Bedlam is the result of multiple generations of FPSs. It’s a tongue-in-cheek glimpse at a genre that, despite being one of the most popular in the industry, is often ridiculed for its community and influence in society. Not only does Bedlam portray this through its narrative, but its presentation acts as huge brush strokes upon an FPS canvas, taking us from one cliche filled recreation of a shooter to another, complete with references and settings that will be all too familiar to those who have stepped foot into a shooter of this ilk.
You take the role of Heather Quinn, a foul-mouthed Scot who, during a VR demonstration, is plunged into the world of Starfire, a fictional 90s inspired sci-fi shooter clearly gleaning influence from the likes of Quake. As Heather, you must battle your way through an intergalactic battle of sparse, pixelated proportions before realising you aren’t the only one. Dozens of people are trapped within various videogame universes, all of which are connected through glitches and it is up to Heather, who gives herself a much more videogame name of Athena, to exploit these glitches, delve into various videogame worlds and find out how to get back to real life.
It's a tried and tested sci-fi formula which is at its best during Heather’s interactions with her MIA gaming comrades. The voice acting is some of the funniest, natural and relatable you’ll see in any FPS, let alone any indie game, and although it’s almost certainly scripted, it sounds completely natural and will have you laughing to yourself and rolling your eyes at how stupid shooters used to be. Comments like being the ‘only one who can save the world because it’s an FPS’ or about the ‘dickhead NPCs’ make the game very meta, but equally as engaging. It’s a game in a game, from the point of view of a gamer, with you in control, yet it manages to keep you engaged while confronted with bland and often repetitive gameplay.
Bedlam is an FPS at its core, and diving back into the ‘90s makes you realise why, on many occasions, the past should be left in the past. Movement is sluggish, with every step feeling like a chore. At times you're almost willing your analogue stick to go further than the controller will allow to no avail, and as for the quick turns to react to enemies behind you, you’re better off trying to do a three point turn in a cruise ship. It's a confusing mixture, which addresses the primitive form of the genre through the narrative, yet still infuriates you as you are met by each flaw by the bucket load. If it’s trying to be ironic, it doesn’t really work. You’ll be glitching into the ground, walking through walls or restarting whole levels or loading saves as there are no checkpoints, questioning whether these are issues or references to tired cliches.
Every FPS trope is present through the relatively short campaign: you’ll face hordes of AI clones, be called a noob in a fictional multiplayer arena and, of course, stop World War II. But aside from tugging at the nostalgia heart strings, the levels, despite different aesthetics, all feel like the same bland and lifeless maps that you remember. This does change for a brief moment during the campaign when you are plunged into the world of classic arcade games, and experiencing Pac-Man as an FPS is an exciting twist and the most memorable moment of the campaign. More shock moments like this would surely have made Bedlam a more engaging playthrough.
Bedlam does try to do something different; a trip down memory lane with a twist. Though the voice acting is second to none, with some brilliant wit and dry humour, the gameplay is overall, bland and archaic. It’s difficult to tell whether bugs and glitches are actually subtle pokes at the shooters of times gone by or are actual issues with the game. While certainly not a must play, if you’ve a soft spot for the genre, then it’ll be worth the short campaign.
Bedlam (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
Brilliant voice acting can’t really make up for torrid gameplay, but despite this, fans of classic shooters won’t be disappointed with what Bedlam has to offer.