The action is set in a whimsical fairy-tale world populated entirely by brightly-coloured teddy bears, like something out of an off-brand greeting card. You are sworn to destroy this fruity harmony, for you are the Naughty Bear, a torn and filthy renegade from this squeaky-clean utopia. Mocked and pilloried by your peers, your mission is to make them pay.
Many games would have you kill, but Naughty Bear asks that you be as wicked as possible while going about it. It's this drive to naughtiness above all else that sets the game apart - naughty deeds will boost your score multiplier, and while there are certain 'freezing' bonuses you can get to arrest its decay, you really need to keep up a steady string of unspeakable sins in order to rack up a high score.
It's more than a little reminiscent of The Club, that rough diamond from Bizarre Creations. Yet the levels and the opportunities they presented are cramped, decidedly non-linear, and more than a little disorienting, thanks to the cookie-cutter art assets and awkward camera. In The Club, you always knew exactly what you had to do next. In Naughty Bear, it's all a bit murky. Should I be wiring that household appliance to explode? Should I be barricading this door so the cops can't get in? Would it be better to hack the bear in front of me until I get prompted to hit the right trigger for a special kill animation, or would it be more profitable to scare him until he explodes?
This sort of knowledge can only be gleaned from repetition. You must get a feel for enemy movements, the pros and cons of setting booby traps in various locations, and what order to do all these dirty deeds in to maximise your multiplier. It's pure trial and error, and all the while you're tearing through cramped, oppressive levels that just scream 'middleware.' A game like Naughty Bear looks like every creation ever made from LEGO bricks. No matter how inventive and evocative the model is, you can still see the seams. You can see the lumps - and Naughty Bear has lumps aplenty.
You can see what they were aiming for here, too - the motion capture work is surprisingly good, and the psycho camera angles of the kill animations are truly gruesome. With more varied, distinct, and visually appealing levels, and a lot more polish, this game could've rivaled that skullduggery sim of antiquity: Spy vs Spy. And if you spend enough time in this horrid little world to figure out how it works, you may well be compelled to grind through a progressively maddening battery of special challenges.
Given enough due diligence, this game could've been a cross between Metal Gear Solid and The Club, as directed by a young Tim Burton. Yet it's condemned by its middling production values and haphazard, buggy implementation. Squint, and you can see its potential. As it stands, Naughty Bear is a missed opportunity - an ugly duckling that never grows up.