The Bunker is an indie horror game from Splendy Games. It is FMV (full motion video) which is what first peaked my interest in the game. Coming from a mostly PC games background in my young years I played plenty of games that featured at the very least FMV for cut scenes. Of course, a lot of us remember a certain degree of cheesiness with FMV before it started to go out of style. I became curious about how The Bunker would look and play. FMV is starting to come back, though not in great numbers. Leaps in technology and storytelling in games have changed the face of what FMV is to gaming. It’s safe to say I went in very curious but completely uncertain as to what to expect.
The Bunker follows the story of John. He becomes the last survivor in a bunker after his mother dies. As the player you know at one time there was a rather large population in the bunker, but have no information as to what happened. It’s clear from the start that John’s mother is obsessed with keeping him safe, and that their relationship is less than normal. She makes him repeat that he should stick to his routine to survive. Once she passes you do just that. Any attempt to deviate from the route will not work as John will simply refuse until he’s gone through it the way his mother told him to. This includes reading to her dead body every night.
Inevitably something goes wrong in the bunker forcing John to fix the problem and break his routine. As you control John through the various problems he begins to have flashbacks of what exactly happened in the bunker to leave it this way.
The game deals with tension well. The soundtrack is excellent, and you are often assaulted with noises as you are forced to work your way through. You start to feel like you have a limited amount of time to fix things before you will simply die. Add to this that a few of the flashbacks are violent and often unexpected, and you will be nervous and tense throughout gameplay.
The story itself is well done. I am not a huge fan of the flashback narrative, but it works well in this game so I can hardly say I dislike it. The acting is exceptional. A solid cast was truly needed to help keep this game from going into “cheesy FMV” territory, and it succeeds almost completely. There are a few moments that feel stilted and awkward, but nothing like what we were treated to in the 90s. Adam Brown does a convincing job as John. John is an interesting character. He is far too immature for his age and more than a little awkward. It was a balancing act to keep him in the realm of likability while still making the gamer a little uncomfortable with him.
However, even with all that is good we still get to a core problem with the game. It’s short. Even taking the time to explore the bunker to its fullest and find, read, and listen to every possible thing, the game can be completed in 2-4 hours. It also does not have a great deal of replayability. The game hinges on you finally discovering what happened to the bunker, and it’s a rather important twist. Getting to that moment the first time is entertaining, tense, and compelling. Getting there a second and the experience is already greatly weakened. Beyond that, there was a lot more exploring that could have been done with the story of the game. What we have is well written, which should come as no surprise when you look at previous works of the writers. It’s also compelling and a solid story. The problem is it’s not entirely developed. It feels rather rushed which takes away a lot of the emotional impact that the ending could have had. I am not saying it’s bad, it’s not. I am just saying it could have been a lot more fleshed out.
Now I am not entirely sure the reason for the length of the game. I am going to assume it had to do in large parts with the technology and cost. I am also not going to say a game has to be long to be good. This game is good, it’s just not all it could have been. Adding to the length of the game could have served to give more backstory and kept the gamer guessing more. The final reveal of what happened to the bunker is not that unexpected, and that’s largely to do with how quickly we get there.
There is also a lack of actual gameplay. You are more often than not just clicking John forward with little freedom, or even sitting back and watching for long periods of time. There simply isn’t a lot to do and it feels flat. I do like games with a strong story, but at times it starts to beg the question “why didn’t they just make a movie?”.
So with all this, I am kind of stuck. I want to give The Bunker a great deal of credit for what it does right. It is a solid example of how good FMV can look, and gives me great hope for games like this in the future. It’s well acted and well written. The soundtrack is amazing. I cannot overstate how wonderful the music is and how much it can help to build tension. The game is also pretty scary. For how short it is, and a lack of any real “monster”, the game is very tense and should keep you interested. However, it can’t get a free pass. It needs more, simply put. It needed to be longer, with more development in the story, and a bit more gameplay.
My bottom-line would probably be this. I am hopeful and excited to see what else Splendy Games can do. I see this as a great proof of concept, and that they have the potential to make something truly spectacular if they improve on this. I would also recommend it to those that are a fan of indie games and games that do something different. However, I would say wait for it to go on sale, and be prepared for the overall shortness of the experience.