Void Bastards is both visually striking and incredibly funny. From the moment you start it, you know precisely the type of ride you’re in for. Any game that includes a Distended Testicle as a crafting item is sure to be a winner. But while Void Bastards hits the right notes with its visuals, combat and humor, it does falter in a few areas.
The unavoidable comparison
From the creative minds at Blue Manchu (including the development lead of BioShock and System Shock 2) Void Bastards introduces the player to the Sargasso Nebula as they take control of a newly rehydrated client (read: convict).
The main goal of this experience is to flee the Sargasso Nebula with the help of B.A.C.S., the friendly British artificial intelligence. This always chipper chap will reward you with care packages on a job well done and gently remind you not to worry if you perish because another “client” will replace you to finish the work.
B.A.C.S. is truly the hero of the game, and a testament to Cara Ellison’s writing. Every retort or comment made by B.A.C.S. has this underlying gallows’ humor that cuts through the tension of surviving in the nebula. Every minor inconvenience, such as the Human Resource computer blowing up, is narrated with such aloof matter-of-factness which makes each situation far more comedic.
While the story itself is rather light, it’s the dialogue, enemy personalities, and the environmental storytelling that brings this whole world to life. Each ship is themed for a specific job, like the XONNOX ship that specializes in surgery and where citizens can presumably purchase something called a “party pack” of “jumbo testicles”. Or there are the prison ships, where a helpful daily schedule is listed, starting with a continental breakfast before moving onto “blunt force therapy”.
Even the crafting items and materials had me laughing. As mentioned in the introduction, Distended Testicles are a hot commodity in crafting new gear, as is Body Fluid, Surgery 4 Dummies, Form T82B, and many more.
To get these items, you either need to find them in a ship or craft them using materials. These materials are collected by recycling any junk you find while exploring a vessel. Foons (sporks), Scribbers (pens), Floppy Cubes (floppy disk-like cubes), are just a few of the oddly-named items you’ll be collecting as you travel from ship to ship.
Each ship is randomly generated, including the layout of the rooms, enemies within, and any special effects. This means you must prepare for each ship by deciding what weapons and gear to take aboard. And with only three item slots, you will need to choose carefully.
Get these aliens off my ship
The main gameplay loop of Void Bastards is easy to grasp. You will be docking with ships to scavenge for supplies so you can either craft new gear, upgrades, or complete the action items that progress the story. But exploring these ships is dangerous work.
Any ship you’re on will likely have nebula-warped citizens, like the cluster of floating head Patients, the shield-wielding Zecs, or the cloaking Spooks. There are two primary ways of dealing with these threats, by sneaking around and remaining silent or using your weapons and gear to kill everything.
The combat is snappy and varied, rewarding players who mix up strategies and tactics. The various enemy types require you to use different tools and attack them in different ways, which can be a challenge when numerous types are found on a ship. Taking out a group of Patients is easier with the Riveter but that weapon isn’t so great at killing the hulking Screws.
Being able to see what enemies and loot awaits you on the ship is part of the pre-planning phase. It’s a clear edge that lets you tailor your loadout to best suit your needs. However, with only three available slots across weapons, indirect equipment, and devices, picking the right loadout for the job is tough – at first.
The Roguelite Problem
See, one of the problems Void Bastards faces with its early game is the difficulty. With limited ammo, no weapons unlocked or upgrades, and little resources, death is a frequent occurrence. But as you progress through the game, inching upwards in power, you will be unlocking weapons and finding a preferred loadout.
By the mid- to late-game, I had already created a preferred loadout for most situations, provided I had the ammunition. Even if I did die and a new client was rehydrated, I had all the upgrades I had previously unlocked. I was becoming nigh unstoppable. Void Bastards falls for the classic roguelite problem of not quite maintaining the difficulty to match the player’s progress.
Part of this problem is solved through the different levels of the nebula. The deeper you go, the tougher the enemies and the better the loot. In saying this, even in the late-game very little poses a real threat. This design shines brightest in the mid-game, where you’re still finding your space-legs. You must juggle the decision of whether to push deeper to claim a crafting part for free from a ship or stay in the low-level areas to farm for materials so you can make said part yourself.
No matter the decision you make, the amount of gear and weapons you can craft is almost overwhelmingly varied. There are 15 weapons and attack-type items to craft, each with various upgrades to improve damage and reload speed. There are also a dozen character improvements, such as a device that can bring your client back to life, devices to help you locate parts and fuel, as well as items to help you hack robots and open doors faster. It’s a great system that ensures you always have a new weapon upgrade or perk to unlock.
Best Art Style of 2019
You can’t very well play Void Bastards without falling wildly in love with its art style. Much like how Cuphead and Sea of Thieves were undeniably the best art styles of 2017 and 2018 respectively, Void Bastards has set a very high bar for 2019.
The art direction is unlike anything released in recent years. While you would be forgiven for thinking it was cel-shaded, it’s actually far closer to being a comic book. The deep shadows, the hard lines of your weapon, even the bold coloring paint a picture of a scene straight out of a comic book. Everything looks two-dimensional, as if it was drawn on a flat surface, as opposed to the three-dimensional style of cel-shading made famous by the likes of Borderlands and Crackdown. It’s a gorgeous style that goes hand-in-hand with the humor.
This seems familiar
Unfortunately, once you play through Void Bastards once, a repeat play is going to be fairly similar, unless attempted on another difficulty. Unlike Binding of Isaac where every attempt offers entirely different outcomes forcing you to adapt, Void Bastards is a rather one-and-done experience. In fact, despite the random nature of the ships, they too wind up feeling repetitive.
After playing for a while, I had the same system for every ship: turn the power on if it’s off and then head to the helm to download a map of the items. Once these are done, I either swept around killing everything and collecting materials or bee-lining straight for any items I was searching for.
Despite its faults, Void Bastards is still deeply enjoyable. The humor and the art style alone are enough to make this a must-have, but the combat and vast array of weapons and upgrades makes Void Bastards an experience you should not skip.
This review is based on a PC digital copy provided by the publisher. Void Bastards is available through Steam and Xbox One on May 29, 2019.
- Gorgeous comic book art style
- Hilarious dialogue and world-building
- Snappy and responsive combat
- Challenging gameplay
- Crafting and upgrading system
- Roguelite/dungeon-crawling goodness
- Clearing ships and looting gets repetitive
- Progress can be slow early on but becomes too easy at the end
- No replay value outside of difficulty levels and Achievements
Sam Chandler posted a new article, Void Bastards review: Permission to come aboard
Good over view and review. Can't wait till it unlocks on the Xbox one
Nicely done review. I'm tempted to pick this one up.
It's really quite fun! I definitely found the humor to be to my liking, though humor is always subjective.