Still in Early Access on Steam, Bedlam is a game set in games. This FPS throws you into the history of gaming, with the aim of battling your way back to the real world.
Take a trip through time
Starting with some ugly early 90s games, the action jumps between virtual voids to take you to all eras of gaming. Running through RPGs, retro 8-bit titles, shooters, and RTSs, all in first person, there is something oddly enticing about the whole experience as the action moves from dirty polygons to more refined visuals.
Some of these shifts in setting are stunning, in particular the first. The opening area looks to be set in a bad clone of Duke Nukem 3D, filled with lurid pink colors and pig-like cyborgs. Leaving this world the scene cuts straight to a World War 2 game, with crisper (though still comically dated) graphics. Even the mechanics are altered as you are suddenly able to aim down your weapon sites. Similar jumps happen throughout, and prove fascinating to behold.
To escort you through this enjoyable-disjointed adventure comes entertaining narration and commentary from the voice of your character “Athena”. She is an unfortunate woman whose first day at her new job has been hi-jacked by the virtual world. Her moment-to-moment witticisms add a lot to the action, throwing the ridiculousness of her situation into relief while also contextualizing the various periods of gaming she is travelling though.
Flawed by design
Unfortunately, it’s still very early for Bedlam. Difficulty spikes occur far too often, and are generally the result on the designers’ idea of fun being poorly implemented within the mechanics.
An example of this is one level that casts you into a Space Invaders like arcade game have to blast down a UFO. Unfortunately, to do this you must be constantly aiming upwards leaving you unaware of the world around you as you struggle to move along a narrow ‘2D’ path.
While some problems may be by design as a commentary on the games being emulated, others are not. Bosses with health that seems to lower more by random chance than from your actions, and irregular checkpoints are just two of the existing issues that could be enough to make you put down the game and not come back – and they are not alone.
Of course with the game still not finished and there is still time for much to improve, but there are currently technical problems abound.
How games used to be
In terms of presentation, Bedlam is a hard game to really assess. Visually, the game leaps in tone and quality constantly, and it can be hard to decide whether many of its visual flaws are by design as part of the era being mimicked or actual technical errors.
Occasionally, however, glitches very clearly are not by design. Walking through a bombed out village, and seeing a carpet hovering a foot above the floor is not part of some clever meta-commentary, and are simply the remnants of a game still under construction.
However, while some areas leave you pondering their purpose, others are truly inspired. The Pac-Man clone that you encountered towards the end of this (unfinished) build of the game, for example, has you looking straight up to see where collectables and ghosts are located around the maze. It is even possible to play from this angle, if you line yourself up correctly, allowing you navigate the neon maze with ease.
These highs are accompanied by some truly entertaining voice work and writing that will have you chuckling even when the game is at its most broken - well the first few retries at least.
One to watch
Bedlam is a flawed gem with time to grow. It still suffers the problem that all such pastiche-games must overcome - that by mocking bad design it must make you relive it - the writing and pace elevate it above similar titles.
With months still left on the games development - which will hopefully include polish to the existing levels and an ending - I will be keeping a close eye on Bedlam until its eventual release. It may not be perfect, but for the more experimental of you its certainly worth giving a try in Early Access - if only to help the developer find and iron out the bugs.