It may still be a niche form of video game production, but since last year's Her Story, live action games have gained some traction in the mainstream.
There have been a handful of noteworthy PC releases, including the hilariously curious murder mystery Contradiction!, but we've not yet seen one make its way to console. The Bunker from Splendy Games and Wales Interactive is the first of its kind to come to modern consoles - and it may well just make waves in our perception of what a video game should be.
The Bunker isn't the most "involved" video game you're going to play. It doesn't require any strenuous input, there's no epic combat sequences nor are there any brainteasing puzzles to solve. Essentially, it's an interactive movie. You're free to explore and unravel the story through finding documents, recordings and objects, but your path is largely set for you; you've just got to get there.
Set in a government bunker in the aftermath of nuclear war, The Bunker places you in the shoes of John, a 30-year old man born underground with no concept of the outside world. Everything he's ever known are in the walls of that government facility. For reasons that unravel as you play through the game, John is the last remaining survivor within the bunker, and for many years he's simply followed "the routine" to ensure everything continues to run smoothly. Unfortunately, a random system error throws the routine into disarray, and John's world is turned upside down.
Despite his age, John's sheltered upbringing has given him a childlike naïvety and an anxiousness that will become the biggest enemy of this lonely adventure. Skillfully acted by Adam Brown, his depiction of John is exemplary; his emotions and fears constantly permeate the very heart of the game, clear for the player to witness. Indeed, they're so strong that you the player will start to take on John's emotions yourself as you delve further into the story, feeling his every anxiety as you enter a new area or open a new door, not knowing what waits before you.
It's not just Adam Brown's acting that's to be commended, either. A whole host of supporting characters (including a stellar performance from Sarah Greene, who plays John's mother) all shine during their time on screen, and even the narrations of the letters, notes and documents you find laying around are expertly and emotively read.
It's so easy for this kind of acting to become hammy, but thanks to an excellent script, the tense and opressive atmosphere that the bunker creates - practically a leading character in itself - is always at the forefront. Dialogue is excellently written and, considering that for a large chunk of the game, John is alone on screen, his inner thoughts and feelings are communicated excellently.
When narrative and characterisation are so expertly crafted as they are in The Bunker, a lack of advanced gameplay doesn't matter. This could be the next big BBC series, but instead you're at the helm, deciding the main protagonist's every movement. Long cut-scenes telling the main strand of story make up the bulk of the game, but you're in control of finding the myriad of collectibles that supplement your understanding of this world. You'll want to make as much effort as possible to explore every nook and cranny too; The Bunker isn't a game to rush through but rather savour every moment spent in its incredibly well-crafted setting. The bunker itself is extremely convincing; the 1980's paraphernalia that litters each room - from Commodore computers with their console-like screens to big box-like cassette recorders - is a true trip down memory lane, but one that is tainted with an unsettling, eerie feel. This is a nuclear bunker, after all.
One playthrough of the game will take somewhere between two and three hours, depending on how much time you take to absorb everything the game throws at you. It's the perfect length for a fully-developed story that's well-paced from start to finish - but it still leaves you wanting more. That alone is testament to just how captivating The Bunker is. As the credits rolled, I found myself desperate for more information, to know more about Adam; what happened before, what happened afterwards. Like any major TV programme coming to the end of a series, it had me on tenterhooks, dying to find out as much as I possibly could.
Gushing aside, The Bunker did have a handful of issues that marred the experience somewhat. Live action sequences played out with a smattering of universally-detested quick time events. The majority of these were fine, and simply a case of pressing one button. There were a couple, however, that required you to hammer a particular button like a maniac, and should you be just a fraction too slow, it's game over. Thankfully, if you do fail, you just return to the start of the scene to try again, but for me, it took away some of the immersion that every other aspect of the game tried so hard to create.
Still, the gameplay issues are minor in comparison to the weight of what makes The Bunker so fantastic. To truly express just how excellent the story of The Bunker is would require me to give the plot away, and to give the plot away would ruin part of what makes it so engaging. It's the clever use of suspense; of carefully constructed scenes that flick between timelines; a general feeling of unease - you never quite know what's coming next. Trying to piece together the story from your own interpretation and from the scattered documents found around the bunker is part of the fun, but even when you think you understand, the plot is always chasing you, ready to knock you for six. The Bunker is a story that has to be experienced first-hand to truly appreciate, and I strongly urge that you do.