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Void Bastards

Void Bastards

Blue Manchu Games' uniquely designed action game impresses with its design but falls flat on other fronts.

  • A. R. TeschnerA. R. Teschner

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Void Bastards is a first-person science fiction shooter set in the Sargasso Nebula; a messed up corner of space that mutates those trapped within. As successive hapless, reconstituted clients (read: prisoners) you have to hop from ship to ship, scavenging for food, fuel, parts, and ammunition, all the while avoiding radioactivity, automated sentries, and a bevvy of angry mutants. Void Bastards has plenty of random elements all colliding together, and it's up to the player to carve out a small strip of order to get to the end. Feels a lot like writing conflicted game reviews.

The first thing most notice about a game is how it looks and Void Bastards is beautiful. Comparisons to Borderlands feel unfair because Void Bastards' lines are clean; the cartoony halls of the spaceships you plunder are crisp even when you're stepping over toxic spills, trash, and the glowing splatter of mutant entrails. Characters (well, hostiles) are sprites, not 3D models, and it works great, allowing for clear detail that you can't always get with polygons. The threadbare story is told as a literal pulpy comic book in the same art style, whether setting up the story, telling you that you have to get more stuff, or in the navigation and crafting menus in between raids. There's also a clever, comic book-style way to know what might be in the next room because many sounds are verbalised in floating text, and we wish this was used for all the sound effects in the game as it made for an interesting way to experience audio cues.

Each ship is a network of modules, with different classes containing different modules. Various corporations organise the modules in different ways, with randomised hazards (oil spills, radiation, fires, smoke), defence turrets, security cameras that activate roving robots, and mutant enemies and the condition they're in. Naturally, there's also loot hidden in powered containers (if the ship is unpowered you'll have to find the generator room and switch things on), with loose items scattered about, sparkling like vampires.

Void Bastards

Player characters have a bit of random too; each time you die you get a small "care package" of randomised ammunition that applies to whatever weapons you have as well as other things you've unlocked, and the characters themselves have positive or negative traits that affect how you'll play, from stature changes and map assists to tunnel vision and the compulsion to shout "yahoo!" every time you pick up an item. On gene therapy ships these traits can be adjusted or eliminated; on medical ships you can heal (which otherwise only happens when you eat in between raids); on luxury liners there is plenty of food; on ships with helms you can get a map of all items in containers, including "parts" which are needed to build upgrades and plot-relevant items; and ships with engines will have fuel. There are plenty of ship modules to figure out, and the game does a good job of giving you a growing awareness of these systems and what you're going to find, and what to ransack before you're blasted to death or your oxygen runs out. It's important to emphasise just how novel it is to have a randomised game still have discrete logical places to find things, which makes map strategies one of the game's strengths.

As you build more equipment you'll get a gun that captures and teleports creatures, silent radiation guns that spread debilitating poisonous molecules between targets, robotic decoy kittens that explode when they expire, and an arm-mounted deflection shield, among others. The weapon variety is quite nice, and the need to hunt for certain modules to increase the chance for needed types of ammunition or materials helps you to feel clever when planning where to go next. Not all of the weapons feel equally useful, though, and some enemies necessitate so specific a set of tactics that a long string of ship visits may leave some weapons unused and ammo supplies for others exhausted.

Void BastardsVoid Bastards
Void Bastards