you’ll tap some buttons here and there.
That’s about it, which is par for the course if we’re talking about traditional point-and-click games, but usually there are fiendish puzzles in there as well.
The Bunker does have puzzles, but they aren’t brain twisters. Usually they require a couple steps at most before you can move on. In addition, there are collectibles to find that give you incentive to look closer in each environment.
The Bunker fleshes out its world by also offering pages to read, computers to access, and audio recordings to find. It’s hard to say what could have improved here, as the genre isn’t exactly overflowing with gameplay options. It’s more about the story.
That being said, more choices, puzzles, and perhaps a few more interactions during action scenes couldn’t have hurt.
Prior to my review, I took to Twitter and spoke with a few fellow gamers about their experiences with The Bunker (Special thanks to @Rublakov and @cclarkson24 for their input!). In one case, there was an issue with the interaction during cutscenes. To complete these timed moments, you’ll need to move your cursor over the button, but sometimes a single press won’t register properly.
In cases like this, I had to mash the X button to ensure I would be recognized before time ran out. On another note, one gamer pointed out to me that they found the walking scenes to be too stilted to their liking.
There are some jarring transitions between selection and the transition into another scene. These don’t ruin the experience by any means, but they can be jarring. For the most post, however, I found the video editing to be smooth and the transitions worked well.
In the end, the gameplay of The Bunker is what you would expect to see from a point-and-click adventure. It’s not perfect, and perhaps a little more puzzles and depth would have made the experience more engaging, but what’s there works well. It does have a few hitches here and there.
Photorealistic Graphics! Oh, wait, it’s Live-Action
Wales Interactive and co-developer Splendy Games made the bold choice to film the game in its entirety. Every moment of the game, without fail, is portrayed in a full-motion-video format. This bold decision is solidified by the excellent performance of the cast, and the authentic nature of the location.
It’s quite surreal to click something in the game, only to see a real human hand reach out and interact with it. When you combined these things with the game’s outstanding neo-retro soundtrack composed by Dom Shovelton, and you have an atmosphere most games would only dream of.
Playing through the story in a live-action medium offers a number of different things that video game graphics have yet to perfect, and it’s humbling to see just how far we’ve come in terms of graphics, but how far we still have yet to go.
The Bunker is a bold experiment in the realm of live-action point-and-click adventure and in my opinion it largely succeeds. If Wales Interactive and Splendy Games were to ever revisit this universe as an episodic series in the vein of Telltale, I would be first in line to purchase a season pass.
In the meantime, if you like unique and engrossing stories with point-and-click adventure gameplay, boy do I have a game for you.
Final Score: 8.0/10
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 9/22/16