Blue Manchu's Void Bastards was perhaps the most notable announcement coming out of Microsoft's X018 event in Mexico City, and with its striking visuals and neat gameplay concept, it's easy to see why there's interest. A cel-shaded tactical shooter that draws inspiration from the likes of System Shock 2 and Bioshock, while offering a roguelike game structure where you jump from one spacecraft to the next trying to find materials and advance deeper into space.
"Void Bastards is an immersive sim and a first-person shooter combined into one experience, so you're always balancing the strategy of your own decisions and your own goals that you come up with yourself, like 'what do I wanna do next, how am I gonna achieve it?'," art director Ben Lee told us when we caught up with him during GDC. "You're always figuring that out for yourself in this nebula that you're trapped in in the story, and the goal is to escape this nebula by building enough tools and equipment to equip yourself to devise a way out of this nebula."
One thing that's important to note with Void Bastards is that it's not really a game where you need to loot indiscriminately and amass tons of crafting materials, instead you should focus on getting the materials you need for that weapon you want to craft. Maybe you only really need one thing on a ship, sneak in and get in, perhaps even without alerting a single enemy, and you've completed your mission. What ship to board is an informed decision based on what you'll find there. That said, it supports multiple playstyles so if you're the kind of player who really wants to be thorough and go through every room on every ship you board, you can, but you really don't have to.
Since crafting weapons is a big part of your motivation here, you're best advised to first figure out what weapons and equipment you want to build and use for this particular run, then make your way to the loot you need. Or perhaps even better, figure out your tactics based on what materials are easy to get to first.
We've mentioned System Shock 2 and Bioshock already, but perhaps we should be clear that this isn't a narrative-heavy game like said "Shocks". Instead, Void Bastards is inspired by the gameplay mix those titles offer, the choices the player is afforded and the minute to minute tactical action. There are plenty of traps, alarms, and environmental dangers to consider, along with the actual enemies. The first thing we were told by the developer as we sat down to play was that pausing the game is a viable, if not necessary tactic, as it gives you a bit of breathing room and you can make sure you know how to tackle the threat in front of you, plan out what room to head to next (or escape to), or perhaps plot the quickest route to the escape hatch.
The cartoon stylings of Void Bastards drew us in immediately, and there's nice visual feedback for hits, and things like spawn points are important to pay attention to (basically it's a small portal on the floor where enemies can pop up at any point). The gunplay felt good, but more so than pumping bullets into enemies Void Bastards is all about conserving your ammunition and making use of the environment and specific tools like the Rifter (that shifts the enemy to a different dimension and you can then return them wherever you want to place them) to make sure enemies are dealt with swiftly and efficiently.