Void Bastards is a strategy FPS that mixes FTL: Faster than Light with System Shock 2. Armed with a self-aware backpack, players will guide convicts through a massive ship graveyard in the Sargasso Nebula in hopes escaping the area. To make it out, players will need to plunder ships for food, fuel, and supplies while dodging increasingly difficult monsters.
Void Bastards is well written. The nature of rogue-lite games means Void Bastards isn’t packed with story, but it still manages to be incredibly funny. The endless fetch quest the player is sent on is silly and a bit ridiculous, but it’s a good ride. The humour can be pretty dry and sarcastic, but the game had me laughing out loud more than once.
Void Bastards is a two-phase game. The star map will be familiar to fans of FTL: Faster than Light. Players must hop between nodes by using up fuel and food for the jump. Players must plan their journey in order to keep food, fuel, and health topped up, all while dodging hostiles like space pirates. The ship graveyard is filled with different types of ships which influence the loot available. Players will get a chance to preview the enemy composition, loot, and level modifiers before docking, allowing players to decide if the loot is worth the risk.
Once the decision is made to board, the game switches to an FPS. Players can only take a limited number of weapons and equipment with them. Ammunition is usually in short enough supply that firing aimlessly or engaging challenging enemies will put players in a tight spot. The gun handling is old school, with no aim down sights and generally little penalty for shooting and moving. Void Bastards is not just a run and gun game. Players will still need to rely on stealth and trickery to deal with more difficult enemies as health buffs are extremely limited. To recover lost health, players must either consume food in the Star Map to regain a small amount of health or raid medical ships.
There is still a strong strategic element to the FPS section of the game. The levels themselves will pose their own challenges, such as all doors being locked or the power being out. There is limited oxygen, so players are constantly under a time pressure. There will also be enemies who will always be stronger than the player or can just outright swarm the player to death. Players will constantly have to make decisions on how to tackle the level or just outright abandon the level all together to survive.
The crafting system is simple. Items and upgrades are crafted from parts salvaged from ships. At a certain point in the game, players will unlock the ability to craft previously discovered parts with recycled materials and locate missing parts on the Star Map. The crafting tree is complex enough to keep players busy, but mechanically simple enough that it doesn’t become a constant worry when exploring ships.
As a rogue-lite, death is semi-permanent. The death of a player will mean the loss of the current convict and their genetic traits, fuel, and food. Players will retain their crafting materials and all equipment they’ve previously crafted. As players progress through the tech tree, earlier parts of the nebula become easier, giving less skilled players a chance to progress.
Void Bastards’ gameplay is an absolute joy. It strikes the right balance of old school charm and modern sensibilities. There is rarely a comfortable moment in the game between supply management and the threat of enemies. The limited amount of weapon and equipment players are able to take into a level really ratchets up the tension. Making do with what little the game gives the player is a really satisfying feeling though.
Void Bastards does have some small quality of life issues that could be ironed out. The suicide bombing Tourists have a much larger explosion radius than their animation suggests. The Star Map view is also rather tight, and there is no way to scroll around. It can make long term planning a bit difficult, but I suspect this was a mechanical decision. Finally, while the controls are very simple, the game is missing the option to hold to crouch.
Void Bastards brings retro comic books to life with its flat shades, strong black outlines, and animated comic panels. The retro style helps channel memories of the System Shock. In game, the artists have done a good job creating some variety by having distinct visual styles for each type of ship. The enemy design offers a variety of weird aliens and mutants, though each enemy type has only one model.
The audio experience in Void Bastards is solid. The soundtrack serves as an enjoyable accompaniment to the game. The sound effects fit well with Void Bastard’s retro comic book style. There isn’t a ton of voice acting, but the acting is good. My only complaint is that enemies have a small pool of lines and those lines are used quite aggressively, resulting in the same few lines being repeated to death.
Void Bastards is a fantastic nod to two of gaming’s greats, FTL: Faster than Light and the System Shock series. Blue Manchu have combined the two into something worthy of recognition on its own right. Void Bastards is a tense game, easily swinging from carefully sneaking around hulking enemies to frantic dashes for survival. The game feels a lot more cerebral than most FPS titles that have come out in the past few years. While there are a few minor quality of life issues that could be addressed, Void Bastards is still one of the must play titles of 2019.
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