I’ve played a lot of video games in my day, but don’t recall many—if any at all—that included live-action gameplay. I’m sure there’s been a couple along the way, most likely in some arcade in the ’90s, but nothing I remember specifically. Recently I got to play the excellent Quantum Break, which included live-action episodes within the game but not live-action gameplay.
So when I first heard about co-developers Wales Interactive’s and Splendy Games’ The Bunker—a game that’s entirely live-action, and was filmed in an actual decommissioned nuclear bunker—earlier this month, my attention was surely obtained. The game releases this week, and I was able to give it a try. You can read my thoughts on it below!
The Bunker begins with a woman played by Sarah Greene (Penny Dreadful, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt) giving birth to a son in an underground bunker as nuclear bombs rain down above. After that we jump ahead 30 years to when that son, John, is a grown man and now all alone.
The game follows John, played by Adam Brown (best known for his role as the dwarf Ori in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy), as he goes about his daily routine, trying to cope with the suffocating loneliness of being in a position such as his. But just when he didn’t think it could get any worse, problems begin to arise within the bunker. These force him to venture deep down below, away from the lonely but safe space he occupies each day, in order to try to fix these problems before it’s too late. As John is pushed to his limits attempting to fix things, a story plays out as memories return to him from when he was a boy, and the long forgotten secrets of the bunker begin to manifest within his mind’s eye.
The Bunker is definitely one of the most unique gaming experiences I’ve come across. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like when video games inevitably become as lifelike as movies, well, here’s a darn good taste. It’s a very different and memorable experience to take in.
While the fact that it’s fully live-action is unique, the story is what really makes it worth playing. Crafted by writers who worked on The Witcher 3, SOMA, and Broken Sword, this is a deeply emotional tale that visits some truly dark places. But when you put yourself in the shoes of the characters and picture yourself dealing with what they’re dealing with psychologically, even the darkest moments can make sense.
I can’t say there was anything I really disliked about The Bunker, but if I had to nitpick, the length is something that will be a problem for some. This isn’t your average video game. You’re not going to press play, get a story set up, and then begin running around an underground bunker exploring and doing quests and such. It’s a point-and-click game, and you don’t actually do a whole lot. You find the clickable stuff, and click away. It’s more of an interactive gaming experience.
The story is linear, and moves very quickly. To me it was like playing a short film, which was stretched out to the length of a feature film by some of the side things you can do such as listening to audio recordings and reading computer entries—both of which can add to the story—or searching for the toy figurines you carved as a boy. I do wish there was a little bit more to do; maybe a few more tasks early on to really help you feel like you’re there with John as he goes through the motions each day, and more rooms and items to search for.
Because the story is so straightforward and the few things you can choose to click or not click don’t really change how things progress, there’s not much replay value. The only real reason to go back for another run is to find some of the things you missed, such as the toys you can search for. In my two playthroughs I still haven’t been able to find everything. The reason for this being because some areas are easy to miss either because you didn’t find the way to get to them or because you find two clickable symbols and choose the one that progresses the story, closing the window to go to the other one. In this particular case it’s actually good that The Bunker is so short, as you can easily go back to try to find the things you missed and pop the achievements you didn’t get.
Again, these are simply nitpicky things. Nothing I would consider a flaw. Just some personal feelings I had while playing.
I’m a big fan of the “movie games,” for lack of a better term. There are times when I don’t feel like jumping into a really big game that takes a long time to finish. Sometimes I just want something I can go start to finish on in one night, and I’m sure I’m not alone. This is a great option in those cases. And because it’s an indie title and so small, it’s much cheaper than the $60 big boys. Another plus. It will be interesting to see if we see more fully live-action games like this start popping up moving forward. I think there are lots of cool things that could be done with them, especially in genres like horror and mystery.
The Bunker is absolutely one to check out if you’re looking for something different and unique to try. Equally so if you’re fond of highly cinematic, story-driven games and you’re not someone who needs to be running around shooting bad guys constantly to enjoy playing something. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Oh, and random side thought: if you’re like me and you’re still spending plenty of time playing Fallout 4, it’s actually the perfect time to play this one, too. The two games are quite different and have not a thing to do with each other. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like I was playing some kind of live-action spinoff. It’s certainly a great little companion game if you’re a fan of the post-apocalyptic subgenre.