Review: BDSM: Big Drunk Satanic Massacre

Video games have a long history with excess. We’re not talking about games like Grand Theft Auto or Duke Nukem here; we’re talking about titles like Loaded and Postal. Games that don’t just contain content that’s pushing at the boundaries of what you can do but are, essentially, collections of offensive things rolled into an interactive package.

You may not remember that Loaded or Postal existed, of course, which kind of… hints at a bit of a problem here. A lot of games that seemed biting or edgy when they were first released didn’t retain that bite, because time changes our standards for everything, and when your focus is on just trying to shock people or set up strawmen to mock, it’s easy to… well, not have an actual game in there. Which brings us to Big Drunk Satanic Massacre, a game which very intentionally abbreviates its title to BDSM, which should give you some idea of where the game is trying to go.

Big Drunk Satanic Massacre releases on October 10th on PC via Steam. The PC version was played for this review.

Weak Shot, No Chaser

Let’s start with the gameplay, first and foremost. (Yes, I know this usually comes later; it’ll make sense as we move forward.) BDSM is a top-down shooter in the free-roaming isometric style. Move with WASD, aim with your mouse, click to shoot. You have your main fire on left-click and an alt-fire on right-click, spacebar lets you dash, you can use a spell with Q if you’ve picked one up, Tab guzzles the ubiquitous MILK (liquor of an unspecified vintage) to restore your health and also get you somewhat buzzed. So far, so good. Pressing F when your rage bar is full lets you turn into rage mode, which unleashes a constant stream of damage as long as the mode lasts and also seems to render you invulnerable.

As you move protagonist Lou through various areas, he can periodically earn upgrade points for finishing side objectives or killing bosses. There’s a paucity of upgrades available here – more MILK on hand at any one time, more ammo, more health, or filling your rage bar faster. You also meet shopkeepers who sell you upgrade perks, like improving weapon damage, reducing reload speed, and so forth. Again, all pretty much standard; it’s a good foundation to build upon with some more interesting stuff.

Unfortunately, the game has not much more built upon it. Those tricks are all you get, and thus all of it feels… well, a touch superfluous. For example, technically, you are choosing how to build your character when you choose between more health or more ammo capacity, but even fully upgrading one doesn’t feel like it produces major dividends. Upgrading ammo capacity to max, for example, just seems to nudge the needle slightly, like the old joke about waterproof watches dying the moment after water-resistant ones do. The upgrades don’t feel particularly meaty or meaningful.

Similarly, the perks are… nice? But not very encouraging. There are several upgrades you can buy for specific spells, for example, but what spell Lou has is entirely based on what happens to be there to pick up; thus, it’s easy for those upgrades to be wasted money. The later weapons are straight-up better than the earlier ones, even when the earlier ones are fully upgraded; fights thus become a simple matter of “dodge as much as you can, hit as much as you can with the good weapons as you go down the ladder, pick up more ammo and heal if you have to.”

It also doesn’t help that Lou himself feels just slow enough that he’s never quick enough to get out of range or adjust appropriately. You have your dash on a short cooldown, obviously, and the controls aren’t sluggish or anything. Lou moves when you press your key, dashes when you dash, shoots when and where you want, and so forth. But everything seems to move just fast enough that your real defense is always “kill it fast,” and pretty much every single combat room winds up in the same strategy of moving slowly in a circle, shooting spawns until you get to move on.

The boss fights, obviously, are touted as one of the game’s big features. They’re… fine? They don’t really change any of what I just said. Chiefly, they’re bullet sponges, which gives them a lot of extra time to be shot; the slowness of your movement and the fact that every single one of them summons tons of adds makes things just wind up feeling tedious. It still winds up with mostly circling around and shooting.

None of this is crippling inherently, of course; the game mechanics aren’t good, but they also aren’t terrible. It’s all on the lower end of acceptable, not good but not ever bad enough to make you want to throw the dang thing out the window. But it does mean the game is going to need to rely on something other than its gameplay to be memorable or good.

Murky Glasses With Bar Logos

Let’s be real here and admit that sometimes, a game’s aesthetic can be so bonkers that even if the game itself is mediocre, you can’t forget how it looked. Myst is a pretty terrible game, but the look alone brought people in, just by way of example.

Unfortunately, BDSM is not a game sporting much in the realm of visual invention. The level design is boasting quite a lot of detail all around, and that’s something… but it’s so much detail that it starts looking cluttered, with nothing in particular drawing the eye. You get visual overload and start just glazing over everything.

It doesn’t help that everything has an aggressive color wash against the whole spectrum, and things are usually rendered in shades and close cousins of the same few shades. Reds, oranges, and yellows are pervasive. This wouldn’t be an inherent problem (when the word “satanic” is in the title you kind of expect that color scheme) except that it leads to most enemies, Lou himself, and even landscape details blending in to one another.

The game doesn’t look terrible by any stretch of the imagination. The painted images used as loading screens and for the various interactions you have with female demons are pretty well-done, and there’s clearly an effort made to give every model personality in both animations and design. If you look closely, you can see some of it. But both from the game’s zoomed-out perspective and the color wash, it’s really hard to see any of that.

As for the music… well, it’s pretty terrible. It’s generic electric guitar strumming without any sort of particular character, the sort of thing that you can only remember after the fact as being technically present without making any impression whatsoever. It isn’t an audio assault by any means, but it’s also just blandly striving to communicate that this is “so edgy” with the same tiresome markers that went out of style around 1998.

Which… kind of brings us to the story. That is, where things really turn south.

A Dismal, Rotted Barstool

Remember those games I mentioned at the start? Yes, that sort of energy is the reason that this exists, but it’s also kind of where it starts to seriously fall down.

At the start of the game, we are informed that at some point in the not-too-distant future humanity has invaded and annexed Hell, which is now a tourist destination… kind of. It’s not really clear what people do in Hell as a tourist destination aside from eating at a demonic burger joint, but that’s what we’re told is the setup. You play as Lou, the son of Satan who is now a drunken lowlife sitting in a bar, who decides more or less on a whim to shoot his way across Hell to free it from humanity.

If that didn’t give you an idea of the level the game was aiming for, it’s also present in a loading screen when you start the game stating that the title is meant as a work of parody and thus you can’t be offended by it. I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but this should tell you what we’re dealing with here. It’s a game in which bare breasts, swear words, misanthropy, violence, and all of the tiresome “edgy” kitsch is on full display, but it’s all okay because it’s a parody. Unless you go by the game’s Steam community page, which describes it as satire.

For the record, that’s incorrect on both counts. Parody requires something specific that’s being mocked or made to look ridiculous; satire requires a point and an overall demonstration about what it’s satirizing. Neither of those things are present in BDSM. If it’s supposed to be a parody of consumer culture, it doesn’t work (the supposed “victims” are literally demons, that imagery is a mess). It doesn’t seem to have any overriding ethos whatsoever beyond “we like breasts and women and liquor and shooting people we think are dumb.” That’s… not a parody, that’s wrapping up a strawman in plastic and then punching him until you feel good about yourself.

The game definitely wants to shock you. It’s trying very hard to shock and offend you by, say, showing that some of the things attacking you are demons bound up in S&M fetish gear and farting bullets at you. But the idea of what would offend people is, well, still rooted in an outdated aesthetic and concepts that wouldn’t even make your average teenager lift an eyebrow. It’s all blasé.

And if it weren’t clear enough by now, this is not a game that has something nuanced under the shock value. One of the bosses, for example, is “the Nerdomancer,” a fat bespectacled man who literally has a female demon in the room berating his sexual inexperience and incompetence while making advances on you. There’s room here to make something darkly funny, but instead the whole thing just plays out… bland. It’s literally every basic, bottom-of-the-barrel gag you can think of from the setup.

Every single female demon in the game is eager to sleep with you the second you show up, at most asking for one small side chore. (And there is a minigame for that, because of course there is.) Lou is functionally a demonic Duke Nukem, except while those games meant Duke as a parody of action heroes (not necessarily successfully, but the idea was in place), Lou is being taken seriously. Beer and tits are good, violence is good, ha ha, it’s a giant demon in a delivery uniform because he’s an idiot and isn’t that clever?

It’s trying for “offensive,” but it only hits that bar in the same way that people would be “offended” if you showed up to a black-tie dinner in jean shorts and a t-shirt and proceeded to pull your shorts down and sit in the main dish. No one’s shocked, you’re just being a jerk.

Not Worth the Buzz

Honestly, I’ve tried to give the game a fair bit of thought. I think there’s definitely space for something darkly cynical and humorous, even if I don’t necessarily agree with the point being made (to paraphrase Roger Ebert, it’s not what the movie is about, it’s how it is about it). I even feel like there’s material that could be mined out of bits of BDSM’s premise. It just isn’t mined out, and what we actually have is just… not good.

Ultimately, BDSM isn’t very good when it comes to the actual gameplay to start with. It’d be a not tremendously good game even if it was exploring stuff like themes and meaning with some actual depth. But when you get into the “parody” aspect that’s really just a thin veneer to defend against people calling out the content, it slips hard into the territory of just not being worth your time.

That’s another comparison to things like Postal, of course. When you get past the shock value? The games just aren’t very good.

If you want to go play something that’s got some actual substance beneath any momentary shock value, there are a lot of better games out there than BDSM. But then, it doesn’t even really have the shock value it thinks it does.


~ Final Score: 3/10 ~


Review copy provided by Big Way Games for PC. Screenshots courtesy of Big Way Games.