Game review: Bedlam

Bedlam marks a return to the FPS days of blocky textures. Picture: Contributed
Bedlam marks a return to the FPS days of blocky textures. Picture: Contributed
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A retro FPS that casts a wry look over gaming history

Game review: Bedlam

Platform: Xbox One (reviewed) / Playstation 4 / PC

Score: 6/10

IT is a sign of the maturity of videogames as a medium that a modest but growing number of titles released in recent years have taken aim at its various tropes, cliches and mechanics. The best known is arguably Eat Lead, a game released for the last generation of consoles that mocked a whole host of action and shooter franchises. Its script and voice cast won plaudits and little touches such as a lengthy waits for elevators to open - a ruse which masked loading times - couldn’t help but bring a smile to the face of those of a certain age.

Unlike literature or film, however, producing a parody is a particular tricky proposition for game developers. The most obvious way of showing up hackneyed game design is allowing the player to experience it for themselves; but then, irony aside, that carries the danger of making the end product an ultimately underwhelming experience. It is a dilemma Eat Lead could never quite resolve. As an idea, it worked. As a game, the fact it always had one foot in the past left it feeling lacklustre and dated.

After a while, the game feels like a short-term fix

A similar conflict surrounding concept and execution plagues Bedlam, the latest game to cast a self-referential eye back over some of the best known series of recent decades. It is by far a better game than Eat Lead and anyone who who has progressed from the days of 8-bit computers to the current generation of consoles will be amused and entertained. But it is ultimately a short term fix.

The genesis of the game is fascinating in itself. Based on the novel, Bedlam, by Christopher Brookmyre, itself a wry look at gaming culture wrapped in an absurdist sci-fi plot, it is essentially a whistlestop tour of the medium down the decades, with an emphasis on major first person shooter franchises such as Quake, Halo and Call of Duty, all of which are subjected to Brookmyre’s trademark dark wit.

Brookmyre’s script and the voice cast are superb

The script combines astute commentaries with scathing jokes, all of which highlight Brookmyre’s abiding love for the medium. Some of the barbs are niche, but when you find yourself laughing out loud at a line about Voodoo graphic cards, it is clear that the author has chosen his targets well. Moreover, the dialogue is brought to life by a superb voice cast.

Ultimately, the concept proves to be more engaging than the game itself, which sees you play as Heather Quinn, a programmer and a colleague of the book’s central character, Ross Barker, who finds herself trapped in a gaming world. The sense of fun and flippancy in the script jars with the mechanics of the game itself which, after a few hours, reveals itself to be essentially the same basic FPS overlaid with a series of skins from the gaming canon.

TIPS AND TRICKS:

The early 1990s feel to the FPS movement gives the physics a floaty dimension which can be offputting at first, but learn how to jump around to avoid enemy fire.

Also in classic FPS style, strafing is an essential way to avoid an onslaught when you find yourself outnumbered.