The Bunker Review — Horror Beneath the Surface
Despite being a rarity since the the 1990s, the FMV (full motion video) subgenre of games (if you want to refer to it as that) has made a semi-resurgance in the past few years and, often, in the least likely of ways. Indie hits like Her Story and Cibele utilized FMV to tell more impactful stories by incorporating live video to give its characters live, human faces to engage and interact with. This year’s Quantum Break also comes to mind for its integration of a traditional third-person shooter experience, interlaced with a live-action scripted television series for a larger multimedia experience.
Though the days of the 3DO and other systems that brought an onslaught of FMV-laced games are long gone, games like these have cropped up in recent years and brought a mini-revival of FMV games back into gamers’ hands, with another recent title doing so in a more traditional (but refined way).
That title is The Bunker, an independent horror experience from developers Splendy Interactive and Wales Interactive (with Green Man Gaming publishing) that brings back the style of FMV gameplay from two decades ago into a modern horror tale.
Set in a post-apocalyptic near future, The Bunker puts players into the role of John, one of the last remaining members of the titular bunker where humanity has sought shelter from nuclear experiments. After the passing of his mother, it becomes John’s mission to seek out the mysteries of the bunker and find a way to escape before greater threats get the best of him.
If there’s one legacy to FMV games that the genre had in the 1990s, it was the often laughably bad acting, writing, and design that brought down those experiences (aside from the novelty of having live actors and video in a video games). The Bunker echoes those titles as the game relies completely on live action video to propel its action, but manages to set itself apart with surprisingly high production in its scenes, set design, and some fine performances from its cast.
Featuring actors such as Adam Brown (The Hobbit series) and Sarah Greene (Penny Dreadful), it’s quite a pleasant surprise that The Bunker actually pulls off a convincing take on FMV games. With great cinematography and effective set design, the world, characters, and the narrative of The Bunker proves effective and believable; it speaks well that after the title’s brief running time (which will take most players about 1.5-2 hours) I wanted to know more about the world long after the credits rolled.
Like most point-and-click adventure games, The Bunker relies mostly on its live action segments interspersed with interactive elements on-screen for players to explore and discover. Moving the on-screen cursor and following prompts will allow the player to interact with objects in the environment, move to new areas, or in certain scenarios, activate quicktime events or make decisions on the fly. Those that have played any of Telltale’s or Double Fine’s games should feel right at home with The Bunker.
With its convincing world and solid direction and acting, The Bunker is a neat and intriguing alternative for those that may have enjoyed titles such as The Walking Dead or Until Dawn with its horror edge, and the title crafts some good scares and a feeling of tension throughout its nearly two hour running time. However, The Bunker does have some aspects that hold the game back from truly excelling, as much as it manages to set itself apart from the FMV games of the past.
At a brisk two hours (or so), The Bunker is a title that offers a quick experience that may not entirely fulfill players looking for a meatier experience, and even more so offers little in the way of deployability or motivation to go back through again, other than a (very few) select choices that can impact the outcome.
With its $19.99 price tag it’s certainly a worthy title to experience for the night (especially playing alongside someone to help make decisions), though it’s hard to see going back into The Bunker more than once, especially with its slow burn approach to setting up its story and characters in the beginning.
While games like Heavy Rain, Until Dawn, and so many others also offer fairly “linear” experiences, the hidden pleasure of various decisions and choices that affect the game’s outcome is sorely missed in The Bunker. It’s not hard to think that having additional choices or paths to go down could have done wonders to the experience (and especially for those looking for multiple replays).
Aside from the limited options for different paths or story outcomes, the game also offers little in the way of interactivity or discovery, especially in a world that actually feels ripe for the player to explore and uncover its secrets. As it stands, The Bunker mainly keeps interaction to a minimum in mainly finding and interacting with objects, with no dialogue options or ways to really delve deeper into the story. Some collectible figures of John’s are strewn throughout the course of the game for players to find, but even they offer little in the way of expanding upon the world of The Bunker in drastically meaningful ways.
Coming from the roots of a genre that was mainly known for cheesiness back in its heyday, Wales Interactive and Splendy Interactive deserve immense credit for crafting an experience like The Bunker that actually approaches the genre with the intent to create an intriguing narrative experience for players.
Through the majority of its running time, The Bunker provides a tense ride that those looking for brisk horror experience may genuinely enjoy, though repeated trips back into its post-apocalyptic world may not be quite as fresh or horrific as the first time.