Say a friend came up to you and asked you for a game recommendation. He/she is feeling like playing fast and loose, and wonders if you have any suggestions for a particularly meta game. Once you’re done questioning the company you keep, your answer should probably be Bedlam.
As meta games go, it’s the Citizen Kane of the genre, the Seinfeld. Based on Christopher Brookmyre’s novel, it’s so incredibly meta that its entire existence is predicated on you travelling from game to game, all the while unravelling the story of just how you came to be travelling from game to game whilst you talk to people about other games. Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich’s writer, would be taken aback by how meta Bedlam is, and he wrote a film called Being John Malkovich. And you know what? It’s not even a bad thing. The way in which Bedlam revisits gaming genres of the past and the way in which they’re presented is often quite interesting. Problem is that the major stumbling point is the actual game itself.
Bedlam wastes little time in setting itself up, establishing you as Heather, a gamer/programmer chucked into 90s first person shooter homage Starfire (think Quake but less rough around the edges) without any explanation. Exploring her environment, she eventually comes into audio contact with other programmers also seemingly stuck in this puzzling technological marvel and, whilst jumping from game to game, she tries to figure out how her current situation has come to pass, and how to get back to the real world.
It’s an interesting set-up. Tonally, it’s quite nice to jump from genre to genre and get relatively small 30/40 minute chunks of gameplay from gaming history, with Bedlam switching from old school FPS to WW2 shooter to fantasy RPG. The game is a shooter, first and foremost, so despite your location, your primary objective will be to get from point A to point B whilst shooting anything that comes into your crosshairs. Allowing the use of weapons from all of the games you’ve already visited is a nice touch, meaning you can take out walking skeletons with a shotgun or tiny military tanks with a crossbow depending on what you have on you, with the story itself flexible enough to allow for such rule-bending.
There’s potential here that quickly starts to be squandered once you delve into the actual gameplay. As mentioned, this is a shooter that hops from setting to setting but the movement and gunplay don’t change much, and therein lies the problem; Bedlam’s desire to pay homage to the genres of old extends to bringing the clunky, out-dated and frankly frustrating controls with it, meaning that shooting almost every single weapon in the game is frequently unsatisfying and fiddly. It’s incredible that Bedlam has managed to accurately ape the feeling of discharging a firearm in Quake, but why do it? There’s a reason many games don’t launch with controls as awkward as these, namely because the medium has evolved to the point where they don’t NEED to be awkward, nevermind the fact that in the modern day, launching a game that feels cumbersome to control is strike one, right off the bat. If the aim was total homage, then developer RedBedlam have succeeded, but this feels like a decision made out of wanting to fulfil a personal vision over crafting an enjoyable experience.
Bedlam feels loose; quest markers appear then disappear, leaving you clear on your objectives about half of the time, which hardly helps in the WW2 section when clearing out one too many buildings filled with non-descript German soldiers becomes necessary as a means of avoiding constant gunfire. Autosave is inexplicably inconsistent, with the game saving during missions but not at the start of transitional areas between worlds in which you can die should you mis-time a jump, causing you to hurtle back to the previous area’s final section unless you have a handy manual save lying around. It’s these sorts of unnecessary decisions that detract from the entire experience, and for every comedic quirk, like a battalion of soldiers all with the exact same face or the delightfully realistic retorts offered during when you take out an opponent in a deathmatch (“Ahh, no! That was lag, that was lag”), all it’ll take is one sojourn through a dark sewer with no compass and a horde of zombies running after your unguided butt in a survival horror level to drag you away from having fun.
Bedlam understands the components of classic gaming genres and styles incredibly well, and each section feels nicely authentic as a result. But it sacrifices a sense of enjoyment in order to transport you back to decades past to the point where it gets difficult to get something positive out of the experience when it really doesn’t need to.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 5/10 Format: Xbox One / PlayStation 4 / PC Release Date: 13/08/2015
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Bedlamby the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of five days. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.