Given that it’s based on a classic 25-year-old movie, Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days is both unexpected and surprisingly inventive.
There is, understandably, a stigma that comes with being a video game based on a movie. Direct tie-ins timed to release alongside a movie often turn out to be subpar at best. Those based on classic films arguably have a better track record (the Godfather games were kind of fun!), but it nonetheless raises an eyebrow when a company announces it’s making a game based on a decades-old movie. That’s especially true when the concept for the game doesn’t match what the movie is about, as is the case with Bloody Days: it’s a top-down shooter with a time-rewind mechanic.
This odd concept, combined with a somewhat cartoonish art style that doesn’t match up with the gritty look of Quentin Tarantino’s debut film, suggest Bloody Days would end up as fodder for some Top 10 roundup of the worst movie-based games. After spending some time with it at PAX East, however, I found that it’s genuinely fun, and the time-rewind feature proves to be an original, innovative concept.
Bloody Days serves as a prequel to the original film, allowing you to live out a series of crimes in the lead up to–and including–the movie’s failed diamond heist. Each mission sends you into a scenario with a total of three of the movie’s characters–Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. White, et al. Two are pre-selected, but you can choose the final crew member.
Missions play out almost like a cooperative shooter, as you assist yourself over a series of turns. You first control one of the pre-chosen characters, who serves as the leader for the mission. He can freely move and attack as much as he wants until you’re satisfied with your progress–say, after 10 seconds. At this point, you hit the spacebar to rewind time and assume control of the next character. The leader then proceeds through the same actions while you move around and shoot as the second character. Once the 10 seconds expire, you move on to the third character. Rinse and repeat.
After having this explained to me, I was intrigued but didn’t fully comprehend the mechanic. Before trying the game myself, a developer briefly demonstrated how this actually works. He entered a room, shot a few people, but was quickly overwhelmed by more enemies entering from all around him. He took multiple hits and nearly died, causing me to think that the developer had made a mistake. He then rewound time and used the next character to follow a similar path, only he chose different targets. Suddenly enemies were being killed before they could attack the leader. By the time the third character rolled in, the area had been cleared out without any characters suffering any damage.
The action itself during a given turn is not especially remarkable; Bloody Days feels like a slightly slower-paced, less intense version of Hotline Miami. Attacking enemies and managing your weapons (you’re free to pick up dropped weapons, which prove essential when you run out of ammo) are enjoyable enough, but the time mechanic is what ratchets up the intensity and keeps you on your toes. It demands that you remain constantly aware of your surroundings and the location of enemies.
This is not turn-based in the traditional sense: aside from a brief amount of time it takes to rewind, there’s no break in the action–you need to immediately move. That’s both because you have a limited amount of time for your turn (depending on how long your turn as the leader lasted) and because foes won’t wait to attack your allies who are following your previously designated instructions.
A combo meter that builds when you’re able to kill an enemy more than once provides further incentive to act quickly. This, along with optional loot you can capture throughout the level, contributes to your placing on a leaderboard.
Leaderboard rankings are one reason to replay missions, but they can also play out differently depending on which weapons and character you choose to bring. One of the characters has significantly more health than the others, another can move more quickly while carrying bags of cash, and a third is ideal for picking up the aforementioned loot.
Despite carrying the Reservoir Dogs name and elements of its plot, none of the characters feature the likenesses of the original cast. I, for one, was disappointed not to see Michael Madsen’s face in there. However, considering this is a game with a top-down camera where you’re constantly looking for enemies rather than at your characters, their looks don’t matter.
Across the board, the Reservoir Dogs license doesn’t add much–Bloody Days would be every bit as promising if it carried a different name (though this undeniably has helped to raise its profile). Diehard fans might appreciate being able to live out the failed diamond heist, but the game feels so divorced from the look and theme of the movie that I found it hard to care much about how it ties into the film.
And that’s fine, because Bloody Days doesn’t need to rely on nostalgia to be worthwhile. It offers the sort of original, inventive mechanic that you always hope to see, and it’s one that kept me thinking about the game well after I was finished with my demo. For a game that could have easily tried to coast on its name alone, that’s a pleasant surprise.