The first person shooter is a genre that is littered with all sorts of sub-genres. From World War 2, through space marines, to the high-tech warfare in most FPS today, it’s fair to say that there is a lot of flexibility as far as setting goes. Spawned from the Christopher Brookmyre novel of the same name, Bedlam takes all these possibilities and amalgamates them into one game to create a tour through the evolution of FPS and gaming in general.
Heads up, this launch trailer gets a bit sweary. Just like the game itself…
It’s a good idea and one that presents a lot of possibilities; if you spend a few minutes thinking about it, the possibilities are not only verging on endless, but are genuinely exciting from a player’s perspective. One minute you can be in space, the next assaulting Omaha Beach, and connecting them in a satisfying manner could create an FPS to scratch a very unique itch that players hadn’t even realised was there.
Bedlam’s sense of humour is perhaps its most consistent thread. While it can miss at times, it hits more often than not with a dry comment about the setting you’re in, poking fun at first person shooters in general, or just the main character, Athena, being witty in reaction to an NPC or situation. Athena isn’t her real name – she isn’t a Greek goddess for one thing – but the pseudonym of Heather Quinn, a gamer who finds herself not only trapped inside a game, but inside the body of an alien (called a Gralak) within the game.
She finds herself in an old FPS called Starfire, which has similarities to certain early FPS games, right down to hidden rooms behind slightly ajar vents and floating-head enemies. It’s all pixel-y and retro, to fit in with the game’s supposed time period, but this is also the slowest part of the game.
Mechanically, it’s just not a very good FPS, your aim seems somehow simultaneously sluggish and floaty – it accelerates from a bit too slow to much too fast, making aiming an unnecessarily fiddly process that casts a shadow over the whole game. This is likely only an issue with a controller and is no doubt much less of an issue in the PC version of the game with a keyboard and mouse.
Additionally, you will encounter all sorts of weaponry in the game but a lot of it is so inaccurate that it gets ignored after the initial novelty. You start off with a laser pistol (you’re in space, remember), which is easy enough to use, but the shotgun you get soon after can struggle to hit a group of three close-knit enemies from six feet away. A very fun-looking chaingun seems to be the gun used in the opening scene to Ali G Indahouse, while MP40s are just as inaccurate but don’t look as fun.
In the end, I found myself sticking to single shot guns unless I had run out of ammo. Even the rocket launcher, which is plenty accurate enough and deals splash damage, is a bit difficult to use since the reload is time, to the point that you’re better off using the pistol to awkwardly clear the room than waiting for the reload.
Poor aiming and unreliable weaponry ultimately becomes the game’s biggest issue, because if you are looking for an old-school FPS then Bedlam wouldn’t have been too far off. You wander your way through enemy complexes, working your way through corridors and rooms of enemies in true Doom fashion, but it doesn’t end up being too fun because combat has been compromised. It only really picks up after an hour or so, when you hop into a World War 2 game.
The novelty of the more modern graphics is nice and the environment is a little easier to navigate, albeit still very repetitive. You’ll find yourself moving from one setting to the next, only to find that it’s the same as before but with a new skin. The gameplay doesn’t change and so eventually begins to stagnate, and while the game is often funny it isn’t enough to keep you going.
Really, Bedlam relies on its premise, genre-hopping and the unexpected places it can take you, to carry you through the mediocre gameplay, but that only takes it so far. There are a few levels that stand out as great ideas that fail in execution. One was a deathmatch with bots who complained in a typical internet gamer style, but the map it was on was too large, there were too few bots, and the kill limit was too high, so you spent most of your time wandering around looking for someone to shoot and it quickly outstayed its welcome.
In the end Bedlam has an interesting premise at its core and dialogue that will amuse for a while, but it gets same-y very quickly in each environment. Perhaps if the game started more quickly and had you hopping genres a little earlier in the game, it wouldn’t outstay its welcome quite so quickly. As it is, it can only really be recommended if the genre-hopping idea has you weak at the knees.
Version tested: PS4