Learning a game’s flow, or systems, often takes time. Where in the process initial confusion or a lack of understanding slowly blossoms into a full-fledged love affair. A statement that is true of developer Blue Manchu’s Void Bastards, which in a burst of buzzword-y descriptiveness is like a cross between the sci-fi survival of FTL and rogue light progression of Rogue Legacy. Filtered through the very dry and absurdist sensibility of Monty Python, with a visual look and feel that is very much like a comic book come to life.
The learning part doesn’t take long at all in Void Bastards, and the joy of discovery is a feeling that crops up at regular intervals throughout your journey to escape the bizarre corporate controlled and mutant infested Sargasso Nebula. Survival is key, with success and progression tied to finding the right parts and material to craft the tools you need to escape the game’s futuristic satirical depiction of bureaucracy gone wrong.
As one of many convicts searching for freedom, Void Bastards wonderfully blends first-person exploration, shooting, and collection of materials and parts with the element of survival. Enemies are built on real-world archetypes crossed with glowing blue space mutants and are almost always a joy to discover. From the adolescent Juvies that yell out obscenities to the hulking Screws that represent the heaviest and deadliest of guards. And we say almost because boarding a ship with a “shedload” of Spooks can go from quiet to overwhelming in a matter of seconds.
"Survival is key, with success and progression tied to finding the right parts and material to craft the tools you need to escape the game’s futuristic satirical depiction of bureaucracy gone wrong."
The citizens of the Sargasso Nebula are memorable in both appearance and behaviour, and this extends to the ships you board, which represent various corporations and purposes. Cruise ships full of loot tucked away in hotel suites, military vessels with torpedos you’ll need in order to fend off pirate attacks, and cargo ships with holds containing large containers full of hard to source materials. Which can then be used to create new weapons, equipment, or a printer you need to create a Citizen Card.
Death in Void Bastards isn’t a problem either, as you’ll retain all previously upgraded parts and materials and are simply sent back into the nebula with a new inmate ready to conquer a new randomly generated star map. Of course, if you died whilst trying to reach the airlock on a vessel carrying the sought after and hard-to-find Water Based Lube you’ve got no choice but to dry dog it from ship to ship in search of more.
It’s a setup that is simple yet effective in encouraging another go. By getting a readout as to what types of loot and enemies are found on each ship you can plan routes or even choose to avoid the more challenging stuff as you accumulate materials from easy to manage Tourists. Which are glowing entities that float around wearing fedoras that explode as soon as you draw near.
Void Bastards can be difficult though, and the random nature of the star map and what genetic mutations your new inmate might carry, like say being a heavy breather – so less oxygen/time aboard each vessel to explore - can make the initial few hours quite challenging. But, as there’s no end to the supply of inmates you’re given - with enough time your pistol and health will become several magnitudes better than what they were initially. Plus, managing food and fuel, the resources used to traverse the star map in search of the right vessel to board, will rarely become a huge burden.
"Death in Void Bastards isn’t a problem either, as you’ll retain all previously upgraded parts and materials and are simply sent back into the nebula with a new inmate ready to conquer a new randomly generated star map."
In the end Void Bastards succeeds mainly because it doesn’t feel like a slog or grind or padded rogue light. Where the difficulty outweighs the reward and the upgrades you discover over several hours moving you forward just an inch. Weapons in Void Bastards have a great feel, grow more powerful over time, and are inventive to boot. Kittybots not only attract attention like a metallic car alarm with whiskers, but they also explode in an array of grenades once destroyed. Certain weapons are better against certain enemies, and being limited to what you can carry alongside having to source ammunition often leads to some great moments where all you might have to clear out a ship full of high-level Janitors is a pack full of Kittytbots and a few proximity mines.
In this sense the first-person side of Void Bastards is solid, fun, and genuinely rewarding. The combat mechanics not only facilitate a wide range of playstyles, but you’ll begin to employ new tactics the more you understand the world, the enemies, and just how everything works. Whether you’re being stealthy or outright flamboyant in your pursuits of slag and biomass and plaz, Void Bastards offers up a fresh and engaging take on the first-person rogue light in a package that has the gameplay to match its vibrant art style.