With a name that screams effortless cool and a nifty tricky up its sleeve, Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days is barking pretty loud… but is it going to bite?
There is a moment in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs that has tempted two developers now. It snared Volatile games back in 2006 when the first Reservoir Dogs game was released, and now with Bloody Days it has coaxed Big Star Games. The film is full of dialogue; you don’t see the robbery that went wrong; so there really isn’t much to lend the world of games, save for this one moment:
Harvey Keitel strides out into the open in a liquid black suit, with slickly-combed hair, and calmly draws two silver Smith & Wesson handguns. The police sirens have telegraphed what’s to come; he knows it and we know it – the police don’t. As a squad cruiser whips around the bend towards him, he clocks them both with arms raised and unloads both clips into the windshield of the car. The glass is punched through and buckets of blood spray the interior. Exhale.
Tarantino’s violence is a kind of release. He sets signifiers in motion (sirens, dead-ends) which give it an inescapable pressure-valve quality. It’s loaded into the chamber like a bullet, but just before the hammer comes down, there is a lingering reverie for what follows.
This is what Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days gets right. An off-kilter, top-down viewpoint frames a series of armed robberies carried out in twin-stick shooter fashion. The twist? Like an old video tape from the rental store, you can hit the rewind button. At once viewer and director, you take control of Mr White. Once you’ve cut a swathe of considered bloodshed and larceny, you hit the rewind button. As White goes to work, you use that time to get rambling with Mr Pink.
There is the pleasing sensation of lining events up and revelling in the payoff. Example: I get through a stylish run-and-gun with Mr Brown, but get clipped at the last by one of the boys in blue and go down trading bullets. I hit rewind and take control of Mr Blue, cutting around to the side with a pistol at the ready. Just as hero-cop leaps into action I send a couple of slugs smacking into his back; at the same time, Brown’s bullets hit home and we both empty our clips in excess. This is glorious.
It’s also, sadly, as good as it gets. You’re presented with a city map; from here you pick heists, and with the cash you earn you pay to unlock bigger heists. Along the way you’re graded on your performance, higher grades yielding weapon unlocks. Save for a time trial mode – which is a decent vehicle for the game’s central mechanic, tweaking your runs to perfection to beat the clock – there’s nothing else to it. ‘Focused’ would be charitable; ‘threadbare’ would be sober. What’s here is good for an hour or two, but beyond that, things stagnate.
You have to want that sense of style and catharsis as well. The scenario I laid out above could have been bypassed completely by exploiting the atrocious enemy AI. I could have picked up a nearby iron bar, flanked the doorway, and bludgeoned each mindless cop shuffling through one after the other like a gruesome conveyor belt.
If you do decide to construct your own bit of Tarantino panache imitation, then it’s there for you: just as violence is celebrated in his films, so too is it here, with shotgun blasts sending foes flying across the room, crop-dusting crimson across the floors.
Speaking of imitation, this one is oddly pale. The licence doesn’t extend to the likenesses of the actors, and so Bloody Days ends up looking like web-art – the kind you’d find on a browser game. None of the licenced songs from the film’s cult soundtrack make the trip, and they would have amped the game’s brio considerably; what you’re left with is a twanging bit of Musak that grasps at a sense of laid-back cool but comes back empty handed.
Sieving through the sewer water of film tie-ins yields the occasional glint of gold: a Spider-Man 2, say, or The Warriors – or that Scott Pilgrim game which now lies in delisted purgatory, mummified code sealed in a plastic sarcophagus. Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days is not one of those games, but it’s a fun game for a time and there’s no doubt it’s getting flak it doesn’t quite deserve.
Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days
There’s something Faustian about it: in striking a deal to carry such a powerful banner, it’s gotten attention that games of its class would never get. Ironically, it’s that banner that invites the most bitter criticism for a game that certainly could have done a lot worse.