Originally published at: Review | Bendy and the Dark Revival - XboxEra
I don’t know about you, but I like this trend of kid-friendly, ‘halal’ horror video game releases. If you spend any time with kids, you’ve likely heard of Five Nights at Freddy’s or Hello Neighbor, the kind of horror that focuses on jump scares and creepy situations probably found within the confines of a Scholastic book. Some horror enthusiasts balk at the idea of these games existing over their blood ‘n gore equivalents complete with a ‘Guide to Swearing’ book found in the depths of Amazon Prime’s eBook selection. ‘Zoomer horror’ I’ve heard it described as, although I suppose it’s an apt description.
So, here’s another game that’s bound to upset them: Bendy and the Dark Revival is a horror slash adventure game developed by Joey Drew Studios (theMeatly) and published by Rooster Teeth. A sequel to Bendy and the Ink Machine, a game I’ve only heard in name and some catchy song my siblings played over and over for about a week a billion years ago, I was curious to see what direction this series would take. And one that, I hoped, was better than the recent releases of Five Nights at Freddy’s Security Breach and Hello Neighbor 2—game with flaws that range from pretty annoying to downright severe.
Bendy and the Dark Revival is better than both of these games but has plenty of issues of its own. Here, lemme ink it out for ya.
Dreams Come from Pens and a Will
On the outside, the game screams “this piece of software has something sinister about it!” right alongside the cute little cartoon character named Bendy. You won’t be stepping into this one accidentally that’s for sure, but if you’re the game’s lead protagonist Audrey, you’ll be dragged right into the world of Ink, smack dab in one of her late-night grinds at the animation studio she works at. Audrey wants to get out of this Ink world after being dragged into it against her will (well, sort of) and to do that, you’ll need to navigate its depths and discover the secrets behind Joey Drew: the pioneer behind this world of madness.
This game takes place sometime between the 50s and 60s, and as hard I try, I can’t help but compare it to the likes of BioShock—not just in art and gameplay, but even story—with the gameplay and overall user interface looking like something that would fit right at home in that old 2K property. Audrey is a slow walker with a mild jog if you let her (faster than that recent Fatal Frame I s’pose) and she wields a pipe wrench-looking thingy as a weapon, which can be charged with batteries than you find strewn about that you’ll need to open some doors. You have some ink magic you can use. Then there are the baddies: ink globs resembling more like Oddworld’s Mudokons than human (maybe Epic Mickey?), some random jump scare foes, and a giant one-shot Ink Demon you need to hide from to escape.
Unfortunately, despite having the blueprint of a BioShock game, Dark Revival never comes close to how smooth that first Xbox 360 title played. Movement and camera control is clumsy and that follows right into the game’s combat, which is cumbersome especially when you’re fighting off hordes of enemies. I figured this is the game’s way of encouraging stealth, but that system is bogged down by its own issues: enemies take forever to get out of sight, so much so that it’s a better idea to pull their aggression to you, crouch somewhere they can’t reach, and pick them off one by one as they proceed to walk back to their posts without a care in the world. It helps that their vision cones are about as wide as a single Pocky.
A Pipe Dream
The Mudokon-looking baddies are the easy ones. The more annoying ones are the kind that spawn randomly in front of you to give you a ‘fright’. They’ll pop-in and out without cadence, serving to only be an irritating nuisance when you’re figuring out a puzzle. And then there’s the Ink Demon, a giant inky Muppet that acts as a sanity check for the player in that he will randomly choose to attack and you need to quickly get to a crate or under something where he can’t spawn to gib you. But he can be easily avoided just by crouching underneath a vent or heck, positioning yourself somewhere on a ladder. Once he gives up, he lets out a nice fart of a sound effect to let you know he’s gone away.
Look, I’m a total wuss when it comes to anything scary. Even games with nothing spooky about them at all can have my skelly jump out of my skin and to the ceiling under the right conditions. But once Dark Revival gave me a weapon and proceeded to place enemies in funny spots, this wuss went from checking every corner to slowly being annoyed to the point of boredom. This is partly due to level design and enemy placement—for example, at one point you need to explore an area infested by nearly every enemy type in the game including the Ink Demon.
See, death carries no penalty in the game because you’ll spawn at any one of the ink stations in a given level. But if you’re gibbed by the Demon, you need to reload a save. Fair, it makes the Demon that much of a big deal, but in that particular instance having to not only fend off the blob masses and jump scare baddies, but also having to hide from the instakill guy all at the same time was less scary and just annoying. By the end of the game, my skeleton had long crawled back into my skin and was groaning every time I walked into a combat encounter.
The quality of the port didn’t help either, as the game has no field of view options, and the framerate is a juddery 30 frames per second on the Series X. Thanks to the framerate and the not-so-smooth camera, picking up objects becomes a chore and sometimes you’ll miss things because the game didn’t highlight them as you do your cursory glances across whatever you’re looking at. It doesn’t help that the environments are a drab yellow for the majority of the game, so piling that onto the whole mess gave me a bit of a headache over the course of my playthrough.
I Drew This Pretty Good
To the game’s credit, it’s better than the two aforementioned ‘Zoomer horror’ games, partly because it does try to tell a story instead of one either haphazardly put together (or more likely tossed out due to failed ambitions). There are plenty of logs and memos scattered about from the minds that are stuck to roam the halls of Joey Drew’s Ink world forever, and cutscenes generally do a good job of conveying the world even if they’re not much more than exposition dumps. Said cutscenes do feature those hand animated character animations of yore that I do so miss, which I appreciate. Because I can’t say I ever liked the inherent dead fish-eyes look and feel to motion capture work that we see so much nowadays.
A little tangent here but as far as I can tell, audio logs can’t be replayed but only their transcripts can be viewed in a slightly clunky pause menu system. In fact, the whole user interface is kind of gaudy thanks to its similar colour scheme to the game, how it has the save menu all the way to the right with no quick save system (in a game where you’ll be saving a lot), and at one point you can read a book in the game that is in no way optimised for a big screen TV. But I digress.
Unfortunately, I didn’t care for anyone involved due to an overall lack of screen time and character development. Audrey herself goes from being frightened at her situation to effortlessly smashing excess ink glasses with her fists to upgrade her powers. Other characters briefly show up to lend a hand or to tell her “Sorry, I’d like to help you, but I can’t for some reason”. Though I do like the idea of a disgruntled man creating a world of his own to be quite neat and the world design is pretty nice. If only it featured more colour than my bedroom light at two hundred hours.
There might be more story to be found if you backtrack, as the game will later suggest. But I had no reason to do so. Heck at one point near the end of the game, a character offers you the first (and likely only) side quest you can take on but by that point I was so bored of the gameplay that I instead hurried my way through the halls and into the finale. The scale of Dark Revival’s arching narrative might want to feel grand, but it ultimately feels like the book closes a little too hurriedly on this story. Which is a bit ironic when I consider how I felt through the majority of my playthrough.
Compared to the recent Security Breach and Hello Neighbor, Bendy and the Dark Revival succeeds at being the better game by having proper level design and, for the most part, proper enemy encounters. It’s a shame it falls flat in so many regards because had it not been for the clumsier BioShock-like gameplay and the port being a spot of frustration, Bendy’s latest retreat could’ve been a solid adventure title. Still, the groundwork is present if not a bit misguided and it’s a good canvas as any to ink future entries onto.
Which I approve of! I find this style of bedroom horror more interesting than the thirteenth billion zombie shooter anyway.