It’s a rare bird that makes a mark on a largely forgettable genre that’s often associated with camp. And then, there’s Bloodshore. We thought we were free of interactive movies after the 90s/00s, but then Netflix put out Bandersnatch and had people fleetingly enthralled by the idea of a movie that gave you narrative options, as if the choose-your-own-adventure book hasn’t already been a perfectly good play staple for decades.
Wales Interactive, a company built on the brief resurgent wave of full-motion video (FMV) games around the mid-10s, has yet to do anything genuinely interesting with the concept, and yet to put out a truly exciting reinvigoration of the genre. Their repertoire involves, for the most part, stories that aren’t substantially very good, but still require you to make time-sensitive decisions that drag the plot along to a predictable end (will the heroine save ancillary character A or B, what will this mean for the outcome, so on, and so forth).
The basic premise of Bloodshore is Battle Royale/Fortnite/Hunger Games meets overclocked streaming culture—not an especially distant concept based on our current reality where corporations will do anything to get eyeballs, clicks, and money. In recent years, this particularly noxious breed of sensationalism took form as “Game2: Winter”—a Russian wilderness survival show where anything, including rape and murder, was supposedly “fair game.” Thankfully it turned out to be a market research experiment and not a real-life variation of dystopian fiction like The Running Man and most recently, Squid Game.
The corporate antagonist in Bloodshore is also Russian and runs the popular game series Kill/Stream, where “Z-list” personalities are dumped on an island and forced to kill their way to victory. We learn that the show’s debut season had a specific gimmick: the contestants were notorious death row inmates who fought for their freedom and went on to become famous and mind-bogglingly wealthy. But after Kill/Stream’s original creator, the enigmatic Eugene Christoph, stepped down, the show has devolved into a seasonal slopfest. Now, in the 13th season, they’re trying to claw back viewers with a change of scenery and new rules.
Not that Wanted
The real heroes of Bloodshore are its cast, a group of working actors that really makes the best of what they’re given. Protagonist Nick Romeo is an ex-child actor looking to redeem himself on Kill/Stream for his own reasons. The rest of his “drop group” is made up of awkward familiar stereotypes: Scarlett is the vapid, naive Instagrammer who isn’t remotely prepared for reality, Reah is a tough, confident MMA fighter, Otto is a cocky streamer whose fans are probably Gamergaters. There’s eye candy Gav (played by Glee alum and ex-boybander Max George), and Dev, a suspected cannibal who answers a very important aesthetic question: what if Julian Assange had grown up in Village of the Damned?
Altogether, this could have made for a passable bad movie that touches on important topics like the voracious nature of internet culture, the role of personal agency and individual choice in media consumption, streaming labor and exploitation, and other meta-issues that permeate our world. But Bloodshore chooses to be a mostly mindless experience where the choices you’re given don’t feel substantial or meaningful, which is literally all you can do for a player in this format. Even when you’re choosing whose life to save or to spare a comrade unnecessary torture, Nick’s reason for being on Kill/Stream is already pushed out in the open—it’s all already rigged, what does it matter?
Stuck in the 90s
There’s an especially hammy clip of a TV interviewer screaming at Eugene Christoph about how he can sit by and let his Kill/Stream erode our minds and bodies even further—that with every season of Kill/Stream, we stray further from god’s light, which isn’t wrong. But we don’t need these reminders or “how can you just sit there” rhetoric anymore—this isn’t the 1980s or 1990s or even 00s when there was still a kind of weird, raw excitement about web 2.0 and “social media” as a new part of everyday life. It’s 2021 and we’re all living in the same toxic mediascape that makes a fictional idea like Bloodshore possible.
Bloodshore’s whole vibe was exciting when I was a teenager and we had no mass lived experience of how technology was going to kick us back into Roman Colosseum-era levels of spectacle and complacency. There’s no sense of catharsis even when you get the “good ending” because the movie wasn’t engaging or well-written enough to at least give me the illusion of escape in the first place. When the characters yell and beat their chests about exploitation, there’s nothing behind it; Bloodshore is a poor, dull parody of its own message.
On the interactive front, there is no clear indication of save points. You’re forced to make an educated guess as to when you can stop playing, and end up having to replay a big chunk of D-movie quality content anyway. Even if it isn’t long to play, if you work in media and already have a decrepit soul hanging on by a thread, you will probably need a break. If you’re interested in hate-playing Bloodshore, it’s not even fun enough to do that with the requisite level of zest. The generic tracking options, as with other Wales Interactive productions, don’t make any sense. Romance with Tish, for instance, somehow goes up even though I turned her down and kept my distance from her at all possible points.
Decent production value and acting are all this has going for it. Even so, Bloodshore is one of many projects that don’t ever have to be interactive, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last of its kind.