Bedlam

RedBedlam's Bedlam is a love letter of sorts to the FPS genre, a grand tour of its roots with some arcade and RPG references thrown in for good measure. As Heather Quinn, a programmer trapped inside a videogame, Bedlam tells a compelling mystery as she works her way through the videogames of her youth to find out how she got here and how to get out.

At first I found the look of the game charming. The way the character seems to glide over the landscape rather that walk, the way the weapons kind of hover in front of the character without anything holding it, and the blocky enemies and their erratic movements. It truly felt like I had gone back in time to my old 586 with Windows 95, playing Doom or Quake II. The charm wears out its welcome as the differences between Bedlam and the classics of the past come into focus.

The controls are lacking in finesse, making hitting an enemy directly in front of me a chore. I'm not asking for modern auto-aim mechanics, but it would nice if I could line up a head shot before being overwhelmed by enemies. Many times I would enter a new area only to be overwhelmed as hordes of enemies with pinpoint precision would kill me before I could get a shot off. To make matters worse, health packs and armor upgrades are placed too far apart and don't heal enough to really be useful.

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I know, it sounds like I'm complaining about a game being too hard. Fortunately I still had a copy of Quake II on a laptop, and after about an hour of satisfying old school carnage, I reluctantly went back to Bedlam. Trust me when I say that while Bedlam can mimic the look of these classics, it doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. While I don't think the game needed to modernize and include regenerating health or cover mechanics, as it stands it just isn't very much fun to play a game with such sparse ammo and wonky aiming. In Duke Nukem 3D, when you get a machine gun you feel powerful. In Bedlam you empty your ammo without hitting anything and die.

At first glance the level design seems brilliant. Every time you travel through one of the many rifts scattered about and find yourself in a new game, you can immediately recognize the inspiration. Sadly the veil is soon lifted as textures and areas are recycled over and over. There were times when I felt like I was traveling through the lost woods in a Legend of Zelda game, running through the same area in and endless loop, only to finally come to a new area. It seems a poor way to extend the length of the game.

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The story, as I have mentioned, is quite good. The voice acting is (with a few minor exceptions) great, and helps with immersion. After getting tired of dying over and over again to shoddy mechanics, I changed the difficulty to easy and played through the game to experience the story. Unfortunately, lowering the difficulty doesn't help with the bad shooting mechanics, the poor enemy AI, or the recycled level design, but the story was interesting enough for me to power through to the end.

All things considered, an interesting premise and good storytelling can't make up for bad game design. If the game were actually fun to play this would be an easy recommendation for anybody that grew up playing PC games in 90s, but as it stands not even the quality of the writing can save it. Unless you are a die hard fan of the author, I can't see any reason to recommend this, and if I ever become trapped in a videogame I hope it's a much better one.