I don’t think The Bunker is a very good game. It’s not even a mildly good game, and that’s mostly because of one thing: it’s not really a game at all. On the spectrum of FMV games—one that ranges from one half-hearted step beyond being a movie to full-on controlling these real people like digital ones—it falls so alarmingly close to the former that you kind of wonder why they bothered making it a game at all.
But you should still probably play it, and that’s for one reason: it’s pretty damn good at not being a game. It takes a fairly rote premise (in the realm of Cold War-inspired horror, anyway; hell, look at this year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane) and instills it with a chilling fervor. By managing to scrape together a haunting atmosphere and several absolutely incredible performances, The Bunker overcomes its many shortcomings to be greatly worthwhile.
To be clear, though, it never quite strikes an easy balance between delivering its narrative and making sure you have something meaningful to contribute. It will surely test the patience of most players, but for those that can stick it out, they will find something interesting here. Not original or greatly impactful on themselves or the industry, but certainly something that leaves an uneasy and terrific impression as the horrors below creep further up.
It steeps itself in its setting. Broadly, it’s about a man named John (Adam Brown) who has never seen the outside world. He was born and raised inside this underground bunker after his mother fled down here years and years ago, seeking refuge from the bombs. Now, he’s the only person left and, well, things have gotten dire.
But not dire in any exceptional way, at least not yet. It’s more just from our own perspectives of what a life should be. While everyone has long passed, John continues to pursue the mundanity of his daily life. He snuggles deep inside the simple routine like a weird security blanket. And once you see that things literally haven’t changed for him, it goes from weird to disturbing.
This is one of the many intensely conceptually intriguing themes of the story. This is, ostensibly, a man, but through the circumstances of his upbringing, he is egregiously a child. It’s both heartbreaking and upsetting. It can be seen in the little things, like how he stalwartly and bitterly takes his vitamins as a school kid would. He is the embodiment of nature versus nurture.
It provides an impeccable foil against what he is and where he is. He’s a largely innocent and infantile being stuck in an oppressively creepy and unsettling existence. Across the handful of hours the game runs, it went from ripping at the pit of my stomach to overwhelming every possible sense of my body and mind with something truly…twisted—brutal.
There can’t even be enough said for the acting on display throughout, as well. A good deal of the game is actually a protracted and chunked up flashback, giving us an opportunity to replace the desperate solitary life of the present with the chilling, wretched secrets of the past. And we get Sarah Greene’s performance as John’s mother Margaret. She brings over the entirety of her simmering menace (and then some) from her Penny Dreadful role and it’s fantastic.
This is in conjunction with Brown’s infinitely beaten, determined, gritty, and soft as hell portrayal of John. I don’t know how else to describe him but damn near perfect for the role. He embodies and improves every single facet of the character the writers seemed to want, seemingly infusing him with more gravitas and merit than they intended or deserved.
If there is a problem, it’s exactly that: the game doesn’t seem to trust its vision. It hedges its bets too often. You can look at any given part of it and see where it would have been great if it was taken just one or two steps further, let alone to the extreme. And sure, the disregard of that potential is frustrating and disheartening, but even in the face of all that, The Bunker scrounges enough cans of nuclear beef and creepy family story time to make it all worthwhile.