Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days Review

If somebody decides to add the category "Least likely movie adaptation" to this year's Game of the Year awards, then there will be at least one good candidate for it. Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days is a video game based on Quinton Tarantino's dialog heavy, tough guy movie about a handful of well-dressed criminals and a jewelry store heist gone wrong. Normally, this part of a review would include a clever quip or a pun that references one of the movie's dozens of quotable lines and memorable moments. However, Darkstation will spare you this attempt at horrible fan service and dull, unimaginative writing. If only Big Games, the developer of this title, had afforded the world the same courtesy. 

Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days brings one interesting game mechanic to the table, and that is where its positives end. Its level design, graphics, and music are rote and mind-numbingly repetitive. It is also a clumsy and extremely punishing affair that seems hellbent on spoiling the game for you at almost every turn. And, perhaps worst of all, everything in the game - from the visual design of its characters to its bodies that pile up the by dozen - is insultingly incongruent with the 1992 movie that shares its name. It would be a little too harsh to categorize Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days as shovelware, but it is nonetheless one of the poorest uses of a license in recent memory.

How on Earth this game even came into being must be an interesting tale in and of itself. It is as if somebody one day decided to make a squad-based Hotline Miami clone with a weird time rewind mechanic. Meanwhile, somebody somewhere else decided that the movie needed a game tie-in to coincide with its 25th anniversary celebration. Or, perhaps somebody was contractually obligated to churn out a game before his use of the license expired. Somehow, these two parties married up and voila, Reservoir Dogs; Bloody Days was born. The recognizable name was slapped onto the game, and its generic characters were renamed "Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown" etc. It's as good an explanation as any. 

Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days neither stays faithful to the movie upon which it is based, nor does it make any attempt to expand on that story. Case in point -- the screenshot above is Mr. White and Mr. Pink.  Do those two characters look anything like Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi to you? It makes sense that a small budget game would not be able to use the exact likenesses of the original actors, but the game doesn't even get the basics right. Mr. Brown is huge, bald and beefy and looks more like a Space Marine than Quinton Tarantino. The only robber who bears even a slight resemblance to his movie character is Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen). There is not a single line of voiced dialog between all of these characters but rather a mixture of original writing and select quotes from the movie. Those quotes are generally shoehorned into the game, so much that even if you have never seen the movie, you could probably tell which of the lines come from it. The original writing is a combination of unimaginative, banal banter like "Let's hurry up and get out of here!", expletives, and failed attempts at humor. There is absolutely no story to speak of in the game, nor is there any of the movie's sense of intrigue. Instead, it is just a series of short missions that have no connection between them. 

Importing the Reservoir Dogs property into a top-down shooter in which you mow down enemies by the dozen is also at odds with what happens in the movie.  While the movie does have its share of violence, it is not an action movie and it does not fit the mold of an action game -- especially this one. In fact, it misses the entire point of the movie, which is that everyone wanted to avoid violence at the diamond heist to keep it simple and easy. Nobody besides Mr. Blonde seems to enjoy killing in Reservoir Dogs, but in the game, pretty much every character is a mass murderer.  Even Mr. Orange collects a few scores of corpses.  The game does penalize you for killing civilians who get in the way, but it is still an absurd representation of the film. 

Even with everything that it does wrong though, some quality gameplay could have salvaged Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days. To its credit, the game at least tries in that department. It is a top-down shooter that bears some resemblance to Hotline Miami in both its look and feel. Blood sprays out of enemies in buckets,, the movement is fast, and bullets are extremely deadly. While not every shot is a one-hit kill for everyone in the game, Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days is still brutally difficult at times, just like Hotline Miami

The one distinguishing characteristic that the game offers is that you always have two or three team members playing at a time. And, those characters take turns via the game's peculiar time rewinding mechanic. Your lead character takes his turn and can take essentially as long as he wants for it. You run around shooting, looting or picking up a new weapon, until such time as you decide to end your turn. Then, you tap the Space Bar to rewind time back to the beginning of the turn so that you can move and shoot with the next character. As you move, the first character does exactly what you just made him do. Enemies, while they aren't terribly brilliant, react dynamically to what happens in front of them, usually shooting at the nearest character in range. 

In theory, this mechanic has all kinds of potential.  The ability to "rewrite history" by playing the same ten seconds with two or three different characters could lead to all kinds of unscripted excitement. You could, for instance, get your first character killed by an enemy, and then save that character with the second one by shooting that enemy first. The few times when you pull of a move like this are the fleeting moments when the game is actually fun. For the most part though, the time rewind mechanic is an irritating nuisance. It is possible for a character to complete his turn safely, only to somehow get killed while another character takes his turn. This happens far more often than the scenario where you save a character who otherwise got killed. It is an infuriatingly unfair way to fail a game, and the game's scoring system punishes you brutally for it. Outside of the time rewind mechanic, Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days takes no advantage of squad mechanics, nor does it do anything interesting at all with the shooting mechanics. There is, for instance, no cover system nor a system for having one squad member lock an enemy in place while another enemy comes around and flanks him.  You either shoot things directly in front of you, or you don't,

The game's level design is equally plain, both in design and appearance.  Although there are heists in 17 different locations, every level has roughly the same layout and the same walls, cabinets, tables, and shelves.  While the game's graphics fidelity is decent and its colorful visual style has some appeal, the visuals feature little variety and assets begin repeating themselves immediately. And, no matter whether you are robbing a diner or a bank, you are doing almost the exact same thing on every level. You barge in, shoot all of the enemies, grab the loot, and then shoot your way past the cops who show up every time. All the while, the game's grating soundtrack loops itself over and over. At least once or twice every level, a bunch of enemies spawn at close range when you have no cover, forcing you to defend yourself in some insanely difficult firefights. This event is infuriating pretty much every time that it happens, and especially so if you happen to be low on ammunition. I had to retry one section a frustrating 25 times because of this problem. It is a design flaw that smacks of inadequate play testing.

Somewhere, buried deep in the design document for Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days was the idea for a decent game. The time rewinding mechanic, to its credit, does not feel gimmicky, as if it were tacked on to give the game a defining feature. Unfortunately, it isn't worth nearly the amount of frustration that it brings. Between its misuse of a license and its joyless, repetitive gameplay, there is little in this game that provides any entertainment value. Like most failed movie games, if you want the genuine experience, you are better off simply watching the movie.