Bedlam on PlayStation 4
Generally speaking, games have a pretty spotty history when it comes to cross-media creations. Books, movies, and other things just tend not to be turned into good games, and vice versa. Bedlam, a very unique “genre-hopping” first-person shooter based on a novel of the same name by Christopher Brookmyre, tries to buck the trend. Following protagonist Heather Quinn as she wakes to find herself trapped in the 90’s shooter Starfire, a game she played in her youth.
Bedlam does many things well in its attempt. The first thing that caught my notice was just how much like a 90’s FPS it plays. From the brisk movement speed, low-resolution graphics, and strange weapons, it looks and plays very much like the highly-popular Unreal and Quake games of the era. Of course, simply recreating this type of game simply wouldn’t do, so Bedlam mixes up the action by tossing Quinn, aka Athena, into numerous different games and genres along the way, all played from the FPS perspective.
I really can’t stress enough just how well Bedlam captures the aesthetic and gameplay of its setting. While it may seem like a step back, I’ve played plenty of “retro” games that tried to match bygone days of gaming and fell short, but this one hits the nail on the head. The story, derived from the novel’s, is unique and interesting, as Athena tries to find her way across the different games and face down menacing enemies from each to find her way back home.
Included along Bedlam’s path, players will make their way through early Call of Duty-style World War II action, frantic arcade-style games, and a richly detailed RPG setting, among others. Each new game world brings a unique set of weapons to try out and enemies to face, and the variety really keeps things going. Tying all of these together behind the scenes is the “off-map” areas that are rendered like something out of Tron or similar inside-the-game narratives. Athena can enter glitched areas to access this framework and make her way to each of Bedlam’s worlds.
I can’t very well talk about Bedlam without addressing the difficulty. While the early going keeps things pretty simple, players will soon find themselves up against hordes of foes that aren’t easy to overcome. In true retro fashion, most areas can’t be exited until things are cleaned up, with locked doors keeping players confined to the action until they’re done and ready to move on. The lack of a map makes things a little more confusing, but is also authentic to the roots. Hidden areas with stashes of health, armor, and powerful weapons are plentiful along the way, too, so the careful player should have little trouble proceeding if they’re thorough.
Bedlam’s story takes some time to shape up, with players mostly beginning with the same confusion and lack of direction that Athena is experiencing. As you make your way through, snippets of conversation between others within the game feed you some information, and tell of a struggle being played out throughout the entire infrastructure of gaming itself. I don’t want to spoil too much, but suffice it to say that Brookmyre, who was directly involved with the game’s creation and writing, can certainly weave a tale.
In all, Bedlam is like a love letter to gaming’s history, and a relatively well-written one. By staying true to the idea of the game in which Quinn/Athena is trapped, it keeps itself well-centered. The variety to the levels keeps things interesting, and there’s even a deathmatch scenario early on that’s almost exactly like playing a game of Unreal Tournament with low gravity. As a huge fan of that era in gaming, I’d easily recommend this to anyone else who shares that love. Bedlam is available for $19.99 on the PlayStation Store or Steam, where it’s 15% off until October 20.