Void Bastards Review: Rewarding Wit and Experimentation
Void Bastards is all about experimentation.
Playing as one of a group of prisoners stranded in outer space, you're looking for a way to escape the Sargasso Nebula with some interesting help: friendly robots, tons of recyclable trash, and, of course, wit.
Void Bastards encourages you to craft and manage resources as you explore different space facilities, always by letting you run the show, choosing your next destinations and thinking ahead.
Publisher Blue Manchu doesn’t call the game a roguelite but rather a “strategy shooter." However, it certainly has a foundation set in the former.
You start with a randomly selected character that carries either positive or negative traits, which range from having the chance to save an ammo clip once in a while to a cough from your days as smoker that can alert enemies.
In each playthrough, you’re free to select which space stations you want to visit, following a path that will slowly get you closer to the main item that you need. The story is rather secondary in Void Bastards, and mostly tasks you with finding and retrieving certain objects needed to craft something.
The core of the experience is focused on how you want to overcome such tasks. There are many variables in each of these space stations, along with random events, that can shake things up if you’re not careful.
Some might have tons of food or fuel but fire is also in pretty much every corner. Other stations are plagued by portals, so you can expect to see more enemies than usual. All crucial details are always outlined before jumping in, such as exactly what type of enemies you can expect and the number, ironically expressed as “few” or “many." But sometimes the game will play you, and you’ll end up going in blind.
You don’t have to actually visit each destination that you select, though. But each jump requires a can of fuel, and your space bastard also needs to grab a bite during the trip. Resource management is key, even though you can just start over with a new character and carry all of the unlocked blueprints and weapons you obtained so far during that run.
After selecting your destiny and your loadout (usually primary weapon, secondary weapon, and a third tool) you’ll be good to go. A facility's entire map will be displayed, which can be accessed at any time, but you’ll have to rely on your minimap or your surroundings to know exactly where loot is.
The main goal remains the same in each situation: retrieve the key items in the station, and all the resources you can gather in the meantime before your oxygen runs out, or some baddie ends with your life.
There are concurrent rooms that you should always check out first, along with different things to experiment with. Some will let you deactivate turrets and security cameras (the latter called “peppers”) for a couple of seconds, while others will display exactly where loot is for each room. Throw in a few merit points, too, and you’ll be able to see enemies’ locations as well.
But how does it play, exactly?
It’s a shooter alright, and a quite decent one thanks to the absurd weaponry at your disposal. You start with the usual, such as proximity bombs or a trusty ol’ pistol, but spend some time at the crafting table and you’ll be drifting enemies into locked rooms or commanding bombs in the shape of kitties that not only distract foes but also explode when they’re destroyed.
There truly is a lot to play around with, and pretty much everything can be further upgraded. As you’ve probably guessed by now, crafting is key to survival in the game, and the one thing that will keep you coming back to it.
In one of my many ventures, I remember looking at the map, trying to figure out the best way to retrieve those three fuel cans at the other side of the station. There were Janitors roaming around, floating enemies that will shoot you on sight, but I also had to deal with a new type I hadn’t seen before: the Spook.
These bastards are dressed like old-school detectives (yes, even with the fedora) and will disappear in thin air when they find you, only to reappear on your backside for a surprise attack. They can be easy to defeat in one-on-one battles, but when there are several of them, it turns into a hide and seek bloodbath.
I got what I wanted, but now I had to make a run for it. I barely had ammo left and my oxygen was about run out. There was a room in the station that could provide me with a few more minutes of air, but detouring from the main route wasn’t the best option. Once the Spooks started to follow my lead, I started using what are probably one of my favorite tools in the game: doors.
If you’re lucky, the layouts of rooms will be in your favor, and if you time things right, you can lock enemies and block their paths. So I used the robotic kitties to distract them, and immediately locked the doors. Made a run for it, and managed to escape out alive.
Void Bastards rewards improvisation, regardless of how exhilarating it might be.
That was just one of many situations I went through, and while reduced in scope, there are things to keep in mind as you use the map as well, such as gigantic whales and space fleets of Scottish pirates. Yes, it’s an odd game, but a very stylish one in that regard, packing a comic-book style that goes from the humor to how to UI is designed. And it works perfectly.
- Rewarding and entertaining loop
- Outstanding art style
- Room for experimentation
- Interesting weapons and tools
- There isn't a clear atmosphere
- It could be benefited with a stronger story
Void Bastards has an engaging gameplay loop, an art style that really nails the comic book feel, and tons of toys for your to craft and mess around in horrifying space stations. But even though it carries the influence of games like Bioshock and System Shock 2 in its development, there isn't a clear atmosphere attached to the game.
You'll find humor, crafting, and cool weapons. You even get to explore different stations that carry their own challenges and rewards. But it's mostly tied to how you get from Point A to Point B to retrieve the item you need, along with resources to not starve to death on your way to the next destination.
If you're just looking for a new roguelite, though, Void Bastards is certainly worth checking out.
[Note: A copy of Voidbastards was provided by Blue Manchu for the purpose of this review.]