Gunplay could be more dynamic, but this is such a charming, motivational roguelite shooter that it doesn’t matter.
You can’t help but grimace when the developer Blue Manchu exaggerates the excesses of the prison industry in Void Bastards into the grotesque: Here, prisoners are kept in freeze-dried form, as usual. And when “necessary” you just tear an inmate bag up, pours the powdery residue into the ___pit of an escape capsule and then rehydrates it back into its human form with a scientifically certainly highly plausible liquid.
What is the “need”? Sure: a suicide mission to collect any collection items for bureaucrat robots on abandoned spaceships until you can earn your papers back at some point. It goes without saying that this does not end well for most of the “criminals” who are sent off almost without a word – their offenses range from “consuming too much oxygen” to “unauthorized running in buildings” and even more unsavory things.
Where should it go? You have one goal: How you get there is up to you.
But it doesn’t matter, because in such a restrictive society there is no shortage of instant inmates. Void Bastards paints a sarcastic, but never cynical picture of this future with its consistently drawn, dark comic aesthetic and, as if by the way, delivers a look that does not run the risk of being mistaken for anything else. Also very nice how the game generates its opponents from sprites, i.e. two-dimensional drawings that are scaled as you approach and that rotate in stages because the game switches between side and rear views when an enemy turns. It’s like playing the first Doom, just crisp. Above all, there is a lot of comic-like creativity in the designs of the passengers mutated by the Sargasso fog.
The only question is who you as a player actually control, which is a little blurred by the binary game cycle, which always alternates between the planning phase on a map and the action on board the supposedly abandoned space. Because of the permadeath of the current character, you throw yourself into the corridors of these monster-infested ships with just as much fear as verve, but you also choose where and which one is going on a map that is a bit reminiscent of the navigation through the solar systems in FTL Goals you want to pursue. That would be more the task of the AI, which so liberally unpowdered prisoners here. Is it important to know the answer to this?
Enemy and weapon designs are just as creative as the implementation of the comic book aesthetic
Basically not, because the prisoners are also rather loose collections of values under and next to a funny, crumpled prison photo, whenever you are in the menu between missions. However, they are not completely interchangeable, because they have randomly thrown perks and properties that could either be useful or a hindrance. The smoker, for example, coughs every now and then, which can be a hindrance in a game that, depending on your loadout and type of opponent, also and above all relies on stealth. For others, however, the doors open automatically where you would otherwise have to press a button. Some hack locked passageways or systems faster and others find a few shots of the scarce ammunition again and again as if by magic.
In any case, there are a ton of random elements to ensure that no run through a luxury liner, pirate frigate, or science ship plays out the same. Before you make your choice, the game tells you what to get there, who is in your way (and roughly how many of them) and also lets you know if there are any special features in the level. A power failure, for example, paralyzes security systems, but also prevents you from opening certain containers. In other missions there is a lot of slippery oil on the floor and on some ships there are more clouds of smoke than usual. It gets more creative too, but I’ll leave it up to you to figure that out.
The locator shows you on which ship the required components for the weapon or the gadget of your desire can be found. However, you will have to stop on the way, because fuel and food are used up with every jump.
Due to the weapons and tools that you carry with you, the situation on the spaceships and the composition of the crew, the game pleasantly often changes the rhythm that it goes. Above all, the scarcity of resources forces you again and again to really use everything that you have tinkered with the trinkets found in the last mission. Sometimes your favorite weapon just has no ammunition and you have to find new ones first, but you regularly notice the strengths and weaknesses of the other items in your gun cabinet. Depending on how well positioned you are, you will come up with a tactic. How do you manage to take down this particularly strong opponent without using up all of your ammunition and explosives? Is there an airlock through which you can maybe take him into space? Or do you still have enough credits to hack the turret so it can help you a little?
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And when you have what you wanted – a specific component for the next weapon upgrade, for example – you make your way back to the capsule to get away. The floor plans of the spaceships always remain the same, but obstacles, certain walls and other elements regularly “migrate” to other places and thus change how one approaches an environment. And then you die, for sure, because the game is designed so that this happens to you over and over again over the course of the 15-hour campaign. The good thing: just like in Dead Cells, you keep everything your predecessor made before. So you don’t start from scratch and maybe get one or the other nice perk (or get a penalty that will annoy you a little for the next few hours).
Some opponents already signaled through a door that they are there. Their characteristic noises are then displayed in comic script. ‘shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. “
Despite the many variables that come together here, Void Bastards is more of one that you take in for an hour or two in between, then take a break and continue the next day. For this it is basically perfect, like playing a System Shock reduced to its essential systems for in between. You sneak, loot and shoot your way through, at some point you take your legs in hand and are happy that you got away with your life. In addition, with the part in the luggage with which you can finally build the teleport cannon to bring enemies into, let’s say, health-challenging positions.
The fact that you rarely hold hour-long sessions with it is primarily due to the fact that the actual shooting – the “gunplay” – seems a bit stiff and antiquated. You always shoot from the hip, so you are no longer surprised at the huge, as if thrown out dispersion (like in a role-playing game when the accuracy value is low) and get annoyed now and then when the decisive, because last, shot goes wrong in the magazine. It’s not a new “Shock” after all, but to a certain extent an Action-RPG whose systems you are at the mercy of to a certain extent. I would wish that this aspect was more tangible and blessed with more depth, but also know that Void Bastards is not primarily about being a new Doom.
Download the plans on the bridge and all loot items will be drawn on the map, making it easier to plan your approach.
Nevertheless, I found Void Bastards in this form of bites to be extremely motivating and I was looking forward to every new short session. Mood, optics and humor are somewhat unique, the escalation of power thanks to the excellent crafting swiftly and uncompromisingly and using the tools is the kind of thieving and malicious fun that you can always feel in good titles of this kind. Sure, some of the weapons fall into the functional category, aiming and shooting are in themselves rather trivial in their feel. But the way Blue Manchu boils down the formula of “Shock” games to a fast rogue format is impressive.
Void Bastards is included in Xbox Game Pass this month, as is the kneeling Outer Wilds. If you subscribe to, you have no excuse not to give this cool mix of BioShock and Dead Cells a chance. Even if it does not soar to the same level as its role models, this generator is admirably peculiar to strategies that are first prepared, then stumbled and finally re-improvised.
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