Bunker Punks

The year is (the rather foreboding) 2019 and the fall of civilization has begun. Within years, corporations have risen from the ashes to take control of the wastelands. A pirate radio host riles the masses against corporate control and the Bunker Punks emerge to take them on.

Bunker Punks is a game made by Ninja Robot Dinosaur, mixing punchy old-school FPS gameplay with roguelike elements. You guide your punks, the Zero Sum Gang, across a map to their ultimate goal of fucking up a corporate headquarters while raiding their procedurally generated bunkers along the way.

Now, I’m going to be blunt: I am garbage at first-person shooters on the PC. I’m way more used to playing them on console (and even then I’m a bit slow). So, I did some digging before I started playing to see if there’s any content hidden off on harder difficulties. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing no difficulty-exclusive content, so I don’t feel bad about playing on easy.

Here’s one of my first runs in the game, playing as Molly Pop and being complete garbage.

The punks that you can run with have different passives that boost a particular weapon type along with some abilities used by building up a charge bar from killing enemies. Your starting crew consists of Molly Pop, who specializes in using pistols and getting enemies to back off, and Dallas Beach, who…

…is easily the best character in the game. Aside from his shotgun specialization, his active ability is to make a shield that lets you take a free hit, which, in a game where you really want to save your credits to buy buffs instead of health, is a godsend. I got curious and looked up a character guide for the game and the consensus was in: you are a fool if you don’t take Dallas. As such, unless you’re really good at dodging and want to use other weapons, there’s no reason to not pick Dallas. If the creators were to ever update this game again, they realllly have to make changes to the other characters.

The shooter elements of Bunker Punks reflects old first-person shooters like the original DOOM and Wolfenstein. You move fast, allowing you to weave between projectile shots with ease (unless you’re me). Hitscan is not a concern, but to balance that out, you don’t have regenerating health (unless you can combo some kills) and the only covers you have are the occasional pillars and the corners to peak around. Shooting feels just right, enemies splattering the floor and walls with blood or oil, nice grungy tunes playing as you tear your way through corporate drones. The first-person shooter elements is something fans of this style of shooter will appreciate.

Along with equipment that buffs different stats, you’ll also collect credits and tech in the bunkers. In between raids you can use credits to upgrade your bunker, buy some equipment or heal up. The tech is used after the end of the run to permanently purchase things to show up in later runs, like new equipment, characters, bunker rooms, etc.

Like old FPSes, the story is non-intrusive. Tidbits on the game’s timeline and history on the character you’re currently playing as is shared in between levels. Personally, I kinda wished that the downtime in between raids also had chatter, because I feel that would be a good time to put that stuff. Like it’d be nice to see some dialogue between your characters or talk to NPCs besides the shopkeepers. The game’s narrative is pretty much a mood for me so I kinda wanted to see more of it. Still though, considering what it’s emulating, I appreciate the game’s approach to story (until the ending, anyway).

So, what do I hate about the game? It’s the level design, or the lack thereof, and it’s the levels that create a huge black mark on the game for me. Instead of designed spaces, you get randomly generated hallways and rooms with randomly placed enemies. This is probably to be expected from a roguelike, but it becomes a problem when there’s little variety. The only meaningful changes between level types is the different music and drop frequency (ie. medical type levels drop healing items more often). Enemies have a higher frequency of appearing at certain level types, but there is no truly unique enemy types to get accustomed to. Even with harder enemies showing up down the line, it all starts to feel really samey.

And unfortunately, this persists even in the endgame dungeon, a crusade through five-straight floors. The floors all felt the same, but the length felt like it was building up to something. I went through my first run expecting a cool final boss at the end, like a big corporate mech.

Then it turned out the final boss in my game was the lousy crab miniboss that just spawns small chasing enemies over and over that I’ve already encountered several times that doesn’t even fight own its own. There were more enemies around to back it up, but that’s it. The big final battle was just more of the same. I did another run to see what’s up and oh, the final boss was a different miniboss.

The end of a successful roguelike run is usually satisfying. Bunker Punks lacks that satisfaction. There is no special final boss, no gravitas. The ending pretty much just amounts to a text crawl, proclaiming how cool you are for fucking up this corporation – but it doesn’t feel like you’ve done that. Your journey to this point mostly felt the same, with the only sense of progression the levels give coming from the number of enemies the game throws at you increasing. This is the first roguelike I’ve ever beaten where my reaction was just, “huh, yeah I guess that was a game.”

Bunker Punks is wrapped in themes that I’m down with, but at its core, it’s a shallow shooter-roguelike mix. It feels good to play and the music is sweet, but there just isn’t much to entice me to keep playing.

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