RESERVOIR DOGS: BLOODY DAYS Game Review: Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick
Licensed video games have historically occupied the lower rungs of the quality ladder. Hastily thrown together, often to meet a tie-in deadline, they almost never rose above mediocrity. The last decade or so, though, has been something of a golden age for licensed games, with the likes of Arkham Asylum, Shadow of Mordor, Alien: Isolation, the Lego series, and Star Wars: Battlefront delivering strong gameplay and fidelity to their source material.
But even in a golden age, outliers inevitably come along to piss in the pudding.
Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days’ use of the Reservoir Dogs license is not just disappointing: it’s bad fan fiction. Though Big Games obtained the rights to the film’s title, characters, and situations, it failed to get the likeness rights for its actors (likely much more expensive and elusive), reducing Mssrs Brown, Blonde, White et al to lumpy action figures with no real resemblance to the iconic actors who originated them. Elsewhere, the use of the license is even more stultifying. The robbable buildings are named, clumsily, after Tarantino characters: Hotel Alabama, Marsellus Cars, Landa National Bank. Game-over screens display randomly-chosen Reservoir Dogs quotes, and not even necessarily good ones, like Big Games fed the entire screenplay into a random quote machine.
The game’s expansions to the Reservoir Dogs mythology consist of: the same crew committing a slew of other robberies. There’s no story to speak of, and the group’s dynamic is nowhere to be seen, with no trace of characterisation or relationships. What dialogue there is comes in unvoiced speech bubbles, limited to quippy one-liners and mission directions of dubious quality. When it’s not remixing lines from the script, it reads like a film school student's botched Tarantino imitation. You half expect Mr Pink to say something like “Do you know who we are? We’re the Reservoir Dogs, motherfuckers!”
Strip away the Reservoir Dogs license (or rather, however much of it there is to strip away), and you’re left with a clumsyish twin-stick shooter, with one very interesting - albeit unevenly implemented - original mechanic.
Bloody Days is built around a feature called “Rewind." Heists play out with multiple characters, but you only control one at a time. You use your first character to run around robbing things and shooting guards, as you'd expect. Press a button, and you rewind time and take over as the next character in the squad, controlling them around while the previous character goes through your previous motions. This comes in handy when characters get killed (take out the guard who was going to shoot them!) or when you have to rob a large amount in a small time window (...steal multiple things at once!). It’s a little like playing a co-op game in single-player. Like simultaneous board games like the great Space Alert, one character’s actions can end up preventing or undoing those of another, adding another tactical wrinkle to the gameplay. Annoyingly, though, you often can’t see everything that might prompt a rewind, resulting in mission failures that feel frustratingly out of your control. And sometimes the rewind mechanic is mandatory in baffling ways, like...opening a door. It’s precisely the kind of mechanic that would doubtless get refined and improved upon in a sequel, but here it’s somewhat inconsistent.
Outside of the rewind mechanic, Bloody Days is depressingly simplistic. Each character plays more or less the same, with minor, virtually-invisible stat differences. Weapon variety is such that you either have a ranged weapon and can survive, or have a melee weapon (or none) and can’t. Movement is clumsy; cover and sight-lines are barely a consideration; and the level design doesn’t yield enough variety between heists to keep interest up. The heists themselves lack build-up and payoff, with no opportunity to prepare or plan or improvise - every checkpoint is highlighted and mandatory. Comically high numbers of cops appear practically the moment you walk into a place, reducing the game to a cheap, imprecise shooting range in weirdly palatial environments.
Like countless other Reservoir Dogs imitators, Bloody Days completely misunderstands its source material. Reservoir Dogs is not mindlessly bloody - it's discerning about how it deploys violence, and by modern standards, it’s not extreme at all - and its “crime hipster” vibe is earned through well-crafted dialogue, great performances, and strong, kinetic storytelling. Bloody Days’ constant references won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t seen Reservoir Dogs, and fans of the film will loathe it with a seething intensity. It’s a mystery why Lionsgate even granted the license.
Without the Reservoir Dogs name, Bloody Days might receive attention for its rewind mechanic, but it’d probably get lost in the increasingly sticky swamp of games released every day. With the license, it gets much more publicity, but has to face comparisons to its widely-revered source material. Had more energy been put into bolstering and expanding its inventive central mechanic, rather than making shallow references to foot fetishes and tipping culture, Bloody Days could have been a fun, clever little heist game.
But it wasn’t.
So it’s not.