Date: November 3, 2021
When I read the back-of-the-box blurb for Bloodshore, I didn’t know how to feel about the concept of an FMV game where the plot is essentially a remake of Battle Royale. The battle royale game genre officially became oversaturated in 2019 (somewhere between the release of Tetris 99 and Flappy Bird Royale), but you know what genre isn’t oversaturated yet? FMV games.
Despite existing in one form or the other since at least the 90s, the choose-your-own-adventure movie never truly took off as a format — and Westgate Studios, in partnership with Good Gate media, seems intent on changing that. FMV mystery The Shapeshifting Detective was a modest hit on Steam, their interactive sci-fi flick The Complex and rom-com Five Dates both garnered even more attention and praise, and now they’ve brought us the battle royale FMV game Bloodshore.
Bloodshore is a choose-your-own-adventure style movie in which you guide a washed-up child actor Nick through a deadly game — KillStream (which should have just been the name of the game instead of Bloodshore) — while millions watch on at home. With very little preamble, you meet the other contestants in your group, you’re dropped onto an island, and the game begins. Every so often, you’re presented with a choice, usually between two options, and the course of the narrative alters slightly or dramatically based on your choices. In between island scenes, you get to see glimpses of advertisements, interviews with viewers, and scenes from the homes of a handful of people watching the show.
The way the perspective jumps from the story on the island to an interview with the creator of Killstream or a panel of fans is an effective narrative tool, and serves to make the world of Bloodshore bigger than just the island. It’s fun to see viewers’ reactions to your decisions, and the audience’s opinion of you is even tracked as a stat throughout the game.
Speaking of stats, you’ve got 5 different ones — team morale, audience opinion, romance, strength, and insight — that can be affected by the decisions you make in-game. They seem to have at least some impact on what happens to your character: I discovered that in one scene, your group will follow your suggestion if team morale is high enough, while a low team morale leads to them choosing the opposite of whatever you suggest. That being said, I did a number of playthroughs, and it was hard to identify many other scenes where these stats actually affected the course of the game.
But the meat of the game isn’t the stats, it’s the movie itself, and the decisions you get to make. I enjoyed how the choices ranged from small (like having another beer) to big (like shooting someone), and there are plenty of decisions to make: I only saw around 75 of nearly 300 scenes on my first playthrough. You can also fail pretty specatularly, though decisions that result in death rewind and then only allow you to select the “right” decision, so you don’t have to play through the whole thing again if you mess up.
While there are plenty of opportunities to influence the story, I was a little dissapointed how on-the-rails you had to stay. There was no way that I found to really alter the overall flow of the narrative — though perhaps that’s unreasonable to expect from a game like this. After all, Bloodshore already features something like 8 hours of footage, and they let you take a number of paths to the end without there being any serious continuity errors that I could spot. Still, it would have been nice to take Nick off the grid in at least one playthrough.
I like a cheesy action-flick as much as the next person, but they’re only enjoyable if you keep your expectations reasonably low. I went into Bloodshore with the same attitude, and was pleasantly surprised by Bloodshore’s writing and acting. While no one’s going to walk away with an Oscar, none of the performances would feel out of place on a Netflix original, and a few of the actors are downright convincing. The dialouge is somewhat inconsistent, ranging from typical Hollywood stuff (that sounds nothing like how people actually talk), to authentic feeling lines, but stays generally servicable.
The characters all have decently fleshed-out backstories, and the way many of the game’s contestants navigate the island’s challenges feels realistic. However, most fit a little too neatly into stereotypical movie roles: ditzy blonde, creepy villain, stalwart right hand man, and so on. Still, I found myself invested in the plot, and was suitably upset when characters I liked inevitably met one gruesome fate or another. Bloodshore also has excellent pacing, with a solid balance of action scenes and calmer moments.
I first watched/played Bloodshore in a small group, and it’s probably the best way to experience an FMV game — with everyone yelling at the screen when it’s time to make a decision. We had gamers and non-gamers in the audience, and both groups agreed that Bloodshore was an enjoyable experience. While it doesn’t do much to push the genre forward, it’s certainly enjoyable, and a whole lot cheaper than tickets and popcorn at the theater.