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Bedlam changes genres every hour or two, but two things remain the same: how enjoyable you’ll find the story and how lackluster you’ll find the shooting.
Fortunately, the latter rarely gets in the way of the former. You’ll enjoy making your way through the varied first-person shooter knockoffs (and non-FPS games entertainingly turned into that genre) just for the reward of hearing more of the lead character and her opponents.
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Bedlam releases today for PlayStation 4 digital download, PC, and Mac and Friday for Xbox One digital download. I reviewed the Xbox One version with a standard controller. RedBedlam developed the game, Christopher Brookmyre wrote it (more on him in a moment), and Vision Games published it. It costs $20 regardless of version.
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What you’ll like
That story, and especially that dialogue
You play as Heather Quinn, a fine videogaming name (ahem) belonging to a delightfully foulmouthed and witty Scot — think Merida in Brave with more attitude and fewer self-filters. She goes by the gamertag Athena.
Her employer, the medical scanning company Neurosphere, traps her inside a series of video games on her first day of work. Bedlam is based on Brookmyre’s 2013 novel of the same name, and the protagonist from the book appears as a character in the game. (Brookmyre writes primarily crime novels and is also a witty Scot.)
You zap from game genre to genre using glitches. Starting with a Doom-type parody and later to Call of Duty and PlanetSide clones, you’ll march through FPS tropes. You’ll also branch out. You experience a role-playing game, Pac-Man, and Defender clones as shooters, for example, which turns out to be fairly amusing.
Each level contains its own satire, sharply written and loaded with in-jokes for anyone who played the original games. The overall story creates some intial interest, but the snappy repartee throughout the gameplay keeps Bedlam moving right along.
The only mild writing disappointment proves to be the weak ending, which I won’t spoil here.
RedBedlam posted a blog entry suggesting that this game would be the first in a trilogy based on the novel and its planned sequels. I haven’t read the book though it’s earned a spot on my list based on this game, so I can’t say how much story is really left to tell after Bedlam is over.
The kickass voice acting
Quinn’s accent, as played by Scottish actress Kirsty Strain, sounds incredibly charming: Frankly, there is nothing like hearing a Scotswoman swear. Strain delivers her dialogue crisply and with effective humor.
Quinn’s antagonists and allies, all tropes taken from the game genres Bedlam sends up, frequently achieve levels of laugh-out-loud fun. Right from the start, the alien bad-guy general — your boss — will make you chuckle with his outrage over the resistance of the human population, who they’ve, yes, enslaved and slaughtered, but still, it’s the principle of the thing.
Actor Robert Florence of Burnistoun, the same television show where Strain appears, voices the game character Bedlam (Quinn’s coworker Ross Baker, the protagonist in the book.) Florence also does a wonderfully competent job of delivering his lines.
Combined with writer Brookmyre’s terrific understanding of gaming-related dialogue and jargon, they make a delightful recipe for shooter comedy.
One of my very favorite scenes comes very early, when you’re plunked inside a Quake 2-style deathmatch with prepubescent boys who complain about bugs and hacks when you hit them and tell you how terrible you are when they manage to hit you.
I think I’ve actually had one of the conversations the boys have with Quinn — “You’re a girl? Go back and play The Sims!” — right before she sends them to hell and tells them she’s been playing since they were in diapers. All right, perhaps I’m relating a bit too much to the main character here, but still tremendously funny stuff.
Warning: This trailer doesn’t do the dialogue justice.
The always updating graphics
You’ll start the game playing a Doom-like alien shooter in which you play the alien. Your enemies look like they’re made out of a few hundred pixels each, max. The landscape has that blocky, crudely textured vibe you remember, with the same plant plunked here and there over the hills as “flavor.” Every door is the same; every enemy is the same; there is no good texture that goes unrepeated.