After a dozen hours spent playing Void Bastards, and a bit of research into the developers Blue Manchu, I’m starting to think former Irrational Games staff simply wanted to make survival-focussed roguelikes, rather than the linear and narrative-heavy System Shock and Bioshock games. This is yet another game from a team of former developers that is similar in design to The Flame in the Flood and City of Brass, which ditches the narrative for complex, roguelike gameplay. The end result is mechanically satisfying, even if their choice of environments is ultimately self-limiting and repetition creeps in before the end-game.
In Void Bastards, you play as a rehydrated C.L.I.E.N.T. (petty criminals are apparently deconstructed into powder for long-term storage in the future!), instructed by an obnoxious and very British AI to recover components to fix your “ARK” ship, to escape a deadly nebula, full of decrepit ships, space stations, and foul-mouthed, cockney space-pirates. The writing, item descriptions, enemy design, and animated comic book style cutscenes are always entertaining, but that’s where the narrative begins and ends. You’re initially told to scavenge several items to repair a component of the ARK, after which you get a short cutscene and are given yet another component hunt - repeat until you finish the run.
Welcome to a future ruled by corporations and dodgy contractual obligations! Each ship has a distinct design, some unique rooms, and higher chance of specific crafting material.
Thankfully the gameplay, which consists of two interwoven components, is engaging, fun, and designed to keep you coming back for just one more excursion. The first component is an overview of the nebula nebula itself, through which you guide your ship along branching paths, deciding whether to board ships or move swiftly past (there’s no going backwards). From this screen, you'll also craft mission-specific items and gear upgrades. Limited food and fuel supplies, along with the need to hunt for components and crafting materials, will keep you contemplating the risk-reward mechanics: the deeper you go into the nebula – something each plot-specific upgrade will push you towards – the deadlier your foes and environments, but also the more rewarding the supply stashes.
You'll spend a lot of time on the crafting screen, upgrading your weapons and gear (which carry over between deaths) and using the "locate" function to identify vessels for boarding.
Once you board a vessel and select your loadout (there’s a primary, secondary, and utility slot), you'll find yourself in an airlock, from the first-person view, weapon bobbing around in front of you. At this point, the game plays primarily as an FPS, albeit one that encourages some creative thinking and intelligent use of the environment to avoid or aid in combat. While not boasting an extensive roster of enemies, Void Bastards pairs several types in each vessel, along with security systems, to keep you on your toes. Each enemy is based on a British stereotype - like the foul-mouthed Juve or needy NHS patient. There’s also no shortage of environmental hazards, and your slowly decreasing oxygen supply (that is, mercifully, rarely an issue until you reach the deepest part of the nebula).
...the gameplay, which consists of two interwoven components, is engaging, fun, and designed to keep you coming back for just one more excursion.
For those worried about the difficulty, Void Bastards has no real “fail state” and offers plenty of flexibility.
Enjoys games with awesome stories and characters, along with new and interesting hardware. Dislikes day-one patches and driver updates.
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PC, Xbox One
29 May 2019
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