Bunker Punks blends old-school shooter action with roguelike sensibilities

Last time I saw Bunker Punks was at the Media Indie Exchange during E3 last year. Back then, the game was a first-person shooter roguelike with a bit of base management on the side. Now, it’s still a first-person shooter roguelike minus the base management that’s out now on Steam Early Access. The game hasn’t largely changed at its core, but it feels like a much more complete and realized package, which, given it’s still got at least another year of development ahead of it, is surprising to say the least.

That’s largely due to how the game’s basic framework exists already. You play as one of several characters (or “punks”), each with their own traits, and begin raiding nearby corporate strongholds for weapons and supplies to fuel your resistance group. You then take whatever cash you stole and spend it on upgrades for your bunker, which in turn strengthen your team. This process repeats until you run out of characters or you conquer the corporate government headquarters, at which point you trade the tech you collected for new characters, rooms for your bunker, weapons, and so on.

So standard roguelike fare. Only thing that’s changed since the MIX build is the removal of resources like food. Previously, if you weren’t able to keep a steady flow of supplies coming in from your raids on the corporations you would slowly be unable to properly assault any strongholds. Your punks’ health wouldn’t be restored between outings and ammunition would dwindle. I eventually lost mid-mission due to some careless mistakes on my part back then because I ran out of ammo and couldn’t find any more. That’s all no longer a concern, though, and the game is much better for it. Health and ammo are restored upon returning to base and food and such are no longer in play. Credits and tech are the only resources you need to seek out.

Your time spent at the bunker is used solely to spend credits on upgrading rooms. A firing range allows you to increase your teams proficiency with certain weapons, for instance, while a gym enhances their movement speed and natural armor. You only have so much space, however, and each room can only hold three upgrades, so you need to think carefully about how you want to build your team and what to specialize in. Generally you want to play to your punks’ strengths. Molly Pop, for example, one of the starting characters, excels at using pistols, so investing in improving their damage output makes the most sense.

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From there, it’s out into the field. The action in Bunker Punks is fast and frenetic. You zoom about tight rooms gunning down groups of drones and security bots while deftly avoiding the hail of gunfire being lobbed at you. It’s the kind of shooter where standing still trying to line up shots will get you killed. Takes some getting used to since just about every weapon requires you to be dead-on with your aim for them to hit. Shotgun fire doesn’t spread, which makes the act of getting in nice and close extra risky since you’re bound to miss a few times before hitting the mark. Pistols are similar, but that’s more due to the slow rate of fire.

During more chaotic late-game battles, the extreme precision of the guns can be a bit of a problem. When you’re dealing with bots firing rockets while also trying to avoid multiple turrets situated in each corner of the room, having half your shots miss because you were just barely off with your aim can be frustrating. A couple my runs on the final level came about because of such circumstances. I had plenty of health, armor, and ammo, but there never much I could do about the situation because everything converged in the worst way imaginable That’s par for the course with procedurally generated levels, granted – sometimes you get unlucky – but it could do with a bit of balancing.

On the flip side, however, such encounters perfectly capture Bunker Punks’ combat at its best. The game looks to invoke the kind of action you’d see in classics like Doom, where you’re constantly weaving through hordes of enemies and projectiles alike, never once thinking to stop and catch your breath. In general, every room in Bunker Punks’ levels invoke that intense action to some degree. In the early game, you’re often trying to outrun explosive drones that zone in on you while also contending with armed humanoid guards. In the late game, you’re outrunning dog-like robots and avoiding rockets on top of everything else. It’s a steady climb to the more absurd encounters, but it definitely doesn’t take long for the difficulty to ramp up. I’ve only made it to the end level a couple of times as I usually fail somewhere around the half-way point.

Given that Bunker Punks is slated to stay in Early Access until Spring 2017, I’m curious to see how it’ll evolve. The game feels mostly assembled already and plays great, so it’s tough to imagine what the game will look and play like in several months. But at the same time, it’s refreshing to see an Early Access game launch in such a well-realized state. If you’ve any interest in checking Bunker Punks out, now’s as good a time as any.

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