Wot I Think: The Bunker

Somewhere there exists a line that marks the point where FMV releases switch between clicking on a film to make it keep playing, and being a meaningful game. The Bunker [official site] is way, way over to the left of that line – it can barely be bothered to ask you to click. Here’s wot I think:

The Bunker is an absolutely dreadful game. It requires nothing of the player beyond being able to click on a dot reasonably fast on a few occasions, offers one mayfly puzzle, no challenges, and literally one moment of choice in its two hours. Still though, it’s a TV show I’d watch.

Set in an alternative world version of Britain where nuclear war broke out in the mid-80s, there’s an immediate and obvious influence from the utterly soul-destroying and devastatingly incredible Threads. Beginning with the birth of your character, John, deep underground in a busy nuclear bunker, the action quickly leaps ahead 30 years with the death of John’s mother, Margaret (Sarah Greene, Penny Dreadful). And things seem an awful lot quieter. John (Adam Brown, The Hobbit), an infantilised and clearly disturbed man, has been living in a set routine for many years, and following his mother’s death continues to follow it for (presumably) months. Take his vitamins, check his radiation levels, check the radio for signals, run a bunker system diagnostic on the Amstrad in his room, eat, and read to his mum. Yes, the last one.

It unfortunately does not have the courage of its convictions from the very first moment you have control. In depicting the monotonous loop of John’s life, you play through the checklist of his daily routine in full only once. The next day it already begins skipping sections, and the flying-by third day has the inevitable things-go-wrong arrive already. To have been forced to repeat his routine at the very least twice might have given some emphasis to how long he’s been going through this, shown us his burden. This is a broken man, born and raised in a sunless concrete shell, and yet it rushes things so fast as to forget to give this any pathos.

For a game bordering on offering absolutely nothing to do, it’s frantic with its need to prompt you to click on the only thing there is to click on in the early scenes. Before you’ve even been able to take in the view in front of you, your character’s voice can have stated his immediate goal twice as if worried you’re unsure of whether to press on the white dot or sit still and stare until you turn into a cobwebbed skellington. It wants to impress a sense of urgency, I guess, but apparently hasn’t noticed that the only interactive element it offers is waving your mouse cursor around to find the hotspots in any scene.

And it never develops. You really are, as the player, doing nothing other than pressing an obfuscated “next” button on the movie-length, well, movie. On the four or five occasions it asks you to incongruously pummel your mouse button to fill a bar, or the smattering of times you have to click on a white dot before a timer runs out, if you fail it mumbles some hackneyed rubbish about “that’s not what happened”, and then takes you improbably far back in the story and makes you watch the unskippable, non-interactive scenes all over again until you catch up with that spot. (I only found this out because I didn’t click on one to see if it would make a difference, and later had taken my hand away from the mouse entirely since it had been so long since I’d been involved.) In the final minute of the game you get to make a binary choice. That’s it.

It’s been released as a game, and so I’m reviewing it as such, and it deserves the kicking it’s getting. Which is all the more frustrating when it’s fantastically well shot, contains a splendid cast and a quality of acting FMV gaming has never seen before. And, until its desperately expository ending (it’s frantic that no one should fail to understand what happened, spelling it out like a primary school lesson), it’s compelling and creepy and haunting.

It’s also appealingly gross in places, some lovely garish gore, and a completely brutal bone-splintering scene had me wincing in my chair. There’s a half-hour run that’s pretty unrelentingly bleak, when it’s at its most 1970s macabre BBC drama, and it was great stuff. I kept thinking, “I’d watch the hell out of this series!” before remembering I had to click next when the scene became oddly slow for a bit.

Much of the action is told in flashback, allowing the bunker to be filled with characters and arguments and worries about provisions, a delightfully Charles-Dance-ish Grahame Fox as the bunker’s Commissioner proving especially enjoyable. The only weak point is John’s voice, which isn’t recorded in situ but rather put over later as a laconic internal monologue, and the result just doesn’t work. His facial acting is commanding and compelling, a sort of de-wacky-ified Matt Smith, managing to appear both childishly naive and utterly, morbidly destroyed at once, contradicted by the dull, lifeless narrating that never quite fits the mood.

The only weak point in the acting, I stress. Good grief, as a game it’s only weak points, and it’s bewildering that quite so little went in to giving the player a role. That there is a single puzzle in there, albeit a very overused one involving a keypad, demonstrates that it was possible to do it with the tech. But after one they just didn’t bother with any more. They went to so much effort, filmed such a great pile of footage, chose such spectacular locations to shoot, and then went, “Uh, have them click on a white dot now and then I guess.”

I’m not enormously impressed to see that the game is using quotes from previews as “reviews” on its Steam store page, because, well, that’s lying. £14 is a lot for two hours, and as I think I’ve perhaps covered above, it’s an abysmal game. The Welshest game I’ve ever played, but still abysmal. Great TV show for the most part, but one that keeps annoying your viewing pleasure by asking you to click on a dot. Graphics are amazing, though!

The Bunker is out now on Steam and Green Man Gaming for around £14.

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    “It requires nothing of the player beyond being able to click on a dot reasonably fast on a few occasions, offers one mayfly puzzle, no challenges, and literally one moment of choice in its two hours.”

    You know, these are things that are not a problem at all in many many other games, or sorry, interactive experiences made to make you cry, think, get emotional, feel like a deep human being. And never forgiven in FMVs. Though I quite believe that the game is not that interesting: the good thing about FMVs was when more money was invested in the scriptwriting, acting or, who knows, directing of all that stuff. Obviously you cannot have a full motion video game that is badly written, and making emotional porn works much better with a bunch of pixels than with real actors.

  2. Beefenstein says:

    I can only express my gratitude that you sat through this so that I was not tempted to. Although one day I might watch a longplay on youtube with double speed on while doing the ironing.

  3. Premium User Badge

    cockpisspartridge says:

    When I was in Primary School (a long time ago) we were educated in the possibility of nuclear war. Pussy kids nowadays don’t know they’re born. Being a little interested in the idea, I watched Threads on TV at the age of 10. It shit me up so bad that I didn’t sleep for two nights. Still, it was worth seeing Sheffield get blown from the face of the Earth. (Joke, please don’t kill me.). Hideous times.

    • khamul says:

      Yeah. I actually watched Threads in Secondary School – guess I was 11, 12, something like that? We read “Z is for Zachariah” in my English class, then serially watched, over several lessons, the first hour or so of Threads.

      What. The. Hell.

      Teaching kids that there’s a very real chance the world could get blown to hell, and that if it happens there’s pretty much nothing you can do except die slowly and horribly?

      Okay, it’s a fair way to raise a generation of nuclear disarmament activists: which makes a degree of sense when you consider how much longer radioactive fallout lasts than even the most tyrannical state… but still.

      I remember being woken in the night by a thunderstorm, a few weeks after watching Threads, seeing the flashes of light, and wondering if the world was ending…

      • Premium User Badge

        cockpisspartridge says:

        There’s a reason that some of the Y-fronts in the 70’s/80’s were brown. Haha.

        • Jediben says:

          It wasn’t meant to make you anti nuke. It was meant to make you realise your insignificance in the world – a tiny candle in a hurricane. You are meant to appreciate what you get in life. The little shits born around 2000 have been spared this awakening and look at them all, bleating into their twitter feeds and instantwat as if the universe revolves around them.

          • Chicanery says:

            What are you on about? Geopolitics are still incredibly fraught. We’re in the middle of a recession; we’re seeing the resurgence of the far right; and Mary Berry left the Bake Off. Saying children these days don’t have any problems is nonsensical.

          • Premium User Badge

            cockpisspartridge says:

            Testify brother. Gen X rules. For all of the world’s current problems, which are numerous, nothing really compares with being asked by your teacher as a 10 year old whether you would even attempt to survive a nuclear attack.

          • Jediben says:

            I didn’t say they don’t have problems, I’m saying that their sense of proportion is not appropriately calibrated and so they over react to the most minor of events (see Bake Off or ‘Brangelina’ or Bieber) as if they actually matter.

          • Jediben says:

            And the UK has not been in recession since 2009…

  4. babymoses says:

    Ah, prime let’s play material then?

  5. Vermintide says:

    I know I’ll feel like I wasted my money if I buy it; but at the same time I will feel like a bastard if I just watch it on Youtube.

    I don’t care, I’m going to get it precisely because it looks like Threads: The Game. Threads should be mandatory viewing for every single human being. Especially American presidential candidates (BOTH of them).

    • invitro says:

      I think it should be mandatory for anyone who says something should be mandatory to have to sit in a jail cell until they do every task that someone else thinks should be mandatory.

  6. TheBloke says:

    I’d have to disagree with some of John’s conclusions. Limited as interactions are, I not only thought it worked as a game but that it would only work as a game; the story presented wasn’t good enough for a movie, but in this package it engaged me.

    I bought and played The Bunker on day 1, having seen it previewed a little while back on Jim Sterling’s YouTube. I’m a big fan of the post-nuclear apocalypse scenario, having a morbid fascination with the whole concept; I’ve watched Threads more times than might seem healthy.

    John’s right of course that interactions are extremely minimal. The path is linear and if you try to do anything outside of its prescribed order you’re reminded of that order, sometimes making you think “well just do it yourself then!” Your choice, besides the binary ending, just comes down to whether or not you interact with the background flavour items – computers, notes, wall charts, etc.

    I’d disagree that the story would stand alone as a great TV series or movie. The theme/setting, yes, but this story, absolutely not. There was practically no character development, no clue on backgrounds and motivations, and a very slim plot; it should be remembered that it’s only two hours including all your drawn out interactions and the odd loading screen. If the FMV ran uninterrupted the core story part of it would be barely half an hour, if that. Less if you factor in some scenes being shown again in the ending (which I agree with John was entirely unnecessary.)

    So I don’t feel the plot could have stood alone as a movie and quite agree the gaming part is hugely limited and lacking in ambition. But yet I still thought more of it than I think John does here. That’s because I felt the conjunction of the two lifted both parts. The interaction is extremely minor by any standard, but having interaction at all worked, I felt, to draw the player into the setting, into the character and thus into the tension. I felt genuinely tense at moments, even as I simultaneously recognised the plot and visual devices in use were cliche.

    Just watching this plot as a movie would have felt fairly trivial, but drawn out into an interactive experience, I enjoyed it. The scary and sickening moments might still have worked stand alone, but not nearly as well as they did we me interacting, and thus sitting 2 feet from the screen. The ability to explore the (small) environment and choose background flavour items to consume gave them more meaning than had those same items just played out on screen. I was ultimately willing to largely forgive the predictable ending, plot holes and complete lack of believable motivations, because I was living it moment by moment through that interaction, slim as it was.

    It’s not a hugely ambitious title, and there’s no doubt it could have been far better. I’d have loved for more, and more meaningful interactions such as real puzzles and, ideally, some control over narrative direction.

    But warts and all I still feel it’s worth 2 hours of anyone’s time – at least assuming they’re willing to spend £14 for those two hours – and doubly so for those, like me, who are fans of the genre and setting. It also serves to demonstrate some of the benefits a game has in changing the way we experience media: a story that would not have worked in other media did work here. At least it did for me and, based on Steam reviews, a fair few others.

  7. Kefren says:

    I think I’m more tempted because these things can disappear totally otherwise, and I like variety. Another recent-ish FMV game isn’t even available any more – link to rockpapershotgun.com
    (removed from Steam and everywhere else).

  8. Sin Vega says:



    lalala happy puppies and flowers and sunbeams

  9. invitro says:

    “is an absolutely dreadful game. It requires nothing of the player beyond being able to click on a dot reasonably fast on a few occasions, offers one mayfly puzzle, no challenges, and literally one moment of choice in its two hours. Still though, it’s a TV show I’d watch.” — Could this be said about Virginia (the game)?

    • Jediben says:

      Sounds like NMS to me.

    • Vermintide says:

      I remember there being a spoof feature about the “future of gaming” in an old issue of the Official Playstation Magazine, about 1999 or so. It suggested that a future iteration of the console would be marketed towards younger audiences and featured only a single great big button in the middle of the controller. Looking back, it seems like a remarkably prescient observation.

    • MajorLag says:

      It’s more gameplay than existed in Dear Esther.

      I don’t really understand this trend towards games that aren’t actually games. Sure, they can look pretty and/or tell a good story some times, but games aren’t about the story or pretty pictures, they’re about gameplay.

      Of course, there are those who insist that PSX games are too ugly to play, so I’m sure there are plenty who’d disagree. All I can say is that those people are objectively wrong.

      • skeletortoise says:

        Cue “that’s just like your opinion man” response.

        Assuming that just free movement about an interesting 3D isn’t gameplay (which seems bold as the vast majority of games feature it and wouldn’t function without it), I think the fact that games like Dear Esther are popular might just indicate games aren’t necessarily all about gameplay.

      • ButteringSundays says:

        It sounds like your issue is one of terminology.

        Which I can appreciate, to be honest.

        These experiences are as valid as any art, but they’re not ‘games’, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The interactivity is what lumps them in with games rather than television or film (which are passive activities), but it’s still shoe-horning.

        Maybe eventually they’ll be their own thing proper.

  10. Shinard says:

    Well, here’s something to watch on YouTube. If it’s good enough I can always buy it in a sale, give the devs some money that way.

    • Jalan says:

      (this is basically the same comment I posted to the other article for the game) Having watched someone stream it (not to its conclusion, however), this is essentially where I’m at with it. The game bits of it make it seem boring but when you look beyond that, there’s something interesting there (maybe not of flawless quality and/or presentation). It’s just not interesting enough to dive in at the full price they’re looking for.

      As an aside, it is one of the few games published by Green Man Gaming that I (surprisingly) didn’t find myself instantly put off by, so that’s a tick in the plus section.

  11. Poor People says:

    Was the game entirely shot at the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker in Essex?

  12. King_Rocket says:

    Sounds a lot like Fallout only you stay in the Vault the whole time.

    I like the idea in theory but I think the lack of interactivity puts me off.

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