I never really got around to reading Christopher Brookmyre’s novel Bedlam, but I hear it’s based on a fascinating concept, placing a girl in harm’s way as she jumps into a virtual world that she created, eventually trying to find her way out while dealing with a number of hostile enemies. In fact, it almost sounds ideal enough that it would work as a video game in itself.
So that’s probably where the team at RedBedlam felt they should come in, creating the world of Bedlam into a first-person setting, with the main character, Heather Quinn, jumping about from video game world to video game world, trying to make her escape while dealing with every enemy known under the sun.
In terms of concept, Bedlam is rather cool, getting its start in the older generation of games – we’re talking Doom and Wolfenstein 3D here – with huge blocky red blood spurts and cyborgs and cannons to rip to shreds with a variety of weapons. Newer stages also introduce some brave ideas, including one loosely based on the world of Pac-Man (but not entirely, for legal reasons) and some newer shooters on the market.
But concept only goes far with a game such as this if it doesn’t have the effort – and Bedlam clearly doesn’t have the effort. While some of the game worlds are fascinatingly built, they’re a little too complex for their own good, and you spend a good chunk of time running around in useless areas, waiting for the next enemy to show up. What’s more, objectives are a little too widespread apart, and you don’t have any save points to go back to, so if you fail somewhere over the course of the mission (or run out of health), you have to start all the way over at the beginning. That’s a long way to jump back when you’re so close to the finish line.
What’s more, Bedlam just isn’t that much fun to play. The first-person shooting mechanics aren’t that smooth, as you’ll sometimes miss targets that are even right in front of you. Even the most advanced weapons in the world don’t have much impact, which takes away the glorious feeling of being all powerful. Even the later levels don’t offer anything new to keep you intrigued. You’re still just running through the same old motions, and chances are you’ll tire of it all before you see the game’s somewhat average finish.
And some ideas just don’t work. Some of the homages are great, of course (especially the Pac-Man one), but others fall flat. In one particularly annoying stage, you’re required to get kills on opponents in a faux multiplayer match-up. It’s a neat idea, but the voicework is lazy and uninspired, with kids giving you fake insults as you rack up the kills. They should’ve just hired real players to bitch and whine at you while you play.
The presentation for Bedlam isn’t too bad, with some interesting designs and great enemy details here and there. Again, though, the worlds are flawed. The audio is also all over the place. Some parts of the voicework are awesome (like Heather’s deep Scottish accent), but others are bound to grate on your nerves. The music’s okay, but nothing to write home about, sadly. It’s just there, unlike most memorable soundtracks of the 90’s.
Bedlam is a game that, in better hands, could’ve been an unbridled classic in today’s shooting genre, but, alas, with lazy development and issues that consistently rise to the surface, it simply never gets to that point. Maybe a few years down the road, someone can give Brookmyre’s work another chance – and this time, put the kind of love into it that id Software obviously had for its early work. It doesn’t take much, guys – just effort.