I like going back to older games now and again, either by playing them or browsing YouTube. I also really like the idea of a game that is self aware and tries new things - something Eat Lead sort of got right while also be spectacularly bad. Bedlam, based on a novel of the same name, does these things. It is also one of the oddest titles I've ever played. While it features a smart concept, jumping between retro classics, and entertaining dialogue, the whole thing is a bit of a technical mess and never comes close to offering gameplay that comes close to any of the classics it apes.
Cast as a female Scottish developer, you initially find yourself inside a 90s sci-fi FPS that has clearly been designed to resemble Quake 2. The character, Athena, who has a rather potty mouth (not that the many NPCs are shy, either), isn't just playing the game, but actually inhabiting a Strogg-like soldier within it. The opening is actually one of the game's strongest sequences, with genuine funny moments and clever visual gags, plus the fast movement speed and simplistic shooting actually feels rather nostalgic.
A big part of Bedlam's hook is how your character is warped around into different games, so while you start sci-fi, you move to a CoD-style WW2, Wolfenstein-style zombies, strange 8-Bit backdrops, and even a fantasy RPG world. There's no denying this is a solid idea, one that kept me keen to see what was next, and the many references characters make to other real games are just geeky enough, with enough winks to show the developers know what they're talking about. But the concept and witty comments can only paste over the cracks for so long before issues arise.
Once the initial wave of 'Ooh, this is cool, it's like Quake 2 but with rude dialogue', or 'Neat! This fantasy flaming sword lets me throw fireballs at little critters,' is over, what's left is a game that's not nearly as fun to play as you'll want it to be - even the mention of Ubisoft's Rabbids can't save it. The shooting rarely feels meaty, although one or two weapons have a good go, and the objectives are terrible. I frequently found myself wandering around aimlessly until the in-game compass gave me directions. There's also a bizarre checkpoint system that meant I never knew where I'd be re-spawned after death, at times throwing me back to a previous level.
Add to these issues some horrible performance problems and art design that would be at home in an ameteur mod, and it's clear the devs bit off more than they could chew. Old games might look dated these days, but the best ones still exhibit strong design work that can shine through the feeble amount of polygons on display. Bedlam feels like you're playing a series of cheap knock-offs that have no business running as poorly on a PS4 as they do.
Bedlam: The Game isn't particularly well made, nor much fun to play, but it is interesting. I'd struggle to suggest that anyone should hand over full RRP for an interesting concept, but despite its many issues it is worth a look when inevitably on offer in a sale. I've played far better games that I'll remember less, suggesting that with more finesse Bedlam could have been pretty special.
Version Tested: PS4