Void Bastards boasts an impressive amalgamation of gameplay and progression systems. Combined with its rogue-like core and fascinating graphics style, Void Bastards achieves the feat of being one of the stand-out indie titles of the year. I enjoyed my hours with Void Bastards, even if there was a little room for improvement on the story, and the level of variety offered.
Developed by Blu Manchu from the land down under, Void Bastards is an FPS/rogue-like strategy shooter where you play as the Void Bastards; a gang of miscreants and criminals whose previous convictions have seen them turned into powder, waiting for the need to be revived so that you can try and retrieve the parts needed to escape the Sargasso Nebula.
If you die – and you will die plenty facing ‘civilians’, automatic robotic defence systems, pirates and more – whilst exploring the derelict and slightly randomly-generated ships across the nebula, you will return to your ship, the void ark. It is here where you will be revived as a new void bastard, gearing to begin adventuring once more. Each bastard has their own benefits and cons – to a surprisingly varied degree, in fact – such as coughing unexpectedly or even just running faster. These DNA changes can also be found amongst different ships where you can risk swapping traits in the hope of learning a skill which suits your playstyle, with the possibility that you’ll lose one you love, for one which could cause your untimely death.
Sneaking through the ship by studying the map layout, and memorizing the locations of the key stations on the ship, is a strategy which can turn upside-down within seconds of opening the wrong door at the wrong time. This is a fact which I enjoyed, since I preferred to blast my way through a situation. Even more so because of the solid FPS mechanics Void Bastards has.
Alerting a nearby security bot will leave you with no choice but to blast through a ship so that you can find that much-needed upgrade required to either progress through the short but well-paced main questline, or to simply upgrade the equipment tree to make it easier to get that next vital upgrade.
With a few weapons and bombs to create, armour and health upgrades galore, and inventions allowing you to pass through ships much easier than before, the upgrade tree is a vital ingredient to the Void Bastards recipe. And it is also one which offers a great bundle of variety, giving you further options as to how to approach any and all situations. Furthermore, you can find scrap among the ships meaning you can bypass finding the required component specifically, crafting it from your workbench instead. It is a nice addition to what could’ve been a stressful gameplay system.
I found myself obsessing over the next upgrade I convinced myself I needed to progress deeper into the Sargasso Nebula. Entering the five layers of the Nebula brings harsher dangers the deeper you tread. But of course – with risk comes reward. That never-ending cycle of risk and reward is balanced beautifully to let you get away with suicidal missions every ten tries or so, but also welcomes you to grind your way to victory by upgrading your equipment tree to become, in a sense, overpowered.
Every decision you make must be made with thought and care if you want to stop yourself from dying more frequently than you would like. Moving your ship around requires tactics as you have to manage your food and fuel levels while avoiding void whales, pirates and more. Thankfully, you can find pockets of resources to help you along your space-trip. Although a good tip is to always expect the worst when looking for a route to your next objective.
This micro-management only furthers once you board a vessel, however. Managing your ammo levels and memorizing the different types of enemies and their weaknesses sees you choosing the most effective weapons on your trip through their ship, all in order to overcome their often difficult traits. Seeing what your objective is and using some of that common sense to figure out what part of the ship it could be in, attempting to find it as quickly as possible if you’re low on health and/or ammo, is vital to survival.
Oh, and you will also have to keep an eye on that oxygen level, so you don’t suffocate. And also don’t burn to death from the fires scattered around. Nor be fatally sick from radiation poisoning. And don’t forget to turn on the power first if the ship requires a reboot. And another thing, good luck if the lights are out or there are a few screws wandering the corridors.
All of this management may sound overwhelming, but trust me on this one; and this is coming from a guy who doesn’t particularly enjoy having to manage many systems at a time. However, due to the addictive gameplay loop, alongside small but substantial additions, the game never feels overwhelming nor unenjoyable. In fact, I found myself wanting to go back time and time again to progress that little bit further.
The humorous robot AI companion on your ship, voiced wonderfully by a passive sarcastic English accent, is one of the few things preventing the gameplay cycle from becoming too repetitive. These sarcastic undertones can be found in the lore of the game throughout, including the comic-book cutscenes between the main story beats. This helps liven up what may have been a slightly drab party otherwise. Though the main story is still extremely loose and unfulfilled, it does enough to keep the gameplay moving forward.
And, leaving the best until last perhaps, I haven’t even mentioned the spectacular art style Void Bastards boasts, with a combination of Borderlands cell-shading with a 2D X 3D enemy visual style which I’ve never come across in a video game before. Seeing a small studio achieve an innovative feat such as this is really extraordinary. Especially since it works well within the gameplay design.
Void Bastards is everything I want from an indie title. Excellent gameplay and level design, intelligent writing and lore-building, an innovative art style and an addictive gameplay loop to finish – the latter of which doesn’t get old quickly despite its rogue-like nature. I enjoyed Void Bastards very much, and even while the story isn’t really there, and the variety loses its flavour after a few hours, I would still highly recommend you give the bastards a shot.