Bedlam: A self-aware journey through first-person shooter history

Games about games always tend to make us a little wary (and you’d be suspicious, too, if you had to play Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard back in the day). The constant references and self-aware jokes can get annoying fast, particularly if the writing isn’t up to the very highest calibre of snuff.

Bedlam doesn’t look like it’s going to have that problem, given that it’s a joint venture with award-winning crime author Christopher Brookmyre. Brookmyre has been heavily involved since the beginning of this interesting sci-fi FPS; you can even buy a tie-in novel while you wait for the game to be finished. (The reviews appear quite positive, if you’re interested.)

So what is Bedlam? It’s a shooter with a Tron-like premise: you play as a programmer sucked into the digital realm of Starfire, a fictional FPS released back in the 1990s. In her quest to return home, heroine Heather ‘Athena’ Quinn eventually breaks free from Starfire and into an interconnected series of game worlds, which vary in aesthetics and design philosophy, but which consistently ask her to shoot things in the face. The developer says that Bedlam’s environments will chart the evolution of the FPS (with winks and nods to other games, like Jet Set Willy, along the way).
''You’ll see the first-person shooter change before your eyes''
Imagine a British take on Tron, made by people who grew up playing shooters rather than ’80s arcade games, and you won’t be far wrong. Bedlam will take you from blocky sci-fi corridors, to trenches filled with Nazi zombies, to forested open areas that recall the likes of Halo. You’ll see the first-person shooter change before your eyes, from games set in labyrinthine arenas filled with hordes of baddies, to pseudo-sandboxes or more cinematic experiences.

To maintain an element of consistency, it’s looking like character movement and the mechanics of shooting won’t change much from world to world. Movement feels far quicker and more responsive across the board than in many of the shooters we get these days, which tend to involve taking potshots while crouched behind a low wall. Where other games with a similar premise (for example, the JRPG-focused Evoland) overhaul pretty much every mechanical element as they hurtle forward through the eras, Bedlam appears much more focused on its visuals and level design. You won’t suddenly go from Quake II’s fast, glidey controls to Call of Duty’s weighty, measured footsteps, say.

As such, this seems a lot like some forgotten ‘90s FPS or like an HD remaster of a forgotten FPS, in its more advanced game worlds. It’s clearly more in love with the twitchy shooters of yore than with the stop-and-pop Call of Duty series, so if you feel similarly about the olden days, you’ll want to keep Bedlam in your sights.

Arcade Fire
You’ll visit the realms of classic arcade games, too
It’s not the main thrust of the game, but you’ll get to explore worlds in Bedlam that won’t ask you to hold a gun directly in front of your face. Environments based on fictional games Chilli Chomper and Guano Attack, for example: loose copies of classic arcade titles just dissimilar enough to slip under a lawyer’s radar. The best part is you’ll get to explore them in first-person and a recent trailer shows a Pac-Man clone.

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