If it’s true that imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then a lot of game developers should be flattered by Bedlam (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC), a first-person shooter that pays homage to classic games by recreating both their fun and their flaws. Though you’ll decidedly enjoy this more if you’re familiar with the classic games being honored.
When Bedlam begins, you find yourself in a world that looks like such mid-’90s first-person shooters as Quake or Unreal, and that despite being a lady with a Brave-like Scottish accent, you resemble the quarterback of the Borg’s JV football team (“Go Assimilating Irish!”). But then, after going through what looks like a crack in the code, you get a crossbow that has far more visual detail. Turns out you’re caught in some kind of virtual reality video game library and have fight your way out.
While much of the action in Bedlam is of the first-person-shooter variety, the game throws quite few other elements into the mix. Along with the Quake/Unreal sections, there’s a Medal Of Honor-esque World War II section, a zombie take on WWII, a Halo-looking realm, a fantasy part that recalls The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, three-dimension versions of the classic arcade games Space Invaders and Pac-Man, and even a 2D bit reminscent of Defender.
It’s not just single-player modes that come up in Bedlam, though. During the Quake and Unreal parts, you find yourself having to play a capture point game against the system, as well as a round of “Deathmatch” that comes complete with the sound of some jerk asking, “Wait, are you a girl?”
What’s interesting is that Bedlam lets you bring weapons from one realm into another, and with their original tenets. For instance, looking down the barrel of a gun for more accuracy wasn’t part of Quake or Unreal, but it was in Medal Of Honor. Thus, you can’t use iron sights when holding one of the early weapons, even when you’re in the World War II level, but you can when using a WWII-era gun, regardless of what world you’re in.
Bedlam also get points for not letting weapons from one realm make you overpowered in another (save for when you use the rocket launcher, of course). This is done mostly by limited the amount of ammo you can have at any one time, though you occasionally lose access to specific weapons when you enter a new realm as well. Similarly, the enemy A.I. in the game isn’t nearly as dumb as it sometimes was in older games, though it’s admittedly not as good as it can be in newer games.
The thing is, while Bedlam could’ve easily been a parody of those old games, it’s actually more of an homage. And not just because its dated and predictable jokes are more likely to make you groan than giggle. No, it’s really because this does a great job of recreating the feel of those old games, flaws and all. Not only are the movement controls spot-on, but so are the sound effects, the way you interact with objects, and even the quality of the voice over, both in terms of the acting and the sound quality. It really does make you feel like you’re playing one of those aforementioned classic shooters.
As fun as Bedlam may be, though, it does have some irritating aspects, and not all are copied from classic games. You have to hold down the reload button to reload your gun, as opposed to just tapping it like you do in every other game. And if that weapon completely runs out of bullets, you doesn’t automatically switch to another…again, like every other game. Also, while most gun games let you toss a grenade with the touch of a button, this annoyingly makes you switch from firearms to grenades like the numbered entries of the Gears Of War series.
It’s also hard not to think Bedlam could’ve had a fun multiplayer mode, one where you play “Deathmatch,” ‘Team Deathmatch,” and so on, but get to mix things up like by having Unreal-style guns in a Skyrim world, or World War II pistols in a Halo-esque setting. And I say that as someone who’s not a big fan of multiplayer.
Then there’s the checkpoint system in Bedlam. While modern games are a bit more liberal with the mid-mission checkpoints (sometimes too liberal), this game is decidedly too conservative. And while you can save the game whenever you want — and should, unless you really like replaying large sections over and over — only the PC edition has a quick save option.
Bedlam also has a problem so common these days that I’m getting a little tired of including this paragraph in so many game reviews I do: the type is too damn small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your television — y’know, like your momma told you to — you’ll have a hard time reading your objectives and the captions. The latter of which is especially annoying since our hero’s Scottish accent is pretty thick.
It also goes without saying (though, clearly, I’m going to say it anyway) that if you’ve never played Unreal, Quake, or any of the other aforementioned old school games, you’ll probably wonder why Bedlam has such crappy graphics, movement that makes it feel like you’re ice skating everywhere, and health that doesn’t recharge. In other words, you’ll think this sucks, or is low-rent, or isn’t finished. And, to be fair, there are times when it does feel like that.
But as someone who played Quake, Medal Of Honor, and the rest way back when, Bedlam is mostly a fun trip down memory lane. Though it doesn’t, if you’re wondering, make me want to go back and play those games anytime soon. Despite mixing things up, one trip down memory lane is enough for a while.