If space is considered infinite, then what better place to put a bunch of prisoners? That is the question Void Bastards asks and does by having a prisoner ship float out in space with a bunch of prisoners on board. But what happens if the prisoner ship loses its way and is too damaged to get back home? That answer requires a roulette wheel, a testicle, and a whole lot of guns. This is Void Bastards, and it’s time to go shoot and loot in space.
In a future where people can be brought down to a powder and pretty much anything can net you serious prison time, a prisoner vessel gets stuck out in space and is badly damaged. Unfortunately, nobody cares about it, so it is up to the AI system on board to “rehydrate” prisoners to get the ship moving and rebuild essential components to bring the ship back to base.
While there isn’t really much of a story here (it’s pretty much about finding parts and moving on to find more parts), I found everything around it to be great. B.A.C.S., the AI on board who is voiced by Kevan Brighting of Stanley Parable fame, is hilarious as a robot who is trying to be helpful in meaningless ways. Also, any story bits are presented in a comic book format, which looks incredible. This isn’t really a story game, but what is around the edges is still great.
Void Bastards is a gameplay game, and the gameplay here is a lot of fun. The game consists of jumping from ship-to-ship in a randomized map, and gameplay within the ship turns into a first-person rogue-lite. The goal is to loot ships for parts or materials to build parts so you can build weapon upgrades or the main quest item. Despite that simplicity, the game stays engaging throughout because there is always something to work towards.
The one thing that has kept me away from rogue-lites until recently is a lack of progression. Fortunately, recent titles like Dead Cells and RICO have a reason to go back, and this game is no different. in Void Bastards, all upgrades are kept between death. What does change, however, is also worth noting. Each death brings a new character, and each character has his or her own random traits. I had one character who started off with the ability to automatically pick up items, but was colorblind, making the whole game black and white. I also had another character who is a regular smoker, so he would occasionally cough and alert enemies to my presence. The different character traits that affect your character are really neat to see happen in-game, and it was almost tempting to die over and over just to see the different character traits. Similar to all of this are the different ships you come across, with randomized layouts, enemies, and traits. One minute, I could be on a ship with only one enemy type, but that enemy is considered ally, making my trek through the level a breeze, and the next I could be dealing with three different enemy types and enough hazards to put an abandoned house to shame. The random generation of the game is where I want it to be, and the ways it affects the gameplay are fun to see.
To prepare and conquer the dangerous journey ahead, Void Bastards gives multiple options as to how you want to tackle things. Before you enter a level, the game gives you information as to who you are going to bump into, which is where the weapons come in. The weapons in this game range from a basic pistol to a zapper that stuns enemies to even a weapon that can store and teleport an enemy. This comes in handy with the different enemy types, because each one has a different weakness, and planning my loadout to the different enemy types is an extra layer of strategy I wasn’t expecting. What’s also nice about this game is that the option to not even board the ship is also available. Every time you travel from ship-to-ship, you consume one food and one fuel, and so long as you have a supply of those two things, you’re fine. This came especially in handy later on when I had a stockpile of food and fuel, but only needed a few parts left, so I could just keep hopping from ship-to-ship until I got to the one I wanted. Options like these also exist within the ship gameplay as well, as enemies can be encountered in multiple ways. For example, gun turrets can be destroyed, temporarily stunned with a zapper, or even hacked and turned friendly. Void Bastards offers a level of strategy and option I wasn’t expecting out of the game like this, but it is definitely a welcoming addition to the game.
While the combat in this game is varied and fun, it isn’t without its flaws. The weirdest and most frustrating issue I came across with combat is how bullets tend to curve towards you. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like I take an unnatural amount of damage. This becomes less of an issue as the game goes on because of how much health there is to pick up, but it is still annoying to see my health chunk so often. The one other issue I had with combat are pirates, which are ships out looking to kill you. If they do end up on the same ship as you, then say goodbye to your character as for they are incredibly annoying to deal with. Fortunately, I only encountered them once and made an effort to avoid them like the plague after that, but my one time with them involved backing me into a corner and killing me within seconds. They are a terrible foe to deal with, and I hope they are fixed soon.
One last thing before wrapping up is something I couldn’t forget to mention: the art style. The game, both in cutscenes and in gameplay, looks exactly like a comic book. Whether it is the main menu screen with the comic book issue at the top, the comic panel format to the cutscenes, or even the little chat bubble that pops up for interactions, Void Bastards nails the comic book art style. On top of that, I like the color palette, with it looking like the colors used for a 60s or 70s space comic book. A comic book art style can be hit-and-miss for games, but I think Void Bastards nails it.
In conclusion, I think Void Bastards is a solid first-person rogue-lite. While the game does fall into the trappings of a rogue-lite, its fun combat, quirky humor, and art style holds it up. I would recommend this game to anyone looking to fill a whole Bioshock left, or to someone looking for a smart shooter.