Life in Bunker Review

Life as Bunker Warden is not for the faint of heart. Nukes have landed and the outside world is uninhabitable. You’ve been put in charge of a group of bunker residents and it’s your job to make sure that they survive until it’s safe once again to leave.

At this point, I have to be honest. My first few days underground were hell. As in, I really hated this game. Like any game, Life in Bunker has a learning curve. How do you solve a learning curve? Tutorials of course! Sometimes games make tutorials fun, make them seamless, a part of the opening mission or level. Life in Bunker is not one of those games. Having played No Pineapple Left Behind a few hours prior and experiencing its (mostly) excellent tutorials – Life in Bunker started in the opposite fashion. I can’t think of a game with tutorials quite as frustrating as the ones in Life in Bunker. They consists of a window, which can only be closed (not moved around), a whole bunch of text and a few numbered images. Not being able to drag the window and open others means that you have to keep opening and closing the tutorial to perform the steps. If it wasn’t for reviewing it, I honestly don’t think I could have gotten through them. It’s not until you do get through them that you really start to find your feet with the game.

Those frustrations however continue in the User Interface. Much like panels which can’t simply be dragged around, I also found frustrations in other little things. Screen-edge scrolling didn’t play nicely with my second monitor, I couldn’t simply hit undo when misplacing an item, and neither could I speed up time with a shortcut (at least that I could see – I even searched in the keyboard layout options).

And then there’s the AI. In general, it’s actually not bad – I’m thinking about one moment early in the game which annoyed the hell out of me (I was still working through those tutorials). I was instructed to build my first room by destroying a couple of walls, building a floor, then building walls around it. What my residents saw however was an opportunity to venture out into the caverns outside of the bunker. Ultimately, I couldn’t build my walls because they would have been trapped outside. There are points in the game where that is useful – I was hanging on by the end and couldn’t ‘afford’ walls. However, especially early on, it’s extremely frustrating and I expect it will be now that I want to build ‘proper’ bunkers. You also can’t at any point control a resident, they do as they will, which is fine most of the time, just not right then.

You take over a bunker in its very earliest stages and as such, you have just the basics – some air purifiers, a fridge, a water pump, and an energy generator. To survive, you’ll need to expand your bunker over the procedurally generated map, introducing beds, doctors, Virtual Reality machines, treadmills, aquariums, and plenty of other necessities and goodies alike. You need to keep your residents happy, as I found out to my detriment.

Each resident has a number of skills, from worker, to janitor, to farmer, scientist, cook, and engineer. Each skill is hugely important – your workers, for example, will destroy walls and build both floors and new equipment. You’ll need to do this to find ore deposits which is where you draw building materials from – building materials are basically Life in Bunker’s currency. You’ll need them to build new equipment, in fact, almost everything you do relies upon them. This is where I had the most difficulty whilst playing – I just couldn’t generate enough building materials – even with three mining machines running at once. I’m convinced that I missed something regarding this during my first play-through but it felt suspiciously like balancing problems – in reality I may just need to take greater care. This is hard however because the residents are always, always, always suffering from something.

Those issues don’t stop there however – because building materials are scarce – you just can’t build everything that you need – yes need – to keep everyone happy. A sacrifice I made was to only have two waste containers, I had my eye on a recycler but couldn’t spare the materials and when waste containers get full so does the bunker. My first bunker was covered in shit and vomit because we quite simply had no where to put it. Some fetid creature crapped right in front of the stove in my only kitchen. Someone else shat right in front of the showers. I found this frustrating – it may just be my lack of ability and understanding of the game but it really did feel like I couldn’t fix this issue, like I could barely survive if I made it a priority. I also couldn’t quite figure out why so many of my residents were starving – we had an aquarium, we had a ton of vegetables, two kitchens and three cooks. It’s possibly just a numbers game but the point is that the game didn’t give me much clue of how to fix these issues. Again, it felt like I was really up against it.

All bunkers can have up to four levels but during my 50 ‘cycle’ run, I never felt like I wanted, nor needed to create a second floor. One floor was absolutely hectic and lifts cost building materials, you know? I had however just about run out of ore deposits on the first level – I just made it to 50 cycles (that’s when the outside world becomes habitable again) but if I carried on any longer, we’d have had to extend downwards. ‘Winning’ the game doesn’t mean you can’t continue to build however, the game can potentially go on for hundreds of cycles – only limited by the amount of ore deposits that exist in your game world. It’s worth pointing out that you have some degree of control over how many ore deposits there are, along with how many enemies (yes – enemies!) and a few other options such as how often ‘events’ (such as landslides) occur. This should make the game a little easier if you’re struggling.

The aforementioned enemies are Mole-men, giant mole like creatures – presumably mutated from high radiation levels – that dig up soil and attack your residents. They felt a little ‘tacked on’ – I don’t think the game would have been any easier without them. It’s a non-issue really, they sometimes kill a resident here and there but other aren’t a massive issue. That really did sound heartless, didn’t it?

Life as Bunker Warden is tough. Life in Bunker has its problems. But, despite what has probably sounded like a negative review, I actually ended up really enjoying my time with it. I was hanging on tooth and nail and it’s a game full of challenges – I’ve highlighted balancing issues and I do feel that there is something there but I also feel that as I get better with the game, they’ll become less of an issue. And ultimately, that provides replay value – you can always build a better, happier, more efficient bunker.