What would you do if you woke up one morning and discovered that you were the last person left alive on earth? It’s a thought experiment that humans have pondered over for as long as post-apocalyptic stories have existed.
I remember first encountering the idea of being all alone in the world in junior high, when I found myself completely enthralled by I Am Legend (the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, not the disappointing 2007 Will Smith movie adaptation). While Matheson’s tale saw humanity ravaged by vampires, I soon discovered that there was a whole genre of stories devoted to the end of the world, each offering their own interpretation on what happened and how it may have transformed any humans left behind. Post-apocalyptic fiction has remained an obsession of mine ever since.
Bunker 2021 is the latest story to add to the pile of near-future catastrophes that I’ve spent time with. Developed by Moscow-based Moon Tean Studio, this low-fi first-person title takes on a popular post-apocalyptic standard: a world where it seems that science itself has betrayed the world, unleashing a pandemic that transforms regular humans into strange, homicidal plant creatures.
That whole “corrupt scientists inadvertently leading to a human-killing plague” may give off sketchy vibes in light of the past couple years of COVID-19 conspiracy theories, but rest assured that Bunker 2021’s plot doesn’t not appear to carry any explicit political motivations. Rather, it’s about building a creepy atmosphere as it slowly introduces you to more details of the true horror that has wreaked havoc on this world.
You play an unnamed protagonist who wakes up one day into a world that is empty. Their friends and family have disappeared, strange plants that attack on sight have popped up, and an unusual gray rain is pouring down from the sky. As Bunker 2021 picks up, the main character has been eking out an existence in this bizarre new world for an indeterminate amount of time and has yet to have run into a single other survivor. However they have also located a bunker (of course!) that they believe could be hiding other humans...or perhaps at least some answers.
Making your way to and then through the bunker will require scavenging for supplies. Though Bunker 2021 is a first-person title that features some guns, the core gameplay often plays out more like an adventure game than a shooter. You’ll need to search areas for important supplies such as batteries and sticks, as well as items to help you solve puzzles, such as keycards to unlock doors or a crowbar that can help you ratchet open boxes.
Using some items requires mixing things together in your inventory using a slightly awkward interface that reminded me of old-school Resident Evil games. The formulas are never hard to figure out—flashlight plus batteries equals charging your flashlight so you can see in the dark, for example—but the number of steps required to do some of the most basic and common actions in the game felt unnecessary.
That flashlight requirement, in particular, annoyed me due to how necessary the flashlight is to handle the game’s many extremely dark areas. It gets pretty frustrating in-doors as you explore the bunker, but I was especially bothered by an earlier outdoors level, one of the missions where you’re trying to gather supplies before venturing into the bunker. Since this area was set at night time, it was pitch black and impossible to navigate without a flashlight. But even with the light source, this level was difficult to figure out, as it was large, full of invisible walls, and lacking in memorable visual landmarks to make mapping it out in my head easy. If I hadn’t been playing Bunker 2021 for a review, I probably would have given up and uninstalled the game at this point.
Thankfully, though, I kept pushing through, and things improved a lot. Once I got into the titular bunker, the atmosphere turned much more sharply into traditional horror. I found myself exploring narrow corridors full of creepy, once-human creatures, scrounging for ammunition and medkits to take them on. The game not only encourages but really requires thorough exploration, as important items are often hidden in out-of-the-way corners, and you’ll need to collect everything and solve all the puzzles before you can move on to the next area.
Those puzzles are never super challenging, but they were enough to keep me entertained. A lot of areas just require finding new keycards that provide access to more doors in the bunker. Others fall into the video game puzzle stereotype of puzzles that are satisfying to figure out even if they don’t make much logical sense. For example, in one area I found a locked safe with a keypad. Nearby it was a note reminding the recipient that the password for the safe was the birthday of the person writing...and nearby there I found some records helpfully listing the birthdays of all employees. Not the tightest security for a super-secret science base, but ok!
As for the combat, it’s probably best described as an afterthought. Like I mentioned earlier, Bunker 2021 doesn’t really play like a shooter despite having guns. When the protagonist has a gun equipped, aiming at the enemy will reveal a crosshair, and as long as that crosshair is centered on said bad guy, the protagonist will automatically take shots. This means the shooting is smooth and approachable, even for players who don’t normally mess around with shooters.
However, there aren’t a lot of weapons, and while there’s a surprising amount of enemy variety, the game doesn’t offer much in the way of tactics for handling these enemies. In the majority of cases, even with stronger opponents, I just found myself aiming and slowly backing away while the character took shots and reloaded automatically. There’s just no real strategy besides facing enemies down head-on.
What really kept me pushing through these mediocre combat encounters, though, was the slowly developing story and the opportunity to piece together just a little more of what happened to this world. Bunker 2021’s writing is more than a little ungraceful thanks to some rough translation, but I was able to follow along and found myself invested in the light sci-fi drama that unfolded here. If you are willing to push through some rough early levels and uninspired gunplay, there’s some intriguing secrets hiding deep underground in this bunker.
SCORE: 3 STARS OUT OF 5
PLAY IF YOU LIKE:
• Half-Life and other narrative-heavy first-person shooters. Easter eggs hidden through Bunker 2021 make the game’s inspirations clear, and one of those is Valve’s masterpiece series. If you’re into shooters like Half-Life or the Metro 2033 games, Bunker 2021 provides a similar feel.
• Pondering the downfall of mankind. If you’re like me and you enjoy spending time worrying about the many different ways that the human race could cease to exist, Bunker 2021 is sure to give you some new anxieties to turn over in your head across many sleepless nights.
💬 Have you checked out Bunker 2021? What’s your favorite post-apocalyptic story? Leave a comment below, and I’ll be sure to respond!
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