All that and a bag of space chips..
Xbox Game Pass has allowed several titles that I normally wouldn’t have given a second look to consume my time among the vast selection of games that release each month on several platforms. It’s by far my favorite service on the Xbox Platform, and in gaming in general, and has just recently allowed me to enjoy a wonderful little game called Void Bastards, a title that just commands attention. This space exploration roguelite dug its claws into me right from the start, all the way to its abrupt, but satisfying ending, offering one of my favorite experiences this year, and a title I expect to show up on my top ten of the year.
It’s not uncommon for a title that is procedurally generated to get on my nerves, for its offerings to become shallow and short lived. When procedurally generated content is done right, such as with the stellar pixel slasher, Dead Cells, the amount of variation added to that randomness can often create remarkable and unforgettable experiences. Void Bastards is another title that offers up such memorable moments with its dry humor and pleasing visuals. While much of your time will be docking with random ships across the Sargasso Nebula, looting for supplies and food, as well as a hefty collection of crafting supplies, you’ll encounter a wide range of enemies, environmental hazards, and other life threatening conditions that will keep you on your toes for dozens of hours. I was never once bored with Void Bastards despite how repetitive it can feel and I honestly believe it is because of how confident developer, Blue Manchu, was in its vision, and how the game understands what it is and never attempts to be anything it’s not.
Void Bastards is FPS roguelite from the development director of BioShock and System Shock 2, telling its story of using convicted prisoners to push through the Sargasso Nebula in search of supplies needed to make that one extra jump. You’ll leave the safe confines of your ship to explore derelict vessels in efforts to track down fuel, food, and crafting components needed to construct new weapons, gear, and items that will help you battle back the variety of enemy forces that stalk these abandoned spacecrafts.
At the start of your adventure, you’ll be assigned a random prisoner, one that may have a bad cough, one so loud it attract enemies, or even that of tunnel vision, obscuring much of your view. These traits, as well as the prisoner who has them, will reset upon death, but the components you’ve collected and crafted will remain. Your progress across the Nebula will reset; however, and you’ll have to start back at square one. The character that I’ve been alongside the longest; at least so far, had such a cough, making stealth fairly difficult, that is, until he became color blind and had me exploring ships in a black and white vision. You will, from time to time, encounter genetic markers, or on board machines that will change up these traits, so while you may have a character that screams when they find loot, you may end up swapping that trait with anything from having your character run really fast, to being unlucky and then destined to only pick up junk. It’s a very intriguing system that creates interesting situations and makes you really think about where to go and how to go about getting there.
Luckily, I’ve escape death more times than I can count, retreating back to my ship and refilling my health with many of the sandwiches I’ve discovered in my travels. It’s not just your health you’ll need to watch over tho, as Oxygen will slowly deplete overtime and should you encounter radiation, you’ll need to ensure you don’t soak up too much, or you’ll need to seek out solutions on the ship to address this. Upon death; however, your backpack will retain everything you’ve collected and retreat back to the ship, finding another prisoner to take your place. You are, in fact, very disposable, and the game never stops telling you this. This approach is incredibly charming and fits alongside its very British humor and the way its story cutscenes play out truly add to the experience, right through to its ending, which had me gasp, which was followed up with genuine laughter.
Nearly everything surrounding Void Bastards is random, such as the conditions and environments you’ll explore, trying to find more fuel, that one more crafting piece needed to construct that fancy new gun, or more sandwiches to jam into your face hole. Across the variety of ships you’ll creep around on, you’ll find piles of radioactive goo, electrical cables sparking, or maybe the power is out and you’ll need to make a quick trip to the generator room to address the current situation. Making a beeline for the helm is also a justified goal as interacting with the main terminal there will highlight items on the map that are of interest, as well as enemy locations, should you have the merits to spend. You’ll often find locked doors that take a short time to unlock, or specialty locked chests and locations that will need you to spend merits to access, a currency you’ll come across fairly frequently. If you’re lucky, you may find a ship that has an airlock, and upon luring enemies into it, allows you to bolt out of the chamber and launch them into space with nothing more than a smile on your face. You’ll also encounter turrets, which can become quite the pain in the ass until you unlock the ability to hack them, shutting them down as you continue to explore the ship. You can also access the security room and just turn them off altogether, if you lack the hacking talent.
When you are choosing your path on the overworld map, you’ll have to take into consideration the fuel costs, the rewards that exist on that particular ship, and the enemies that will lurk aboard them. You will usually have a few options to choose from, or even more should you have a warp token, speeding you across the galaxy multiple jumps at a time. Knowing what threats lurk aboard each vessel will dictate which 3 weapons you’ll take with you. Each slot allows a single weapon from a different category; Firearms. Indirects, and Devices. Firearms are your standard pew pew affair and have a wide range of abilities i’ll get into shortly. Indirect items are generally grenade-type weapons, and Devices consist of items you can set down and leave to deal with nearby forces, like a kitty bot that will self destruct when it has taken too much damage. You’ll encounter crafting components all over the Nebula that will assist in crafting these weapons and items and some of them border on the bizarre.
Weapons can be leveled up to be more effective at blasting enemies into space goo and you’re going to have a wide range of guns to take with you. You’ll start with the Regulator, a standard pistol that is good to bring with you when you have the more vulnerable foes nearby. The Stapler is sort of your standard shotgun, allowing you to take down heavier foes and it melts through turrets as well, making it a solid choice to bring with you. The Riveter does decent enough damage at a very fast fire rate, but you can burn through ammo far too quickly for it to be super effective early on. There are other weapons such as the Nebulator, which fires off a ball of nebula gas, or guns that fire off cluster bombs, or the Rifter, which allows you to pick up enemies and transport them to a new location, perfect for tucking them into the airlock for some quality alone time, or just keeping that threat inside the gun for the time being. There are a vast array of interesting weapons to discover and to find the perfect use for them.
Void Bastards has a wide range of baddies that get harder the further down into the depths of the Nebula you travel. You’ll start seeing enemies like the Janitor, a foe whose face will start glowing as they hover in the air. There’s the small mouthy Juve who makes tiny little “tap, tap” noises as they walk the halls of the ship, or the plump little Tourist who will explode if you get to close. There are big hulking enemies like the Screw, a foe that takes a ton of ammo to defeat, to the Spook who, with the Zapper, can be dealt with very quickly, preventing them from fading away and reappearing behind you. There are floating heads with the Patient, a shielded foe in the Zec, a threat I simply had to run away from, and the Pirates that can board your ship and dish out massive damage. There are several more enemy types to encounter, all with their own quirks and weaknesses.
Crafting is essential to not just pushing through the story missions, but for creating those new weapons and items to keep you alive. You can task the game to track certain items, making it easy enough to seek them out, or just roll the dice on a ship having exactly what you need. You can also spend merits on items at the vendor vessel that will appear at fixed locations on the map, just make sure to keep an eye out for pirates as they can be incredibly difficult to shake off and even worse so when they tether your ship and hunt you down. The crafting system is also based upon the junk you recycle at the end of each mission, collecting little bits of scrap like Volts, Biomass, and Data, and then using those parts and pieces to construct the items you’ll need to push forward. Crafting is very simple and easy enough to get the hang of, and some ships will list if they contain that particular crafting component or not.
Void Bastards is a very good looking game despite its cartoony simplicity. The cell shaded visuals are bordered in a way that feels like the game takes place in a comic book panel, as does each and every menu and cutscene as well. There are nice visual touches to the enemies as well as the game will pronounce the sound effects of certain enemies in bright white words that let you know what is on the other side of that door. It’s a wonderful visual touch that makes exploring that much more entertaining. Every aspect of Void Bastards visuals are top notch and give the game its own identity, despite cell shading being a fairly used graphical technique. Both your weapons and enemies are composed as flat 2D images that will rotate given your view upon them, much in the same way that Doom, all those years ago, used to handle their enemy threats.
To compliment the visuals, the audio is equally impressive as you’ll have enemies spouting off random insults and nonsense, all in a very British way, and this same accent is attributed to your ship’s AI, aboard the S.T.E.V. The music is catchy, not in a way where you’ll be humming it later, but it certainly picks up and has the energy to make you want to board one more vessel, despite it being 2 am and you should really get to bed. Where Void Bastards really succeeds on an audio level is in creating a sense of paranoia when you can hear certain enemies stomping about, especially the more menacing and tougher foes that can take a massive amount of ammo to put down, and those than can end your life in seconds.
Void Bastards has been a real treat, and a game I have really enjoyed playing. I can understand if people find it repetitive, that is a very valid criticism of the game, but one that hasn’t really affected me as much as games like this usually do. The shooting, controls, the running, the weapon switching is all very quick and intuitive, and allows the game to be just as enjoyable whether you’re simply exploring the ship in a stealthy manner, or going in guns blazing and tossing out Kitty-bots and Cluster Bombs in all directions, hoping to hear that satisfying sound of an enemy exploding. If you don’t have Xbox Game Pass, I strongly suggest trying it out and often you can sample a month at only $1, allowing you to access some truly amazing games. Void Bastards is a very fun game in the spirit of Bioshock and System Shock 2, and an experience that is very worthy of your time.
Void Bastards was downloaded via Game Pass by the reviewer and played on an Xbox One X.
All Screenshots were taken on an Xbox One X.