As you move through the game genres in Bedlam, you’ll take a few steps forward with the tremendous graphics of later-generation shooters and a few steps back in the arcade-game mash-ups. Bedlam never achieves present-day standards for graphics presentation, but it does a highly respectable job with some late-retro send-ups.
What you won’t like
How incredibly long it takes to turn around
The controls in Bedlam are crude from the start, which fits that blocky 90s aesthetic. Unfortunately, they don’t get better as the game goes along. Movement is quick and smooth, as is jumping, though it always feels a little low-grav. Aiming and shooting, on the other hand, are a trial with the Xbox One controller.
Strafing is quick, and you can actually move fast enough to dodge bullets, so you’ll use it a lot. But turning to find someone shooting behind you is paiiiiiiiinfully slow, and if you make the mistake of standing still, you will frequently end up at half health before you’ve gotten a bead on them.
I’m also a bit spoiled by modern console shooters, which may not have the precision of their PC counterparts but manage to deliver something like that feel with thumbsticks and trigger. Not so here; even with sticky targeting turned on, moving the reticule felt slow and sometimes jerky, which meant I did a lot of dodging interspersed with shooting.
These enemies need a brain transplant
The folks at RedBedlam make it very clear that they deliberately created the enemies in the older game genres stupid to match the primitive A.I. at the time. Fair enough, but that doesn’t explain why villains later in the game were still happy to round the corner one at a time directly into my line of fire.
Because you move so quickly and the shots fired in the game move so slowly, you can dispatch most of those you have to kill by jumping around like an overcaffeinated frog to avoid their bullets while you shoot and the rest by making them angry and hiding around a corner until they come to play.
I won’t deny that bouncing and picking off piles of enemies in a row carries some charm, but after a few hours, I began to long for bad guys that would intelligently take cover or box me out of my hiding place.
Some bugs crawled into the final product
Bedlam’s bugs are legion: Enemies swim, half-submerged, in the ground. People clip through or are enveloped by objects. Things you touch mysteriously launch you up or several paces over — not on purpose. Bosses get stuck on things, not firing, until dead. You get stuck on things.
Clearly, this game doesn’t have the spit-polish of a triple-A console or PC release. But I found myself lumping in the crazy bugs with the terrible A.I. and the crude graphics as part of the nostalgic appeal.
I’m not saying they should be there; they clearly detract from the experience. But I didn’t mind them as much as I might have because of the retro feel of the game as a whole — and some lingering suspicion that some bugs were left in as “too much like the original game to pass up.”
Bedlam offers average shooter gameplay at best, but the send-ups of the genres it inhabits makes you strangely tolerant of its flaws. Heather Quinn earns a spot as one of the best video game heroines ever, by virtue of tremendous writing and some stellar voice acting, and her story makes the game worth playing, even if the end wraps things up in lackluster fashion.
I don’t know if I’d truly enjoy another full day of average — even squishy — gameplay with a second or third chapter of Bedlam, but I’d certainly think twice about the opportunity to spend more time with Quinn.
Bedlam is available today for PlayStation 4, PC, and Mac and releases Friday, October 16 for Xbox One. GamesBeat was given an Xbox One code to use for this review.
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