Reservoir Dogs is known more for its tense storyline than its action sequences. But that isn’t stopping yet another developer from trying to make a shooter out of it.
Director Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 classic is getting its second video game adaptation (Eidos Interactive made one for PlayStation 2 over 10 years ago). This time, it’s coming from Hollywood studio Lionsgate and Barcelona, Spain-based Big Games. Unveiled at last week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days is a top-down shooter with an intriguing twist: It forces you to rewind time as you try to complete various heists around Los Angeles. It’s coming to PC this spring and Xbox One later this year.
“We love Reservoir Dogs so much. But we had to give it a new, innovative angle [for the game],” said Big Games CEO Liam Patton to GamesBeat. “The way Tarantino set up the movie with [Mr. Orange dying from a bullet in his stomach] — it’s not till an hour-and-a-half later that you realize what happened to him [in a flashback]. We were brainstorming with the team on how to introduce a gameplay mechanic that’s new but also incorporates these flashbacks. So we played with time.”
If you look at the screen below, you’ll notice that Bloody Days’s version of Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, and the rest of the film’s cast don’t look like their movie counterparts at all — Big Games didn’t end up using the actors’ likenesses for the game. Patton explained that it would’ve been far too expensive for their small independent studio to do so.
However, when I played the Bloody Days demo at GDC, it didn’t bother me too much. With the camera perspective, you can’t really see the characters’ faces anyway. And I was far too busy trying to learn the nuances of its time-hopping mechanic.
Be kind, rewind
Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, when carrying a bag of money, the imposing Mr. Brown can run around normally; but the smaller Mr. Pink moves much slower if he’s carrying anything heavy. Only three of the six total criminals can participate in a mission at any given time, with one of them being the leader. This formation determines how you’ll use Bloody Days’s Time Back feature.
Here’s how it worked in my demo: As the leader Mr. Brown, I strolled into a bank and started shooting cops and stealing money. While I was doing this, a timer popped up at the bottom corner of the screen tracking how long I’ve been playing as him. The other two characters, Mr. Pink and Mr. Blue, were hanging at the backdoor entrance. After about a minute or so, and on the urging of one of Bloody Days’s designers sitting next to me, I pressed the space bar to activate Time Back. The clock started over and I found myself back at the entrance with all three characters.
But this time, Mr. Brown was moving on his own, following the path I set up for him earlier (as well as shooting the same cops). Now, I was in control of Mr. Blue, and I could either support Mr. Brown or go through a completely different part of the bank.
This is where the initial timer from my Mr. Brown playthrough became important. You can only play the secondary characters for as long as you played the leader. He sets the pace for the temporary time loop.
When another minute passed, the clock started over again, and now I was Mr. Pink. Mr. Brown and Mr. Blue were both following my previous actions, and I tried to give them — or rather, myself — some cover fire. When Mr. Pink’s turn expired, the current time loop was over, and the game saved my progress up to that point. A new time loop then began in the middle of the bank, where I left off with Mr. Brown — I was back in control of him. That’s the gist of Bloody Days’s gameplay. You’re gradually leap-frogging your way through time to accomplish your objectives.
Time Back is a fascinating, but tricky concept to grasp. I died many times before figuring out how I should use it (it probably didn’t help that I skipped the tutorial). Technically, you can play as long as you want as the leader, but the developers recommend to keep your sessions to about 10 to 20 seconds. I can see why. Even at a minute or two, it was kind of annoying to wait for Mr. Brown to kill someone or go through his motions while I was playing as Mr. Blue or Mr. Pink.
And because you can only take a few hits before you die, you’ll want to make sure your squad members are close so they can protect each other. You can’t revive downed teammates.
Death is a learning experience
Like in Dark Souls or other games with punishing difficulties, dying gives you an opportunity to learn about your enemies’ whereabouts. Their movement patterns never change. Once you know your leader died because of a cop taking potshots from the corner of a building, just switch to another character and shoot the guy before he kills the leader again.
But since dying also rewinds time, Time Back can amplify your mistakes. If you just keep charging into the open with all of your characters and shooting everybody, you’re going to have to wait till the next time loop to give your squad some cover.
I performed much better in a mission that took place at the shipping docks in Long Beach. I found out that the snappier your time loops are, the more you can accomplish. It’s easier to move through a level inch-by-inch than it is to canvas the whole place on your first go. Bloody Days is almost like a rhythm game: you have to get into a flow. But once I understood how everything worked, I was making smarter choices about where I left my characters before their turns were over.
Big Games calls Bloody Days a “single-player co-op” game, a weird yet succinct way of summing up Time Back’s effect. It gives the game a layer of strategy and complexity you don’t normally see in top-down shooters. It was surprising how smooth everything felt.
“We want gamers to enjoy [Bloody Days] whether or not they’ve seen the movie,” said Patton. “If you have seen the movie, you’ll appreciate the references and the atmosphere. But if you haven’t, you’ll be able to enjoy it as well.”