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Bunker Punks Early Access Review & Interview

Bunker Punks is founded on cramming highly concentrated action into a simple experience.

Its pixel art style of 2D sprites in a 3D environment calls back to early PC action games. Concepts found here aren't new, but are executed well. This is a great modern variation of the classic FPS; it washes over players like a wave of heart-pounding excitement.

The foundations have a nice variety. A character roster pops up with every new game, though only two are unlocked at the start. Characters have different sets of stats and weapon bonuses. Movement is on WASD. Left-click shoots with or uses the current weapon, and the mouse wheel changes weapons. Holding multiple weapons is an ability that must be unlocked, but it's among the first available upgrades. The E key opens chests, and space bar makes the character jump. The E key and space bar aren't featured with the other keyboard controls on the loading screen, though a prompt appears when the E key is usable. It's unfortunate that the space bar isn't featured, since it's useful when the character is trapped by enemy swarms.

Weapons are standard: pistols have low ammo, but do more damage up close; shotguns are similar to pistols, but shoot with a spread that hits multiple enemies; rifles do more damage at farther distances, and have high fire rates; launchers explode for massive damage, but hurt the user when blown up close; melee weapons inflict massive AOE damage in their small range.

All the basic elements are efficiently implemented. I was able to play through the levels smoothly, and bugs were largely irrelevant. It dives right into the action. After selecting a character and a short loading screen, a pair of elevator doors opened up to a room of enemies. The main two types of enemies were immediately apparent. There are fast enemies that chase you to inflict damage, and slow enemies that shoot projectiles. As I improved, collected characters, and unlocked upgrades, I faced stronger enemy hordes in greater numbers. It's a good challenge with occasional spikes in difficulty.

The pixel animations were satisfying.

The advanced enemies have ramped up abilities. Turrets are completely stationary, but fire massive amounts of bullets. Robots get bigger and slower, but shoot explosive rounds. Enemies that chase the player around will get faster, tougher, and gain the ability to harm on contact. Enemies can be touched and do block your way, so trying to rush through a level will likely end with being cornered by a huge mob.

You can see a nice bullet streak every time you fire a pistol. Bullets leave behind holes and enemy fluids on the walls. The carcasses of fallen enemies are left where they died. Smoke and spark effects rise and bounce off their bodies. Explosions release splashes of smoke and color. It's always easy to tell what's going on, though it gets harder to deal with it as you progress.

I love some of the attention to detail, especially with sound effects. When you dodge enemy bullets, you can hear them whoosh past and hit walls. When there's an enemy right behind a sliding door, the sounds it makes are muffled. Enemies have distinct noises that are frightening when they sneak up on you. The characters themselves have fair voice acting, and lines that are reminiscent of old quips and one-liners. Background music is charming and unobtrusive, so I'm sure a lot of love went there.

The bunker building feature is essentially a skill tree. Money earned throughout a level can be spent to attain certain bonuses and abilities. You can choose what to optimize during your run. The money requirement acts like exp and urges players to hit every room on a particular level. Money is a temporary drop, and fades fast, so a reckless play style is needed to maximize profits.

As you lose, your remaining lives let you conquer the last obstacles that killed you. It's rather touching.

After the introduction level, you're brought back to your bunker HQ. The money from the two intro floor allows you to get a couple bunkers built. The next level can be accessed on a progressive map with buildings that can be raided. Building overviews show the types of floors to be raided. The floor type corresponds with the drops that enemies will often leave. The closer you get to the right edge, the more numerous and difficult the raids will become.

Whenever you die, you have to start over all the levels. However, you also get to spend all the tech points you've accumulated right up until your death. These tech points allow a sense of progression. They are used to get permanent upgrades, bunker building options, new items, and other characters. Most things obtained from tech points don't apply at the start of a new game, so success still relies on the player's own skill level. The upgrade benefits start showing up against harder opponents.

One especially neat feature is what happens after death when the user buys the ability to start with multiple characters. Dead characters leave behind their weapon bonuses as mementos. The living characters become more powerful with the last gifts of their fallen friends.

Map variety is okay. As a rouge-like game, the enemies are always shuffled and unpredictable. Rooms are either rectangular, have a corner, or have pillars. There are no stairs or other changes to floor height. There are some tactical maneuvers that take advantage of AI and room geometry, but not much. Shooting and dodging wildly is still one of the top strategies.


The Verdict

Bunker Punks encourages players to switch up their weapons and strategies. Most tactics don't remain eternally viable. Taking it slow and abusing the flaws of enemy AI will result in reliable advancement, but is boring and misses a lot of drops. Being fast and reckless is profitable both in short and long term, but will force a lot of early level repetition due to the constant deaths. A person's personality can factor deeply into what paths are played. Although no raw innovation is involved, Bunker Punks delivers a solid shooter experience. It's a test of PvE skill in a simple space. There is a risk and return for every playing method, which capitalizes on replay value. Being greedy and rash will lead to repetition, but going slow and steady will be frustrating. It's up to you to strike a balance.

Paris Forge
Written by
Tuesday, 29 March 2016 00:00
Published in Action



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I am Paris Forge, a child of the PC age. The net has been a part of my life since surfing on Netzero dial-up at the turn of the millennium. I've begun to rely on it a bit more than I probably should, but it's a wonderful world. Writing is a huge part of my work. I have authored several articles and stories, and enjoy writing in my spare time. PC gaming is among my favorite sources of entertainment, and I find immense value in learning from an interactive environment.

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