The quest for a more immersive experience has led to some rather interesting trends in gaming history. One such trend is the full motion video approach, in which action is portrayed using live actors on a physical soundstage or superimposed upon digital backdrops. The promise, of course, is that the player will be drawn into the story by watching real people rather than digital characters, which in the FMV heyday of the 1990s were more likely to be angular sprites than realistic renders. However, this potential for immersion was more often than not broken by hammy melodrama and actors badly incorporated into blocky digital scenes.
Horror-themed interactive film The Bunker, a co-production of British developers Splendy Games and Wales Interactive with a design team pedigree that includes the likes of Broken Sword, SOMA, and The Witcher, promises many of the same things as the FMV games of old, but without any added digital effects. However, while the brief 1-2 hour game avoids the typical pitfalls of overacting for the most part, a few instances still manage to mar the experience, while the near-complete lack of puzzles or any significant player agency wastes the opportunity for a fully-rounded interactive experience to go with its otherwise enjoyable story.
The game takes place in an alternate-history, late 20th century Britain, in which the Cold War turned hot and the government was forced to go underground to continue operations while the world above was completely destroyed. The story focuses on a man known only as “John” (played by The Hobbit’s Adam Brown), who has spent his entire life in the eponymous bunker with his mother, Margaret (Penny Dreadful’s Sarah Greene), who dies shortly after the game begins. With her death, John becomes the shelter’s final survivor, left alone to continue his daily routine, until he discovers rising radiation and a malfunction in the life support system that forces him to venture into areas of the bunker that have always been off-limits to him in order to fix the problem and survive.
The Bunker bills itself as a straightforward horror game, but at best such elements are mild, with a few late-game jumpscares to meet the requirement. It’s far more accurate to call this a psychological thriller, as the story deals at least in part with the mental horrors of having lived in a claustrophobic bomb shelter from birth, and the events that have shaped the protagonist’s life. For instance, John’s “friends” are plaster dolls bearing the names of people he once knew, his favorite being his “Mum,” which he carries around with him after she dies. These little details help make the story quite creepy at times, though it struggles to recapture the impact of its early moments as the game shifts focus to survival later on.
When I heard about The Bunker, I had high hopes that the developers would marry a good game with the film-style presentation, but it’s almost as if they skipped over the game part altogether, instead substituting mouse-driven interactivity for actual gameplay. In case you’re wondering (and why wouldn’t you be?), there are no puzzles to solve, although I suppose two very simple tasks could charitably be defined as such. The Bunker leans so far in the direction of being an interactive film that it squanders any potential it might have had as an actual game, which is both surprising and a damned shame, because the all-film presentation and real-world setting could have made for some impressive puzzling.
Looping still shots are used when the player is presented with an interactive scene such as a medicine cabinet or a wide-angle view of a room, where you can click on hotspots to open doors or interact with items. Once an action is performed, the “film” resumes, showing John carrying out the selected action. Sometimes you must slide a control from one side of the screen to the other in order to perform a lengthy action like turning a handle, or click repeatedly in order to simulate a strenuous action such as pushing something across the floor or forcing a door open.
A few Quick Time Events crop up from time to time, usually during flashbacks, when John is about to hear a revealing conversation in an area he shouldn’t be in. Signified by a pulsating icon that suddenly appears in the middle of the screen, successful activation of the QTE allows the protagonist to remain hidden and reveal more about the backstory, while failure results in his discovery and an end to the overheard conversation. These sequences are particularly frustrating because they seem to happen right when you least expect them. It wouldn’t be such a problem if you keep your hand on the mouse at all times, but with so much time spent watching The Bunker rather than playing, this was just an extra task for me to have to remember, and a seemingly pointless one at that, since there’s no real reason to withhold the information in the first place.
Clicking on items like computers and documents allows you to interact with them via a close-up of the screen or, in the case of documents, a narrated transcript of their contents. Much like the flashbacks, these optional discoveries help to flesh out the backstory, and accessing all of them unlocks various achievements. John’s carved dolls are the subject of a collection task, in which they are hidden around various scenes, but this is also optional.Continued on the next page...