The biggest problem with Bedlam: The Game is that you'll wish that it was so much better. This is a razor-sharp commentary on the titles that many of you will have grown up with, all wrapped up in a fascinating plot that keeps you hanging on its every word. But while its genre hopping hijinks are well paired with laugh out loud dialogue and some truly kickass characters, its a pretty rotten first-person shooter at its core.
Based upon a novel by Christopher Brookmyre, this experimental escapade puts you inside the fiery mind of Heather Quinn, a sharp tongued Scot who finds herself trapped inside a 90s first-person shooter. The voice acting is absolutely fantastic, and combined with a genuinely compelling script, the title puts a space marine-sized stride forward from the off – even if its putrid Quake-inspired environments will make you want to vom.
The low-resolution textures and labyrinth-like environments are all part of the joke, of course – but the punchline ends up backfiring in time. Indeed, as you exit the twitch-based arenas of the fictional Starfire – not before engaging in a low-gravity deathmatch with potty mouthed pre-pubescent punks, naturally – and move into the Medal of Honor-inspired districts of Death or Glory, you'll find the same rudimentary gameplay with a different skin.
Perhaps there's a metaphor in there, but we don't really care to unpack it – an hour or two spent sapping the life from brain dead Nazi soldiers in cardboard cut out corridors will do that to you. The problem is that the act of actually pulling the trigger is quite simply bad; it never feels like you're firing a deadly weapon – more like a spud gun loaded with mud. Couple that with punishing difficulty spikes and a turning speed that will have you questioning the very existence of God and you have a recipe for disaster.
And that's a shame, because as the masterful storytelling meanders from role-playing game to real-time strategy, you'll want to see what it's got in store next. But even after a few hours, you'll find yourself locked in internal debate, eager to see what else it has to offer but unsure whether the reward will be worth the slog. To its credit, sequences such as a shoot out set inside a Pac-Man maze really pay off – but at the cost of your sanity during the many sluggish bouts along the way.
Even if you can cope with the flat firearms and boorish baddies, though, the game's also a chore in the technical sense. A tanking frame rate means that it never really feels as responsive in action-heavy scenarios as it should, while the checkpointing system beggars belief – leaving you to restart entire levels at times. Given that it's already such a chore at points, this kind of oversight is unforgivable.
Bedlam: The Game is not all that fun to play, but that doesn't mean that it's an outright disgrace. Rubbing shoulders with its cruddy combat and occasionally criminal controls is a release with a strong sense of humour and some razor-sharp writing. It's just a shame that this escapade fails to ever elevate itself beyond the properties that its parodying, serving up a sloppy first-person shooter that should have been so much more.