An unlikely licensed shoot-em-up that, like its protagonists, has good ideas but imperfect execution.
Absurd as it is, there’s some entertainment to be had in the very concept of a top-down shooter based on the 1992 film that made Quentin Tarantino a famous director. But other than that novelty and some passable robbers-versus-cops gunplay, there’s not much to get excited about in Big Star’s simplistic adaptation, Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days.
Bloody Days puts you in charge of the crew from the live action Reservoir hDogs… sort of. Likeness rights were obviously not secured along with the name, as Mr. White is really the only character that bears any resemblance to his silver screen counterpart, Harvey Keitel. Mr. Pink, originally portrayed by Steve Buscemi, is an angry-looking dude with blond hair and a big goatee, while Mr. Brown seems modeled not so much on Tarantino as an MMA fighter stunt double that had to look enough like him to be convincing at a distance. It’s a little difficult not to be distracted by those discrepancies in a game that leans on such an iconic license.
The characters’ personalities aren’t really given a chance to shine, either. Almost every level includes lines lifted directly from the movie used out of context, in a very “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge” sort of way – Mr. Pink is introduced in a mission where you rob a bar, and he launches into his philosophical tirade about not tipping moments before the shooting starts. But the idiosyncrasies and conflicts within this dysfunctional band of ne’er-do-wells, which was basically what made the film work, don’t really have an impact at all. And while each titular dog has differing stats and a single special passive ability, their capabilities aren’t distinct enough that I didn’t feel like they were interchangeable 90 percent of the time. Mr. Blue regenerates health faster and Mr. Blond can keep a killstreak combo going longer, but these are subtle distinctions that seem geared more toward maxing out your score on every level rather than allowing you to come up with different and clever solutions to problems.
Each mission involves between two and six characters attempting a robbery that, inevitably and disappointingly, erupts into a twin-stick gunfight almost immediately after some framing dialogue sets up the situation, every time. Though I’d recommend avoiding actual sticks, as the gamepad controls are far more fiddly and cumbersome than mouse and keyboard.
The crooks are controlled one at a time in sequence, which is Bloody Days’ one clever idea.
The crooks are controlled one at a time in sequence, which is where Bloody Days’ one clever idea and almost saving grace comes in: you move and shoot through an area as the first character, then rewind time and play over again as the second while the original character follows the script you previously set. This is a really cool idea. It’s an attempt to do something different, and a play on the film’s nonlinear structure. In certain situations it lets you set up some exciting combos and clear groups of enemies in staccato coordination that would be impossible to pull off alone. You can have two guys each clear one end of a hallway while a third slips into the back room to steal some cash, for example. But it doesn’t quite live up to the concept in practice. One character’s actions can change enemy behavior and invalidate the actions of your former self by, for instance, luring a foe out of what was originally a clear line of fire and throwing off the whole operation, so your pre-programmed partner ends up firing at targets who are no longer there. The tutorial boasts that you can rewind time to save a fallen comrade, but there were multiple cases where my rewind caused a character who had lived in their own timeline to die in the new one, resulting in mission failure. It became cumbersome and unpredictable just as often as it allowed me to execute an awesome, synchronized bloodbath.
Every level essentially comes down to one shootout after another.
The fact that every level essentially comes down to one shootout after another, be it with cops or rival thugs, also squanders the rewind mechanic’s potential. My mind was buzzing with ways it could have been used to create interesting puzzle challenges, stealth missions, or hostage scenarios even as I blasted a path through yet another repetitive horde level. Shades of a better game that makes use of these possibilities can be spotted on a few missions: my personal favorite required me to use three characters in concert to get several bags of money out of a bank vault in as few trips as possible. But those are only brief flashes in a game that took me around 15 hours, and the monotony of the vast majority of missions made me feel more like an urban guerilla than a criminal, since there’s never any way to pull off a smart heist without a hundred armed enforcers showing up.
I also ran into some issues on the technical side. Most noticeable on later levels, hitching and slowdowns were common – particularly when loading into a level and using the rewind mechanic. In a couple of cases it even caused my video driver to crash. One level in particular wouldn’t even load on an older laptop I tried it on, despite that machine being above the minimum spec and able to handle much better-looking games. I’d be cautious trying to run Bloody Days on a lower-end system, even though it looks fairly unintimidating in the graphics department.