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Bedlam Review: Fragging Through Gaming's History

The ‘90s were a special era in gaming. More and more developers were just starting to stretch their legs and test the limits of the medium, making for new and interesting games that helped build a foundation for what we play today. Perhaps Bedlam’s greatest achievement is that, for better or worse, it flawlessly captures the experience of playing on the PC nearly two decades ago. It doesn’t hurt that the game is also pretty fun and plenty hilarious to boot.

Available on Steam Early Access for quite a while now, Bedlam is finally making the jump to console, arriving this week on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Try not to get it confused with Skyshine’s Bedlam, which also recently released on PC. Two totally different games.

This particular Bedlam is based on Christopher Brookmyre’s beloved novel by the same name, though rather than re-telling the narrative from the source material, you instead play a character living in the same universe who comes into contact with the novel’s protagonist.

As Heather Quinn (Or Athena, if you want to use her Gamer Tag), you find yourself sucked into an old-school first-person shooter that you used to play with your big brother way back in the day. What first appears to be a VR gaming session turns out to be Quinn’s new reality; one she might be stuck in if she can’t find a way out.

Any fan of classic Doom or Wolfenstein will feel right at home as Quinn gets her feet under her. The first stop on her whirlwind tour of gaming history is an FPS called Starfire. Everything from the controls to the ridiculous dialogue feels pitch-perfect for the ‘90s shooters it’s emulating, boasting plenty of one-liners that poke fun at some of gaming’s ancestry.

Your journey only grows stranger from here on out as Quinn dives into a multiplayer shooter similar to the Quake series. This particular section of Bedlam offers some of the best moments in the script, featuring a snot-nosed brat of an opponent who is so close to what you hear in real life shooters that it’s almost uncomfortable.

Pretty much everything is free game in Bedlam, as you’ll eventually visit the origins of cover shooting, a Pac-Man clone and even a first-person RPG. You’ll be able to keep your weapons along the way so, yes, you will eventually find yourself shooting skeleton soldiers with a laser gun or slicing up futuristic baddies with a magical sword.

You might have noticed that I’m being a bit vague up until this point and that’s because half of the fun of Bedlam is seeing where you’ll go and what you’ll have to do next. Tropes aplenty pop up along the way, each one stirring up nostalgia for the simpler days of gaming’s past. There’s also a pretty interesting story weaving through the whole affair with a few twists and turns that caught me by surprise.

As I said above, Bedlam absolutely nails the look, sound and feel of the games it’s aping, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. At first, the floaty controls, less-than-pinpoint shooting and repetitive objectives are exactly what I was hoping for. If I’m going to play a Doom clone, I figured I’d want to experience it warts and all. After a while, though, some of the repetition and lack of direction feels lazy rather than intentional, and I can only snipe so many Nazis through a window before I start to lose interest. There’s also occasional god-awful checkpoint spacing getting in the way of the fun, as well as a few frustrating leaps in difficulty. Again, I’m experiencing an internal struggle of sorts, as that was pretty much par for the course for these types of games back in the day and, in a way, this is the only type of game where their inclusion in the modern day feels excusable.

The same can be said for Bedlam’s many glitches, too, and I’m not talking the “glitches” that are integral to the plot. There’s clipping aplenty and enemies will do everything from shooting through walls to getting stuck in geometry or walking on air. I experienced a few instances where the sound of a gun firing rolled on repeat in the background for a while and even moments where stuff like entire vehicles would disappear if I looked at them from a certain angle. While some of these issues are clearly kinks that never got worked out of the launch version of Bedlam, I honestly have to pause and wonder if some of them are, in fact, intentional.

But no matter how charming it is to revisit the past, those kinds of issues lose their appeal when they occur often enough to feel like they’re stepping on your toe rather than simply running in, tickling your nostalgia bone and then vacating the premises.

Despite all of that, I’m glad I stuck with Bedlam, as it offers a genuinely funny tale and plenty of moments that will make older gamers say, “Oooooh, I remember that,” on repeat. If you didn’t experience the generations of gaming that Bedlam references, though, you might have a hard time digging past the flaws in order to get at all of the good stuff.

This review based on a PlayStation 4 download copy provided by the publisher.

Players: 1

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Developer: Red Bedlam

Publisher: KISS ltd.

ESRB: Mature

Rating:

Ryan Winslett

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.