You can count me amongst those who have a great deal of nostalgia for FMV games. I didn’t have many of them growing up, but I stared at those who did with envy. I remember spending hours playing things like Police Quest: SWAT, a game that I tried going back to recently and didn’t last five minutes. Under a Killing Moon has been a classic in my eyes since its release and I’m almost ashamed at the fond memories I have around the Phantasmagoria games or Harvester or any other number of titles. I always wanted a Sega CD when it was first released to really get my FMV on, and when I finally got one a few years back I devoured all the games I was eager to try back then. Even way past their release dates, I had tremendous amounts of fun playing titles like Wirehead, Night Trap and Double Switch.
All this to say, FMV and I are totally cool and I’m always intrigued when a modern game goes after that style. This made The Bunker a day one purchase.
If you want to go into this game completely blind (which I did and would honestly recommend) then maybe don’t read any of this paragraph but I’ll try and keep any semblance of spoilers incredibly light. The game opens with a group of strangers living in an underground bunker for reasons that are not immediately disclosed. A baby is born and 30 years later has grown up into our protagonist, John, who winds up seemingly alone in the bunker. You guide him through the game and uncover what went on here and why things are the way they are. That’s about as vague as I can be with this summary.
Let’s be honest – a big part of the FMV appeal is their overall cheesiness. Things like Night Trap aren’t exactly full of terrific acting and much of the fun of the experience is how dated and silly the whole thing is. FMV has to walk a very delicate line because if the acting/general execution is not terrific, it runs the risk of becoming very goofy, very quickly. The Bunker pulls it off. Adam Brown (Ori in The Hobbit trilogy) is terrific as John, which is critical because this game is largely a one-man show. If Brown wasn’t up to the task it wouldn’t be engaging, but thankfully he absolutely is. The supporting cast delivers as well, with Sarah Green putting in a terrific performance as John’s mother.
What really makes The Bunker work though is the atmosphere of the bunker setting itself. The game really captures the feeling of John’s isolation, and even when nothing creepy is happening, the darkly lit corridors and expansive empty rooms give the player a consistent feeling of dread. This is only amplified by the camera work, making liberal use of security camera perspectives that had me scanning the background to see if anything sinister was lurking there.
The story itself is absolutely one worth experiencing. Information and character backstories are dished out in a way that kept me engaged, and I was definitely surprised by some of the twists the narrative took as it went on. It’s not the kind of story you would likely need to experience again, but it’s one that grabbed my attention handily during my play through.
Unfortunately, the actual game part of The Bunker does not stack up as well as the presentation. It’s a point and click game with no real puzzles (occasionally you’ll have to go searching for a particular item but that’s about the extent of it) so there isn’t a whole lot required from the player for the most part. You almost always know exactly what the next goal is and how to accomplish it, and the bunker setting is quite contained so you never have to worry about getting lost and not knowing where you should be going next. Your only role is to move the cursor around the screen and click on the appropriate item, or move your character to the next screen.
This does lead to some pixel hunting as you move the achingly slow cursor around the screen to see what you can interact with. The speed of the cursor is also a huge detriment during the occasional cut scene as a few of them feature an incredibly simple quick time event where you have a matter of seconds to move your cursor into a circle on the screen and press X. The problem I found is that if your cursor happens to be on the other side of the screen from where this circle appears, it moves so slow that you may not be able to line it up in time. From what I can tell, hitting this only changes the cut scene in a very minor way (I only found one instance in the game where I actually died, though it was in fact due to missing the circle cue) so it’s usually not a massive penalty, but still irritating.
The Bunker is a not a long game. I finished it in about two hours, and that was taking my time to try and read all the documents, find all the collectibles and listen to all the recordings. After that I did another quick run to get the platinum trophy and with that, my time with The Bunker drew to a close. Maybe in a few years I will forget the major plot beats and journey through it again, but my guess is that’s it.
The Bunker is a great example of FMV done right. Terrific performances and a wonderful atmosphere make up for the complete lack of challenge and the minimal amount of actual game play. I enjoyed my time with it but it’s a quick experience with little replay value. With Halloween around the corner, this one could be worth checking out for an evening of unsettledness…which may not be a word. I don’t see the red line though so let’s assume it’s fine!