Air sirens dismember the tranquility of a day at the park. A flash of bright light and everything is consumed. It’s a nuclear holocaust. Humanity and pigeons are almost entirely wiped out. Except you, and ten others who’ve made it to a Vault-Boy-less bunker deep underground. There you are elected the bunker’s “Warden”, and are tasked to oversee the care, expansion, and growth of your group of survivors. It will be decades before humans can return to the surface. Do you have what it takes to shepherd generations of vault dwellers until then? Recently released Life In Bunker, is a base building simulation that attempts to encompass all the pitfalls of underground post-holocaust survival.
You begin with a lengthy tutorial explaining in detail each of the game’s facilities and building functions, which takes about an hour to run through. One of your first tasks requires the development of new human embryos. Accomplished by selecting the Incubator, and pressing the three baby icons. This is an important part of Life Is Bunker, as all your denizens will age and retire over time. This aging process happens at mach 5 speeds, blink and their old fogies. Once retired, these vault members will eat, consume air, waste resources, and contribute absolutely nothing in return. A little unrealistic considering the world has ended. I’m sure granny and grandpa wouldn’t be content in being a complete burden, but would gladly knit, cook, or serve the community in some way. Not in this game, so keeping a constant supply of babies in the literal oven, will be part of your management tasks.
The next task will be providing beds, toilets, and showers. Followed by laying down ore production and ore refinement equipment. Once you have designated where you want equipment and storage facilities to go, the next is to give your bunker citizens jobs to perform. Each citizen is suited for 2-4 tasks, these are: janitorial, scientists, general workers, farmers, cooks, and engineers. Unless they are assigned to a role they will not fulfill another job even if they are suited for the task. For example, you select citizen Adam Grinsworth who is has the ability to work as an engineer or general worker. You assign him to worker duties and the lavatory breaks down while he’s using it. Adam will walk away and handle something worker related instead, even though he is a capable engineer. Unless you manually select his role, Adam will not fix the lavatory. There is a spreadsheet breakdown of all your citizens and their tasks that makes it easy to scan through and ensure all essential jobs are being handled.
Canteens, as well as cooks, are needed to prepare meals, without them citizens will starve. That is, even if you have vegetables, berries, and fish stored in fridges, unless they are cooked and served on a table, everyone dies. Food cultivation also requires one fridge per food type. A plate with 3-4 ingredients will satisfy citizens longer and keep them healthier. Therefore cultivating more than one food type helps your survivors flourish. Citizens will also get sick, and tend to pass on their illness to each other, an infirmary with a scientist in place helps minimize those effects. Recreation and exercise is also something that needs to be provided for as well. VR machines, treadmills, and exercise bikes are some of the objects you can build throughout the bunker to maintain health. Happy people are more productive than unhappy sickly ones, so be mindful of their needs.
All devices that provide life support, quality of life, or building materials run off water, electricity, or both. If you exceed your electrical or water output stations will randomly shut down, until supply is met. The standard reactor, water pumps, and air purifiers will suffice in caring for your citizens, as long as enough resources are generated to cover demand needs. Advanced versions maybe researched at a research station, or you can utilize power stations and water relays to automatically shut off sections of the bunker to conserve power. These stations seem like a nice addition but in practice are unnecessary. First, there’s no real need to cover your base in lights, doors, bathrooms and showers. Citizens get on fine just a few in place. In fact, there’s little incentive to properly map out rooms and organize your bunker in any logical fashion. I combined bathrooms, showers, and beds in one small area and everyone was fine. Researching and saving for the mega-reactor makes little sense when two or three cheaper ones side by side do the same work. Running power cords and water tubing is a relatively easy affair. They have their own sub-bunker view allowing you to map out where you want these utility lines to go and your workers will gladly install them. Also worth noting is the need to clear space for waste bins as bunker dwellers are messy little buggers. They will generate insane amounts of garbage, puke, and diarrhea for your janitors. Waste is mitigated once garbage recycle machines are researched, but until then keep the poop scooped.
There are few challenges wardens need to face when caring for their survivors. The molemen, these ape-like beings inhabit underground areas or will burrow from below and attack your citizens. For the most part citizens will gang up on these foes and take them down before they can injure or kill a someone, every so often however, they’ll manage to take out a dweller. When life support items or water/power lines break they could cut off vital functions to parts of the bunker. As long as you have a couple of engineers on hand, this will never be a real problem. Lastly, as I mentioned is staying ahead of the elderly onslaught that plagues underground dwellers. Should suddenly all three farmers retire, your colony could be without a fresh supply of food. There is no warning that someone is about to retire, you just have to anticipate that everyone will come hobbled elderly by the next time you inhale. That is unless you move someone over to the task, or prepared for it with a new match of embryos.
All of these challenges are mitigated through the research station. As long as you have a scientist on hand, and a powered research station, research points are accumulated on a regular basis. These are in turn used to upgrade better functioning equipment, or more efficiency from your working classes. These upgrades happen instantly without delay. So if you notice your engineers are taking a long time fixing pipes and broken air purifiers, increase their repair rate. Research points allow you to also choose what an embryo will grow into. So you can already grow a new batch of farmers, should your current ones be on the brink of retirement. Generating research points is effortless. Therefore staying ahead of the game’s challenges is just that: effortless.
By far the biggest challenge to Life In Bunker is overcoming boredom from its repetition, and generating any kind of management challenge. Growing your starting bunker to the point you have 1-2 food supplies, a research station, and a decent materials production is droll and systematic, as well as easy. Once your base production is set, everything else eases into place. While the game allows you to create lifts for burrowing multiple layers below, there’s no real reason too. It’s easy enough surviving the 50 year span on one floor. Starting over on sub-levels adds nothing to the experience.
Life In Bunker is an average base management simulator. While featuring a charming theme track, and adequate graphics, the game itself is uninspired and lacks reasons to replay. What reason do I have to build a power grid station? Why should I fear molemen, when replacement babies pop out regularly? Why should I build a 4 story subterranean bunker, when staying on the first level allows me to beat the game? Why is the progression to elderly stage so quick, and why are they so useless afterwards?
Considering how bland most of the game’s elements were, it raised more questions after it was over. What if pipes flooded a room and made them unusable? What if citizens refused to use a room unless it was closed off such as a proper bedroom? What if a training system was added instead of genetics for citizen specialization? What if more dangerous creatures roamed as well as crucial new materials (that could be used to create the more advanced equipment) only existed below? Despite several aspects that do work well, these “why’s” and “what ifs” a part of the reasons why Life In Bunker fails to stand apart from its contemporaries, as well as, several wasted opportunities at being a more compelling experience. This game feels more “early access release” than full retail, and I’ve been working with the game more than a week prior to release, and through it’s post release update. One aspect that can be appreciated is how well the developers have listened to feedback and have resolved issues. Hopefully, this means this is only the initial chapter of Life In Bunker, with improvements influenced by its gamer community.STEAM