If you’re old enough to remember the sound of dial-up modems with fondness, you probably have a similar wistful nostalgia for full motion Video games. The mention of Night Trap or Wing Commander III will elicit memories of an era when new-fangled CD-ROMs enabled actual video in our video games, and FMV seemed somehow magical. However, much like dial-up, the reality is that those clips were pretty rubbish. Compressed and low-res, and often with production values that would make your Twitch-streaming nephew blush, those games rarely hold up nowadays.
Kitsch appeal aside, audience expectations have jumped massively over two-and-a-half decades and even with the proliferation of affordable tech, shooting movie-quality footage on an indie dev budget is still a huge ask. Steven Soderbergh may have filmed his latest theatrical release on an iPhone, but he commanded an army of production staff, designers, actors, artists, technicians and more. 2015’s award-winning Her Story side-stepped this fundamental budget constraint by contextualising static camcorder-style footage within a police interview narrative and relying on just one actor. No wonder FMV remains a boutique genre – it’s extremely tough (and expensive) to do well.
First released back in 2016, The Bunker follows John, a man born underground as nuclear missiles rained down on Britain. Years later, still sealed away from the seeping radiation above, we discover in flashback the details of his childhood and the paranoia that preyed upon the inhabitants as they dealt with the psychological and sociological effects of life in a fallout shelter. To say more would be to spoil the story, but from the title sequence it is obvious that Splendy Games’ ambitions are grander than the average FMV adventure.
The VHS aesthetic of legacy games is replaced with a stark, desaturated photography far closer to Black Mirror than Night Trap. There’s not a dodgy green screen in sight and the eponymous bunker provides a bleak, authentic setting of which the developer has taken full advantage. Performances from the British cast are generally strong and there are some effective jump scares, although horror fans will spot the tropes a mile off. Practical effects are deployed sparingly, and a couple of gruesome moments will have squeamish players recoiling on the sofa. It’s a polished production from a video standpoint, then. But how does the horror translate to Switch and the portable form-factor?
The answer is: very nicely. The Switch version enables you to tailor the experience to their personal taste. Horror novices can play in handheld mode with a cup of tea and the lights on, while veterans can dock Switch on a huge TV in a pitch-black room with a decent sound system. Regardless of your stomach for horror, the audio design is a key ingredient, with an ambient score and high-frequencies contributing significantly to the sense of unease. Headphones are recommended for the full aural effect.
In handheld mode, the touchscreen works exactly as you’d expect. Tapping icons enables you to navigate and investigate the surroundings, read documents, solve elementary puzzles and influence small moments in some scenes via simple Quick Time Events. There are no branching story paths here, just minor variations depending on your reflexes. Using the touchscreen, these timing-based QTEs become non-challenges, although in docked mode a jittery cursor complicates matters.
Operated with the left analog stick, control gets easier with practice but Splendy’s carefully crafted tension is sometimes spoiled when you overshoot a static target, the cursor dancing clumsily around a doorknob or document icon. It’s a familiar problem with point-and-click ports but solutions do exist – most obviously, pointer controls. Alternatively, Thimbleweed Park provided movement on the right stick with reduced sensitivity. The Bunker’s cursor is manageable but, for a genre that depends on creating and maintaining a mood, it’s a shame when immersion is broken by input issues.
Performance-wise, the game runs smoothly and images look crisp on both the console and the telly. A loading bar flashes up between chapters, but these are very brief. Player-friendly decisions that avoid needless repetition are pleasing, and the game certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. There are a handful of hidden collectibles (most likely included to satisfy the obligatory achievement requirements on other platforms) but two-to-three hours is enough to see the credits roll.
The Bunker puts legacy FMV games to shame, delivering a slickly produced psychological horror experience for the price of a trip to your local cinema. The Switch release offers both the touchscreen comfort of the mobile version and the cinematic immersion of the home console versions, so there’s no better place to catch up if you skipped it first time round. However, lack of pointer control is a sorely missed opportunity to improve on the original release.