Bloodshore Review (PS5) – Battle Royale With Cheese
An FMV/interactive movie game set during a battle royale tournament, Bloodshore has a cool concept but doesn’t quite make the most of it. The Finger Guns Review.
Of all the genres that have been impacted by COVID-19, the FMV genre was probably the most heavily affected. While most genres can work around the restrictions that the pandemic puts on development, FMV’s usually require actors on dressed sets with camera men, directors and developers. These are things that just couldn’t happen during lockdowns. FMV games made during the height of the pandemic had to either directly address the fact they we made during that period of history, like The World After or Five Dates, or inventively work around those limitations, like Night Book. Good Gate Media and Wales Interactive were the undisputed champions of creativity during this weird period of time, making two of the best FMV games from that era. I was excited about what they might do next as restrictions lift and an cast and crew can finally convene in one place.
I don’t think I could have ever predicted what they would make next – Bloodshore, an FMV battle royale game set in a dystopian future.
Bloodshore follows a character called Nick Romeo (played by the dashing James Palmer). A child actor whose career petered out after reaching stardom, Nick has signed up to compete in the 13th annual Kill/Stream series. Ran by a shady corporate giant, this live streamed tournament sees 50 people air dropped onto an island. Once the competition begins, the last person standing wins a cool $10m and is destined to live out their days among the rich and famous. Nick is joined on the island by a blend of people looking for a taste of fame – bloggers, streamers and gamers – and those vying for their freedom – 6 death row inmates. Unlike most competitors on the island though, Nick and a few other competitors have ulterior motives for competing in the Kill/Steam event.
As is standard for the FMV genre these days, Bloodshore features a branching narrative. As you watch the Kill/Stream even unfold, you’ll be presented with binary decisions to make. This might be to set the tone of Nick’s response to a question or to guide his actions. Each and every choice you make in this game makes an impact, even when they feel insignificant. Conversations with other competitors can influence a group’s togetherness or the romantic feelings towards a pair of other characters. There are junctures of Bloodshore which will force Nick to choose a side between two potential allies that are at each other’s throats. Some choices will result in Nick getting decent weaponry and enough ammo to get through the fight. Others might leave him exposed, weakened or even dead. Yes, it’s possible to see a game over screen before the story reaches a satisfying ending. Thankfully, almost all of these are rewound and you get to choose a different path.
One aspect of Bloodshore that’s quite unique to this title is the audience interaction. Throughout the game, footage from the Kill/Stream island is cut with snippets from a talk show, of streamers reacting to the TV show and of an interview with the show’s creator. These work with a dual purpose; They flesh out the game’s lore as world building and they communicate to the player how Nick is being received by the viewers at home. The latter aspect of this has quite a large impact on Nick’s prospects on the island. If you instruct Nick to be cowardly, the audience will grow indifferent to him and this has a surprising impact on the events on the island.
Despite being set during a violent and brutal battle royale fight to the death, Bloodshore is much more of a character driven interactive movie than an action film. There’s a varied cast of characters dropped onto the island alongside Nick, each of which brings something different to the experience. Ari (played by Aidan O’Neill) is the cheeky, comedy foil to the seriousness of everything going on around him. A conspiracy theorist with a weird sense of humour, Ari steals most of the scenes he’s in with his dry wit and exasperated disbelief about the situations he finds himself in. Otto is a video game streamer who’s cocksure his skills on video games are going to translate to a win on Kill/Stream. Michael Phong Le brings a combination of exaggerated confidence and a bullish personality to a character who you’re never quite sure has your back or would rather shoot you in it. Scarlett (played by Olivia Jannesson) signed up to Kill/Stream purely for a bump to her social media numbers – but when the rules to the game change, she finds herself vastly out of her depth. Dev (played by Andy Anson) is a travel blogger who enters Kill/Stream among a storm of rumours (which I won’t spoil here) that give him a sinister edge. Lois Amber Toole gives Tish, a game streamer and potential love interest, some real depth as she combines a desperation to win with a portrayal that’s hard not to like. The same can be said about Gav (played by Max George), an extreme vlogger and the other potential love interest. Gav comes across as honest and trust worthy but is he a little too competent with a rifle? The main cast is rounded off by an abrasive performance from Ramona Ramos who gives the ex-MMA fighter Rhea Cohen a threatening energy. Not actually on the island but serving up as much tone to Bloodshore as the main cast is Scott Suter’s portrayal of the Kill/Stream presenter. Incredibly intense and off-putting, this presenter has a truly threatening edge to everything he says.
The script for Bloodshore can get a little cheesy at times (which to the game’s credit, it often acknowledges with character reactions). There are a few lines that have the capability to involuntarily roll your eyes into the back of your head with how hammy they are. The cast do their best with these lines, particularly James Palmer (who plays Nick) who has the honour to deliver some of the cheesiest lines.
Despite the odd moment of cheese, the scene to scene interaction with Bloodshore is quite engrossing. Because the characters are so interesting and because you’re constantly served with decisions to make that influence your story, it’s an easy plot to get drawn into. There’s a few distinct branches that you can head down, each of which has a few different outcomes from sweeping changes to small differences. There’s a few different endings to the game too which you can uncover via replaying the game. Thankfully, you can skip scenes you’ve already seen before, so long as you’re headed down the same decision tree.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t see a lot of the same stuff however. The story in Bloodshore does diverge from its main narrative thread at 2 intersections which open up a number of further places for the game to head. The decisions you can make which are not as influential on the story will still send you down the same narrative branches however. If you were to replay the game a few times and make new choices before the half-way point, you won’t be able to skip scenes despite seeing them play out in exactly the same way as before. Some lines of dialogue are identical even after the story branches off into 2 different paths. The only thing that is different is who these lines are delivered too. I get the reasoning behind this – in the back ground of the game, even the smallest of choices have an effect on your stats in a tracker you can access from the pause menu – but when you’ve played the game 4 times and are still looking for new branches to head down, the repetition really starts to grate. The more you play the game and the more diverse your decisions are, the more you can skip, but I was crying out for a fast forward button at times.
The core issue with Bloodshore’s plot is one that I can’t detail in depth because by doing so, I will spoil the twists in the game. Instead, I’ll describe it in abstract terms. The story here borrows a lot from the Hunger Games. Kill/Stream exists for a reason, ran by a corporation for ‘reasons’, but unfortunately, the game doesn’t go into enough detail about why. The game asks the player to just go along with the absurdity to the premise as it’s being outlined and unfortunately, it doesn’t quite line up. This impacts the player’s perception of the character’s motivations along to a number of the endings. There are a few scenarios where you’ll be given a bit more of an explanation of the overarching story but until you come across these narrative branches, the story feels too convenient without enough scene setting. My first 2 attempts at the game left me a little confused until I finally got a bit more context and things started to make sense.
Despite a few narrative foibles and the moments of cheesiness though, Bloodshore is a bold, original take on an FMV battle royale game. On paper, it just shouldn’t work, but for a few evenings I was well entertained. By focusing on the interactions between a few characters rather than watching 50 competitors blow one another up, you get the human sense of betrayal and/or victory that the game is aiming for. I have to commend the game’s use of practical effects too; there’s a few gory moments in Bloodshore that use good old-fashioned prosthetics, fake blood or make-up that manage to give the game a gritty feeling. If you can suspend your disbelief for a few nights and fancy a blood soaked interactive movie to settle in with on a cold Autumn’s night, Bloodshore fits that bill. Just don’t go into it expecting a consistently deep narrative.
You’ll feel the pain of betrayal and probably laugh a few times along the way in Bloodshore, an FMV game about a dystopian, televised battle royale tournament. The acting throughout is of a high quality, offsetting some very cheesy lines of dialogue and a few narrative beats which needed far more context. While it’s not quite as good as Good Gate Media’s previous output, there’s still a few evenings of entertainment here for fans of the FMV genre.
Bloodshore is launching on PS5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC via Steam, Nintendo Switch and iOS on November 3rd, 2021.
Developer: Good Gate Media / Wales Interactive / Wayout Pictures
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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