Void Bastards is a strange game: It’s chock full of charm, but also crammed with weirdness. It’s one of those games that takes the ideas from multiple games and mashes them together to create something that isn’t quite unique—but it’s so different, that it requires a sizeable chunk of genre familiarity to describe easily. It’s a first-person shooter with rogue-lite elements and an “overworld” that is reminiscent of FTL: Faster Than Light’s. If you ever wondered what it was like to be a boarding party in FTL, Void Bastards is as close as you can get.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Void Bastards is its comic book aesthetic. It goes beyond cel shading, with onomatopoeia being displayed on the screen when enemies are dispatched just like in the old Batman TV show.
In Void Bastards you play as any number of rehydrated criminals on a mission to fix the FTL drive on a ship controlled by an AI. To get these parts, you’re going to have to dive ever-deeper into the nebula while stealing various (and sometimes mundane sounding) supplies from other ships. These ships are full of various enemy types and other hazards, some of which require planning to tackle without a lot of problems. Problems usually mean death, or at the very least, loss of your precious HP.
Dying is something you should expect to do, and dying in Void Bastards is permanent. If your character dies, you lose that character and whatever perks (and disadvantages) that person had. But you don’t lose any of the progress you’ve made torwards item upgrades, or towards repairing the FTL drive.
In-between missions you, the ‘client,’ (the rehydrated avatar you use to raid various vessels) must eat. Also, your ship must have fuel. These two vital resources are what keep your craft moving forward from vessel to vessel. If you run out of food, you will begin to starve to death. If you run out of fuel, your only choice is to drift to the next location—something that takes significantly more time, and therefore more food.
Death means you have to return to your larger mother ship so another client can be rehydrated. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t lose any progress towards items you’ve built or the research you’ve done. Crafting is an integral part to the experience, and aside from the parts for your broken FTL, you will find lots of items you can use to build and upgrade your arsenal.
The weapons in Void Bastards range from your normal (or equivalency of normal) like the pistol, to the shotgun-like ‘stapler.’ There is also a grenade launcher, deployable distractions, and a gun that can “store” an enemy NPC or turret to be placed again later—like in fire, or somewhere you can’t be hurt by it. A weapon’s effectiveness is determined by its upgrades, but even with really good weapons, sometimes the shooting falls flat.
The shooting and movement in Void Bastards is okay, but it’s probably one of the more clunky aspects of the game, despite it being the main focus. It’s definitely serviceable, but if you’re used to tighter shooters, Void Bastards doesn’t quite feel great to play. Still, moving around the ships with their randomly generated layouts and enemy placements manages to be a fun, and tense, experience.
Stealth, at least in theory, seems to be an integral part of Void Bastards. I actually never spent much time sneaking around. Your oxygen supply is limited, sometimes giving you only a few minutes on each vessel, so I felt the time required to stealth just wasn’t there. Further, a lot of materials and other items can be quickly grabbed, and you can escape, with little to no combat. But that really depends on the situation you find yourself in. You are warned ahead of time what enemy types you can expect, but beyond that, you’re going in blind. When you do dock, you are given the entire layout of the vessel, but hazards, enemies, or other obstacles may make getting from point A to point B a tad difficult.
Each client has a set of quirks. Sometimes they’re helpful, allowing you to be able to throw grenades more quickly, or giving you the ability to fire your weapons in a tighter spread. These gene modifications are some of the most fun things, and they can be both extremely powerful, and really annoying. My ‘favorite’ of the annoying modifications was the one where my character yelled every time she picked up an object, making stealth impossible.
Void Bastards has an over-arching narrative that brings the whole thing together, and gives you the reason to do the things you’re doing. It’s amusing, and told in comic panels , matching the overall comic aesthetic, but the story doesn’t feel like it’s really important. Unfortunately, when the story ends, the game ends—and this happens rather abruptly, and in an unsatisfying way.
I really enjoyed Void Bastards. It has satisfying progression, a great art style, and a level of strangeness that makes it just the right amount of unsettling. It has a rather abrupt ending, and the shooting doesn’t feel the best, but I couldn’t stop myself from attempting that next derelict ship.
Void Bastards is available now on Steam, and Xbox One.
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