Shaun Munro reviews Bloodshore…
Wales Interactive’s efforts to revive the FMV game began rather promisingly with the likes of The Bunker and especially Late Shift. The latter proved to be a competent attempt at a choose-your-own-adventure heist flick, but the publisher’s latest outing feels like a cynical regression to the FMV genre’s chintzy heyday.
Bloodshore plays out as a listless throwback to lazy earlier stabs at mixed-media gaming, yet perhaps most aptly resembles one of the many straight-to-video knock-offs of The Running Man or Battle Royale – though it’ll also be unavoidably compared to Squid Game (despite actually being very different).
Bloodshore takes place in a dystopian near-future where the widening class divide has prompted a shady outfit called The Corporation to launch a now-hugely successful reality TV show, Kill/Stream, where 50 applicants are selected to compete for a cash prize of £100 million. The task? Drop onto a remote island in small teams and kill everyone else until you’re the last one standing.
This latest game is a little different, though; one of the teams is comprised of bloodthirsty death row inmates, and while previous games allowed imperiled players to “tap out” to exit the contest with their life in tact, this time it’s a true fight to the death with no escapes. We focus on one of the six teams, led by over-the-hill actor Nick (James Palmer) who reluctantly co-operates with his colourful squad of hopefuls.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about the game is the lacking production quality compared to prior Wales games. Though the cinematography isn’t terrible, the game overall lacks visual polish and its reliance on wonky VFX elements only make the budgetary constraints more obvious. Even the bit-rate of the video footage itself is bafflingly low, as is most painfully apparent in the low-res menu video (which, worse still, is set to an awkwardly looped music track).
Matching the iffy presentation is some similarly dodgy acting, though given that each and every character is a hollow stereotype you won’t remember for long, they can’t really be blamed for failing to do much with it – or the oft-risible dialogue. More generous critics might suggest this is all part of a knowing attempt to homage the cornball FMV games of decades past, but that feels like a cop-out given the genuinely fun potential of an interactive live-action battle royale game.
And that’s really the focal point; naff acting and a laughable script could easily get a pass if Bloodshore were a good time, but ultimately it leaks low effort from every single pore. Despite the large roster size, it never feels like there’s actually 50 people in the game at all because we see just a handful of them throughout the story, and no matter the promises of “extreme violence,” bombastic death scenes are few and far between.
What postures as substance here is pervading social commentary on the perils of fame and reality TV, income inequality, the barbarism of humanity, and our continued sick taste for human suffering as entertainment. It’s all puddle-deep and old-hat, though. Centering the story around livestreaming and dropping a passing reference to Jeffrey Epstein are as truly topical as the script ever gets, yet without these elements it’d be easy to believe the game had been sitting on a shelf for years.
Bloodshore really falls shortest as an interactive experience, though; there are only two options to choose from throughout the game, and they’re really quite dull most of the time. Plus, if a decision ends up causing your demise, you’ll sometimes get gifted a negating rewind, seemingly undermining much of the import your choices should have.
Though the press notes state that the game offers eight hours of FMV footage, it appears that at least a decent portion of that is duplicate material with alternate inserts obviously slotted in. More to the point, the story just isn’t compelling enough that most will want to play through it ad nauseum to see all of those eight hours; I certainly didn’t.
Further bloating out the runtime are cutaways to TV presenters covering the show, a pair of homeless men watching it, and live-streamers broadcasting it. All of this just distends a gossamer-thin story which, depending on your choices, is already padded out with a dollop of melodramatic nonsense, particularly a lousy romantic subplot between leads Nick and Tish.
Like most other Wales games you can skip previously viewed scenes, though the feature is disappointingly limited in this case. I found myself frustratedly slamming the Tab key to skip repeat scenes only for the game to make me sit through a shocking amount of duplicate footage, featuring minor variations at best. Clearly in games like this the video data needs to be chunked into extremely small parts to allow granular skips past repeat material; evidently that’s not the case here and it makes replaying for other endings a major chore.
In an attempt to make the experience feel a little more game-y, you’ve also got a tracker menu that monitors your team morale, the audience’s opinion, romance, strength, and insight, though I gleaned little of interest from it on any of my playthroughs. The lack of a more fleshed-out relationship meter between characters, as has been one of the better stat-tracking features in some prior Wales games, is certainly missed here.
Bloodshore is a truly frustrating step back for Wales, whose recent FMV efforts haven’t exactly been good, but certainly better than this. It’s possible that the game’s production was strained by the pandemic – hence the scant resources and few cast members together in any single scene, like their recent game Night Book – but even so, this feels a whole continent away from the polish and craft of Late Shift, the mood and aesthetic of which is so, so much more appealing than anything they’ve released since.
A single playthrough will last around 90 minutes, though you’ll need to invest many more hours to get close to unlocking all 294 scenes, which may not be a particularly appealing sell given the weakness of the story, the flatness of the characters, and the mostly uninteresting choices on offer. For many, I suspect four or five playthroughs will be enough; it certainly was for me, even with some story paths offering a little more diversion than initially expected.
Eschewing its blatantly campy potential in favour of an effort-devoid mess of ideas and tones, Bloodshore is as disappointing as it is utterly forgettable.
+ Potential-rich premise.
+ A few decent gory moments.
+ Some surprising narrative divergences.
– Low production values.
– Unconvincing performances and writing.
– Lack of meaningful or exciting choices.
– Scene skip feature isn’t well implemented.
– Lackluster stat-tracking.
Reviewed on PC (also available for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch).
A review code was provided by the publisher.