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Bedlam

Score: 50%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Vision Games Publishing Limited
Developer: RedBedlam
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

Bedlam is a shooter of the Darkest of Days variety. By that, I mean it is positively riddled with good ideas, but fails at its fundamentals. This indie game, based on the book by Scottish writer Christopher Brookmyre, is preloaded with fascinating possibilities. Itís an unholy blend of ReBoot and Trainspotting that could have been impressive if the game was actually fun to play.

Narrative justification spares Bedlam the seemingly obvious fate of being called out on most of its visual shortcomings. This is not a next-generation gaming experience, and it doesnít really advertise itself as one. Itís an unapologetically retro romp that takes its cues primarily from the golden age of PC shooters like Quake II and the original Half-Life. By that, I mean you can expect plenty of flat, blocky surfaces; the game is literally made of them. But its intentions in this regard are pure instead of lazy, and as a result, it comes across as charming instead of ugly.

However, itís less easy to forgive Bedlam for its technical shortcomings. For a game that purposely goes for the aged aesthetic, it doesnít perform very well. Its frame rate drops well below acceptable levels when things start heating up, and since most of the enemies are clones of each other and the draw distance is as limited as it is, one starts to wonder exactly why.

Bedlamís sound design is much more well-rounded than its visuals. Voice acting is quite good, and Iím not just saying that because we donít get to hear that classic Scottish brogue in video games very often. Some of the delivery is botched; the main characterís reaction to a particularly horrifying revelation is rather unbelievable, in particular. Other elements of the sound design fit in well with the retro aesthetic, and to divulge any more would be to spoil the gameís best moments.


Gameplay:

Heather Quinn is a longtime gamer who suddenly finds herself trapped in the gameverse, a series of multiple connected realities based on the worlds of the first person shooters she grew up with. An antagonistic force known simply as the Integrity are systematically ruining each of these worlds with corruption. Lucky for Heather, sheís not the only one; a group of similarly virtually stranded individuals have militarized themselves. They call themselves the Diasporadoes, and they wage war against the Integrity to save whatever existence they consider themselves to have. But unlucky for Heather, sheís separated from them and must trek through a number of game worlds through a series of glitches to join them. Bedlamís story is definitely on the strange side, but in many ways, itís a celebration of games. The writing is fire and ice; when Heather stumbles into an Unreal Tournament-esque game, she finds herself locked in combat with a gaggle of prepubescent gamer stereotypes. And on top of that, there are loads of references to games that are actually real. On the other hand, the script can get needlessly sweary; while itís funny hearing Scottish people curse, Bedlam overdoes it. And every now and then, it throws in some inane political jokes that are dumb and out of place. So, like I said, fire and ice.

Bedlam fancies itself a "genre-jumping shooter," but it doesnít really earn that moniker. Visually, Iíd be inclined to agree with it, though. Heatherís journey takes her through a rather diverse series of digital landscapes, some of which are clearly supposed to represent some sort of real-world analog. And without spoiling anything, these inspirations range from arcade classics to shoot-em-ups to real-time strategy. But Bedlamís biggest misstep here is that, with a couple of extremely brief exceptions, it always sticks to its subpar shooter gameplay, which is middling at its best and tedious at its worst. Towards the end, it leans far more heavily towards the latter.


Difficulty:

Do yourself a favor and play Bedlam on Easy. There arenít any difficulty-based achievements, and nearly all of them are unlocked by simply playing through the game.

Bedlam is usually an easy enough shooter. Enemy A.I. isnít bright and several of them are content to run out in the open and get killed. However, the difficulty level stems from the number of enemies on the field at once and the amount of damage they inflict. Bedlamís level design and movement speed are usually enough to remedy this disadvantage, but towards the end, Heather is forced through a series of nearly barren, cover-free chokepoints in which she must simply blast everything in sight.

Bedlamís worst moments are objective-based, and this is most apparent in the Medal of Honor-inspired "Death or Glory" sequence. At the end of each road, you come across a door that must be unlocked. But the key is somewhere out there, in a series of samey-yet-labyrinthine households. Itís bad level design meets bad gameplay, and if itís supposed to be satirizing that trope, it needs to look in the mirror.


Game Mechanics:

At its core, Bedlam is a threadbare first-person shooter. You run, you jump, you shoot. Rinse and repeat. Second verse, same as the first. And mind you, this isnít always bad; games like Painkiller and Serious Sam prove that. But Bedlamís shooting model is, for lack of a better word, ass.

Like in Darkest of Days, Bedlam allows you to build up an arsenal of weapons and then visit times and places in which said weapons would be considered anachronistic. This leads not only to some silly fourth-wall breakage, but some pretty great sight gags. Itís something to see a group of Nazi soldiers erased from existence with a series of temporal mines or to wield an MP-44 against a legion of bloodthirsty extraterrestrials. Some weapons are far more fun to use than others, so the balancing is off; you might even make it to the end of the game without having fired a handful of them more than once.

Bedlam is unfortunately more about possibilities than reality, and the whole game feels like a big tease for something better. Thereís value in it; you certainly havenít seen a story like this in a game in quite some time, if ever. Itís one of the most meta experiences you can have in a game. But at $19.99, itís ultimately hard to justify a purchase. It might make you want to pick up the book, though!


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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