Please don’t close this window: We’re about to talk to you about a video game based on a movie.
A lot of terrible stuff has been created in the name of taking popular films and trying to replicate their success in games. In fact, one prime example from just over 10 years ago was also based off Reservoir Dogs: a shoddy PlayStation 2-era third-person shooter published by Eidos and raked over the coals by reviewers. GameSpot’s Alex Navarro called it “an out and out failure.”
That notoriously terrible game makes it all the more surprising that movie-studio-cum-game-publisher Lionsgate is taking a second shot at creating a video game based on Reservoir Dogs. But the most surprising thing of all? It ... actually looks really fun.
We’re 25 years into the largely very successful film career of Quentin Tarantino, which makes it easy to forget that Reservoir Dogs, his first feature-length film as a director, was not immediately beloved. When it came out in 1992, the crime film received plenty of buzz but mixed reviews, including famously critical write-ups from Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. It also made a mere $2.8 million in U.S. theaters, according to Box Office Mojo.
It wasn’t until 1994’s much more popular Pulp Fiction that Tarantino’s career blew up and movie fanatics went back and discovered just how great Reservoir Dogs was. It became a cult classic, required viewing in college dorm rooms. It was the perfect cinematic example of scrappy beginnings leading to something greater than it initially seemed.
Barcelona-based developer Big Star Games seems to want to emulate that same formula. It’s a studio made up of smaller names who have been in the industry for years — people who have worked on games such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Split/Second and Payday. But as Big Star Games, all this team has created so far are small iOS games — most notably a goofy beat-em-up called Fist of Jesus that was ported to Steam in 2014.
Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days is Big Star Games’ first PC and console-focused release. Instead of an over-the-shoulder third-person shooter like 2006’s Reservoir Dogs game, Bloody Days is played out in a fast-paced, top-down style, recalling something like Hotline Miami.
It’s not just a clone, however. What sets Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days apart is a really clever mechanic that Big Star Games calls “Time Back.” Each level represents a heist where you’ll control two to three different characters from the Reservoir Dogs crew. Time Back is what will allow one player to control each of those characters in a real-time game.
It works like this: You start a level in control of one character. There’s a clock in the lower right corner counting up as you move through the level. You can let it go as long as you want — 10 seconds, 30 seconds, even well over a minute. Whenever you’ve positioned your first character where you want, you tap the space bar. Suddenly the game rewinds, as though you’re rewinding the well-used Reservoir Dogs VHS tape from the local rental place.
Now you’re in control of the second character. The first character will follow the exact line you just played out, walking where you made him walk, shooting in whatever direction you made him shoot and so forth. Your second character will have exactly the amount of time that first character had to do whatever movements you want, before control reverts back to the first character — or you rewind and go to the third character if you’re on a mission with three.
It’s a little difficult to describe in concept. It’s similar to the time-bending system used in 2014’s Super Time Force, but as a top-down view game rather than a sidescrolling platformer Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days feels more strategic in its approach.
Let’s say you’re on a mission to rob a bank with Mr. Brown, Mr. Pink and Mr. Blue. Controlling Mr. Brown first, you spend your first 30 seconds busting through the front doors and opening fire on two security guards in the main room. Unfortunately, you didn’t notice a third guard in a corridor off to the left — he sneaks around and takes a shot, carving off a healthy chunk of Mr. Brown’s life bar.
Then you tap the space bar. Rewind. You’re back at the beginning controlling Mr. Pink. You can see Mr. Brown heading to the main doors again. You position yourself next to him, but rather than facing forward, you turn to the left. As he kicks the doors in, you strafe in alongside him. As the third guard comes through that corridor to the left you take him out, preventing that initial burst of damage.
Then, as Mr. Pink, you can spend the first 30 seconds of the heist cleaning up additional guards, or maybe searching for safes or other money to pack up. You’ll need to grab as much cash as you can in each heist before things go rotten. As you collect money, you’ll pay to unlock new missions and upgrade equipment to help you get more cash on each run. There are over 18 missions, and they can all be replayed as you learn how to play better and earn new tools.
The Time Back system is a really smart wrinkle that turns what would be a solid but generic top-down shooter into something smarter. It’s the thinking man’s bloody action game, a comparison that certainly feels right at home with the gory yet intellectual source material.
If Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days stands to disappoint fans of the film, it’s in the details. The game is not using voices or likenesses of the actors from the films, and Tarantino’s involvement is minimal at best. The studio says it’s working directly with Lionsgate — the film’s rights holder — which is in turn getting things approved by Tarantino. But those layers of separation mean the stylish polish that is Tarantino’s most recognizable trait isn’t really on display here.
For all intents and purposes, Bloody Days looks and feels like a small-scale indie game made by a small-scale indie team. But it also looks and feels really fun, which may be the best we could hope for in this scenario.
So will that Time Back system actually be able to carry a full game? One that seems like it shouldn’t work on a conceptual level? We can’t say for sure yet, but we won’t have to wait long to find out. Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days will launch this spring for Windows PCs, with an Xbox One version planned for later in 2017.