The roguelike genre might be my least favorite genre in video games. The constant dying and replaying the game over and over would just infuriate me. The claim of procedurally generated levels so that “you never play the same level twice” just meant that I, in fact, would be playing the same level not just twice but 1000 times over. I really didn’t like them.
Before giving Void Bastards a shot I was convinced I would feel the same way. But much to my surprise I absolutely loved it. Developed by Blue Manchu, Void Bastards is an FPS rouge like that, in my opinion, is a perfect entry point to those like me who hated the genre.
In Void Bastards, you play as various prisoners who, after their transport ship gets stranded in space, must find a way to get the prison transport back online and back on track. Obviously, they are not doing this willingly; the snarky onboard A.I pretty much gives them no choice in the matter. So one by one, they travel to other spacecraft to collect components and material to eventually build what they need to fix their ship… or die trying.
The narrative never gets more complicated than its set up but that’s to be expected in these types of games, though I was surprised that there is an actual through-line to the story. It’s nothing complex but there are some funny interstitial cut scenes that help give the game some sort of structure and help usher you along. The writing is hysterical, specifically the enemies. They are always spouting out “sick burns” as you traverse the derelict ships and the onboard AI, B.A.C.S, is quick with the sass giving the game much welcome personality.
As a “client” (B.A.C.S’ name for prisoners) you will navigate the Sargasso Nebula, hopping from one abandoned ship to another in hopes to find what you need to move forward. But these clients are as expendable as paper straws and dying is expected. Every time you die you start a new run with a new client with his or her own attributes. One client might yell “woo hoo” every time they pick up loot and another might be immune to environmental hazards. It’s always different and almost always ridiculous.
Every mission is essentially the same. You are given a list of specific items to collect so you can upgrade your gear and build a key mission item. This might seem a little dull but the extremely addicting looting and crafting system makes the gameplay very exciting and rewarding. Yes, you are essentially doing the same thing over and over but it’s so much fun. You will be collecting all types of junk, from food and fuel to lint rollers and testicles (yes I’m serious) and once back on your ship you will break down these materials to create some insanely cool weaponry and gadgets.
Thankfully, every piece of crafting material, gadget, gun, and key mission item you create is saved for the next client once the previous client eventually dies. The only thing that doesn’t hold over is food, fuel and ammo. This helps alleviate the burn of starting over and helps keep your forward momentum. What’s great is when starting over, you can skip past as many spacecraft as you like until you find the one with what you need – that is if you have enough fuel and food.
Every single gadget and weapon is unique and has specific utility within each ship you board. The gunplay feels great and each weapon feels different. Eventually, you will upgrade each individual one making them stronger, quicker, and more reliable. Before boarding a ship, you are told what items and enemies you will find so you can plan your raid accordingly.
The random nature of each ship does an amazing job making you use your full arsenal of wacky inventions. I loved how the game makes sure you are using all the things you worked hard to get. You can never rely on one specific gun or gadget, fundamentally changing how you approach every situation. Enemies are abundant and while one gun works great with specific types of enemies it can be completely useless against another. Having a different variation of baddies on each spacecraft you explore further promotes experimentation and keeps the gameplay from getting stale.
There is even a strategy in how you navigate the ships themselves. Knowing when to lock and unlock doors can be used to your advantage. Often times you will be outnumbered, low on ammo and health, so simply locking an enemy in a room can assure survival.
The only real issue to the randomness of the actual design of each level gets redundant. Yes, the layout will be different but each themed ship will pretty much have the same rooms only mixed around. Later stages have different environmental hazards scattered around but the actual rooms you navigate are all the same. There are some new rooms you’ll eventually encounter but it’s not enough. This was a pretty big bummer for me. It made me wish that the devs created crafted each level individually instead of relying on procedural generation. Luckily everything so darn beautiful to look at its fairly forgivable.
This game is gorgeous. Every weapon, every gadget, and every enemy looks so flippin’ good. The comic book style is not really new to video games but I have never seen anything like this. Even the menus are fun to navigate because of how good everything looks. It’s extremely captivating and makes you wish the game was just a little bit bigger so there was more to explore.
When it comes down to it even the redundant level design can’t stop this game from shining. I’m so surprised by how much I loved Void Bastards. The gameplay loop of Live, Loot, Die, Repeat is addicting and the games clever way of saving progression never makes the game harder than you want it to be. Not only does the game look stunning but it’s got the solid gameplay to back it all up.
Void Bastards is a definite BUY! Hell I would even say buy it twice so we can ensure a sequel.