Most games these days tend to follow a standard formula: get from point a to point b and kill as many enemies as you can. Sure there are plenty of other games out there, but they usually don’t get the same kind of coverage or reception. When I first heard about The Bunker, I was intrigued, but I didn’t really know what to expect. Our The Bunker review takes a look at this live action journey from Splendy Games and Wales Interactive that was filmed on location in a real decommissioned nuclear bunker.
Described as a 100% live action psychological horror, players control John — the last remaining survivor in an underground government bunker. The story starts out with the player’s birth, and then cuts to a clip of a nuclear warhead exploding. Fast forward 30 years to day 11,109. You are the sole survivor. You start by helping John stick to his daily routine to keep him sane by following a checklist. The first day is pretty interactive while using the checklist, day 11,110 more automated, and features the same routine. When day 11,111 starts with the same routine, I did start to wonder how many more times I was going to have to go through this, but then the in-game computer threw a good old system check error.
And thus begins the real story as John’s routine is thrown into chaos, and you must face his fears and uncover the terrifying mysteries held underground. I’m not going to explain much more for fear of spoiling it, but it is about a two to two and a half hour story that you play through, with two possible endings. Throughout the story, you are tasked with helping John by controlling his decisions as you explore all five levels of the bunker, searching through computer files, documents, flashbacks to when John was a child, and recordings to unlock John’s dark suppressed childhood memories. Being an exploration type game, it pays to move the cursor around and examine as much as you can, read documents, and interface with computers and tape recorders that you find along the way.
The story did seem a bit slow and drawn out a couple times, but it was nothing major. There is pretty much only one way you can proceed as the story is pretty linear, although when given multiple choices to make on the screen, you can make them in any order you want, although if you make the wrong one you are reminded of the task at hand. The story was pretty decent overall, and even though it was short I did find myself on the edge of my seat a few times waiting to see what happens next. I can honestly say, I didn’t expect the story to take me where it did.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward. The game is indeed 100% live action, and after watching short video clips, you are prompted to perform a task. Tasks are performed by moving your cursor around until you see a prompt to open or use an item, and there wasn’t a time where I was stuck wondering what I was supposed to do. If you hesitate too long, you will get another vocal prompt, for example “I wonder where the manual is?” to remind you that you are looking for the manual.
In addition to opening and using items by moving the circular cursor into a circle prompt, you also have to drag a circle into larger circles to open doors, put the cursor in a specific area and mash the button for tasks that require strength, and so on.
The live action video is a mix of first and third person camera footage, and is mixed with live action through security cameras, as well as flashbacks which are instrumental in finding out what happened to the rest of the bunker inhabitants. During flashbacks you can choose to interact with something or let the scene play by. Present day camera work is dark, and the cam footage is grainy and distorts like an old VHS tape.
I was impressed with how seamless the live action footage was. When you take a bit longer to make a decision, John just stands/sits/stares into space in a loop, but there is no cut point to the loop. The developers definitely did a good job with the looping animations for when the main character is waiting for you to figure something out or make a choice. Coupled with music (more on that later), John’s expressions definitely elevate the feelings of uncertainty and apprehension.
Being a live action game, it was a bit slower at times making a decision than in a traditional game, but it didn’t affect the pace of the game too much. It would have been nice to see a few more possible choices or things to explore, but once you play through the game once you can definitely see the amount of effort that had to go into the game to make it feel and play as seamless as it does.
The Bunker is a completely live-action experience (ya, I know I’ve mentioned that a few times already), and was filmed on location in a real decommissioned nuclear bunker located in Essex, England. Adam Brown (The Hobbit) takes the role of John (Miles Roughley plays young John) with Sarah Greene (Penny Dreadful, Assassin’s Creed 3) as his mother, and Grahame Fox (Game of Thrones) as the Commissioner. As much as this is a graphics section, the acting definitely plays an important role in the game, and Adam Brown was believable as a 30 year old man who’d never seen the light of day and grew up in the sheltered life inside a nuclear bunker. The other main actors did a decent job as well, as well as the supporting cast in the flashback clips they were in.
The camera work is pretty good in The Bunker, and the setting works well with the soundtrack and definitely helps set the mood in the game. At times I forgot I was playing a game, and felt like I was watching a movie and providing input as to how it should proceed. The differentiation between present day and the flashbacks was well done as well, with the present being more drab and moody, while the past for the most part featured brighter, better lit footage.
Sound is crucial in any game that calls itself a psychological horror, and the soundtrack and sound effects in The Bunker pretty much nailed it. The “neo-retro” soundtrack was composed by UK composer Dom Shoveltonis, and is definitely very moody, and as mentioned in the graphics section, it helps set the suspenseful and apprehensive mood of the game.
The first night I played, I used my 5.1 Surround speakers connected to my home theatre setup, on the second night I used a pair of gaming headphones and while both sounded great, it was definitely more immersive and enjoyable with the headset. Sound effects and the soundtrack in full surround was pretty well timed and scored with the visuals happening on the screen.
The Bunker isn’t the first game to come around that has featured or been completely live action, but it is the first fully live action game that you interact with that I can recall hearing about for the current console generation. As I mentioned in my preface, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well everything gelled together and how seamless the non-interactive and interactive portions of the game were. Splendy Games and Wales Interactive definitely pushed the boundaries with this game and came out with a very decent experience.
The Bunker is a short experience, and has an interesting story and feels like you are somewhat controlling a movie. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, this live action game is definitely worth a play through, and it definitely left me wanting more.
The Bunker was released on September 20th for the PC and PlayStation 4 and is available on the Xbox One today. While it has a retail price of $19.99USD, it is on sale for the next week or so on all platforms.
*We were sent a review copy of The Bunker on Xbox One for the purposes of this review.
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