A lot of people have a warm spot in their hearts for the works of Quentin Tarantino, especially his movies from the earlier 90s. Reservoir Dogs is certainly no exception; as Tarantino’s first popular foray into the Big Screen, we were absolutely hooked by the gritty dialogue, dark undertones and violence-for-purpose that became trademark for years to come. However, unlike future Tarantino flicks, Reservoir Dogs seems to take place entirely in the aftermath, with only some snapshots into the past to explain why this motley crew is together and, moreover, why they don’t trust each other. There’s distrust, betrayal and murder in the eyes of everyone present.
It’s clear to see why, then, the idea of a video game that takes place before and parallel to the movie made so much sense to Big Star Games. Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days wanted to make a perfect storm out of three factions: a cult classic movie, a popular game type and a semi-unique mechanic. There was a lot of potential here, but, unfortunately, it seems to have all gone to waste.
Firstly, the setting itself is OK but really not necessary for the branding of Reservoir Dogs. You get to slot into the roles of Mr. Brown and Mr. White from the start, taking over the most and least memorable characters to try and bring the player into the world of the game. Heists are to be had, and you end up controlling anywhere from two to three heist members at a time, with a lot of true-to-character dialogue peppered throughout. I think that’s probably the most honest part of this movie game is the fact that the writing does closely match the overly profane approach that Tarantino classically takes with conversations. In fact, one of the best parts of the game are the load screens in between levels that remind us of lines from the original movie. If that seems like a pretty terrible thing to laud for a game, it is, and it should tell you where we’re going.
Top down shooters, as shown by Hotline Miami and the original Grand Theft Auto games, are a great setting to unveil some heavy action and fast-thinking moments. I think the choice suits well into what Bloody Days was seeking to do, as it creates a good atmosphere out the gate. You can see into the various buildings where heists are taking place and give yourself a split second of heads up before all hell breaks loose when ambushes inevitably happen. The mechanic is also a novel concept as well, with a bit of a time-control ability that can work for or against you. Essentially, you move one character and execute several actions, then rewind time and activate a second character, then a third, until you’ve run through all the heist members on the current job. The first character, the leader, sets the pace for everyone else. If you took eight seconds for your initial move, every subsequent piece gets a max of eight seconds, though you can fastforward if you don’t need that much time. On paper, it’s pretty spiffy, and could create some excellent strategy and gameplay.
The reality is that the game unfolds in a big mess of a bumble session. You rarely, if ever, should let the characters operate in the same sphere as the others. Their realities overlap and you can end up failing a mission because, even though your first Mr. had a flawless session, the next dude could set a CPU enemy on a different path and end up killing everyone. Some would argue that this forces stronger consideration of planning and execution, but it comes off as things being randomized and chaotic in nature. I almost preferred letting the main man do all the killings himself and then moving the others further and further from the firefight so that no one got accidentally killed. Could you imagine that version of the movie, where Harvey Keitel does all the dirty work while Tim Roth and Michael Madsen take turns hiding behind each other? Neither can I.
The controls of the game are also pretty flawed, pouring salt on the already exposed wounds of the game. The developer chose to address the buttons as triggers and the triggers as buttons, leading to some serious confusion when I tried to shoot a guy and went back in time instead. The crosshairs are very faint and lead you to make a judgment call on where the bullets will land in the ticking seconds you have before Quantum Leaping into another person’s role. Additionally, the situation with ammunition is wonky at best. Of course you shouldn’t have unlimited bullets, that would be asinine. But you can’t just pick up the same gun you already have and reload with extra bullets; you end up swapping your single shot left for a fully loaded weapon, leading to several half full or almost empty guns strewn about. This causes confusion when you’re rapidly switching between roles and grabbing whatever gun is handy, only to find out one bullet is all you have to work with. And forget close combat: punching and using baseball bats/police batons is worthless. At least with Hotline Miami, you have the advantage if you’re quick on your feet and precise while doing melee. In Bloody Days, it’s live by the gun, die by the gun.
There’s also no voice over work whatsoever. I didn’t think they could get the whole cast back together for a prequel game, but I look to Atari’s Ghostbusters as a gold standard for doing a movie game. If you can’t make the action and mechanics work on their own (similar to Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay), then you should at least make it enjoyable to behold an extension of a movie you enjoy greatly. This falls somewhere between Tarantino fanfiction and asking an over caffeinated teenager what he thinks happened before the movie happened. This wouldn’t be terrible as the game’s only flaw, but everything that I mentioned beforehand only took this minor tear and worried it into a massive hole.
I really wanted to like Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days. I think that it was an interesting idea with a better take than it could have been, but this simply should not have been. Giving this a fresh name and severing ties with a one shot franchise would have allowed Bloody Days to breathe on its own and be given a relatively simple pass on shortcomings. Instead, it has Lionsgate behind it, has no replayability and I couldn’t recommend this to anyone I know who’s enjoyed the movie. There is an audience for Bloody Days, to be sure, but it wasn’t with me or anyone I know. There have been worse ways to spend fifteen dollars, and this is reasonably priced for a big name game. However, I recommend getting the movie on sale from Steam for less and having more fun reciting the lines with friends.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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