Siblings From Other Mothers
HIGH The art style.
LOW Meeting Space Pirates.
WTF Those Markets are cartoonishly gross.
Void Bastards is the debut from development team Blue Manchu. The press kit mentions members of the team have affiliations withBioshock and System Shock 2, and I can see the influence in this cartoon-styled FPS via elements of emergent gameplay and a dystopian setting.
The story is presented in comic book panel format, and even its 3D sections look like a heavily-lined Moebius drawing come to life. The player is a ‘rehydrated’ convict, awakened by an AI that requires their assistance to get across the nebula as all the ‘citizens’ in this part of space have been contaminated and are now murder-focused. The tone is light, but takes a darkly ironic view of prisons, bureaucracy and corporations. For example, the reasons given for incarceration — things like driving in an official lane without permission, or shoplifting – hardly feel like reasons for being reduced to a cube and kept on a penal craft.
Once rehydrated and pressed into service, they will travel across a 2D star map dotted with derelict ships, going from one to the next in search of items that will build required systems, upgrades, ammo, food and fuel. It’s not required to stop and explore each ship on the map, but a move costs fuel and food, so there’s only so far a player can go before needing to dock with a vessel and resupplying.
Once a ship is boarded, Bastards goes into first-person perspective and the player, initially equipped with a pistol/shotgun, must explore. Each ship has set layouts of rooms (FTL rooms, generator rooms, etc.), but the loot and the enemies are all randomized. Also, none of the ships have breathable air, so the player is on an oxygen limit that can only be extended by finding a recharger on the ship they’re scavenging.
Void Bastards presents like it should be horror with deformed ‘citizens’ roaming the halls — and it does feel like that sometimes — but barks from the enemies range from ‘Not you again!’ to ‘Can I speak to the manager?’ make the interactions patently absurd. This feeling of being about to laugh despite the macabre is present throughout the campaign. The first mission is to get an ID card approved by HR, and then the camera pans to show that there’s a gaping hole in the ship where HR used to be.
Now comes the point where some are going to groan – there’s a roguelike element to Void Bastards.
The first rehydrated criminal can be permanently killed, and if they are, a different protagonist with random stats will be spawned. Any items and gear built will be carried over to the new character, but ammo, food, fuel and currency are lost. The supply of criminals is infinite and the punishment feels mild — Bastards seems more interested in when, and not if the player is going to finish the campaign. This random generation also allowed me to create mini-stories when elements clashed.
In one level there were a large number of “Screws” — hulking monsters that can absorb and deal a ton of damage, but as tough as they are, they can’t open locked doors. So, a run through one ship became like the ending of Alien 3 with me sealing off doors, slowly blocking their attempts to get me. The tension of turning a corner, getting spotted, and then making a sprint to seal the next door was gripping. When I got most of them funneled into a small room, I chucked cluster bombs in and then was free to explore the ship unthreatened.
Being able to tell stories like this and know that everyone else’s will be different is the best version of systemic game design — there are no curated sequences, but well-made titles like Void Bastards are full of potential. I was always looking forward to what would happen next, and each new ship brought surprising opportunities for horror and triumph.
Another thing I appreciated about Void Bastards is that unlike other roguelikes, it doesn’t present a final challenge that acts as a ‘gotcha’ where the rules of engagement change and force the player to toss out everything they’ve learned to beat it. Instead, it ends quite abruptly — some have even complained that it feels anticlimactic. For me, this was thematically appropriate given the attitude towards its world, and at 10-15 hours to complete, Bastards doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Void Bastards is sharp-looking, dryly ironic, and addictive. Anyone even remotely interested in systemic FPS games should play it.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Blue Manchu and published by Humble Bundle. It is currently available on PC, Mac and XBO.This copy of the game was obtained via Game Pass reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Violence, Blood, Strong Language, and Simulated Gambling. This is another game that earns its M rating. Although all the citizens bleed bright blue blood, there are plenty of macabre depictions throughout, like frozen bodies on sale in the Market and creepy profanity-laden barks from the citizens. Definitely not recommended for pre-teens.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are some visual cues given (footsteps, specific noises) but they’re not always indicative of where enemies actually are, and there are no visual indicators when enemies are talking or making other sounds. In such cases, it might take being shot at before the player knows that they are not alone. The text is not resizable.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.