WildTangent's new action game, Betty Bad, is essentially a demonstration of the company's Web-based gaming technology. Taken as that, it's pretty effective. Unfortunately, it's also being distributed as a budget-priced stand-alone product. And judged against the higher standard imposed by your potential $20 investment, Betty Bad is seriously lacking in gameplay and quantity of content.
The action takes place in a series of long, twisting tubes that you--as the eponymous heroine--must navigate on foot as waves of attackers approach from ahead. You can walk all along the inside of the cylindrical environments, which appear to rotate around your generally fixed position. It's sort of a cross between Tomb Raider and the classic arcade game Tempest. However, it manages to not capture the exploration and puzzle-solving elements of the former, while simultaneously abandoning white-knuckle action of the latter.
Though you swim through one level and walk along the outside of a cylinder in another level, there's little variety in the game's environments. The placement of the bends change, as do the wall textures, but each mission basically boils down to marching from one end of a tube to the other and shooting everything that gets in your way. Each tube features a single path with no forks, which means you'll never have to decide which way to go. In fact, you don't even have the ability to look around freely, because the generally unchanging dimensions of each tube ensure that your range of forward vision always encompasses everything there is to see.
Swarms of mechanical bugs attempt to impede your progress through each tube. "Swarms" is sort of an overstatement, though. Seven or eight at a time is about as swarming as it gets. The roughly eight varieties of bug vary in size, toughness, and attack pattern, and there are occasional environmental hazards that must be destroyed or jumped over, but all the action is pitched at the same somewhat torpid pace. The tension ratchet that characterizes great--or even really good--pure action games is quite simply missing.
Some tension is generated by the fact that you can save only between missions. Most of the levels take about 10 minutes to complete. So if you die in the final 10 seconds, you'll have to replay the first nine minutes again. On the other hand, if not for this restrictive save system, the entire game would take about an hour to solve. There are two short introductory levels, three regular levels that must each be traversed twice, and then a final level. But even with nine levels, it's still incredibly short.
As befitting its status as a glorified tech demo, the graphics and sound are good. The textures are crisp, the lighting is nice, and the tube effect is neat. The title character, designed by ex-id artist Paul Steed, is well animated and looks suitably swollen in all the right places. But the whole thing feels kind of threadbare. No attempt has been made to imbue Betty Bad--both the character and the game--with any sort of personality whatsoever. It's the kind of simple, short, and totally generic action game that you might get as a bonus for buying a lot of cereal.
Betty Bad isn't terrible, but you can download the free demo and get pretty much the entire experience of playing the full game. Relatively speaking, as budget action titles go, the gulf between 20 bucks' worth of Betty Bad and 20 bucks' worth of Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is so vast that it's virtually immeasurable. And Serious Sam even features a more enjoyable fight along the interior wall of a cylinder.