What I'm Playing - No. 161
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Be warned, minor spoilers may be contained within. Generally, I do try to keep things spoiler-free but this isn’t always possible/practical! If you want to totally avoid all potential spoilers so you can play these games yourself in a blind run, you shouldn’t continue reading! Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Void Bastards (PC)
Inspired by games like System Shock 2 and Bioshock, Void Bastards is a self-described strategy shooter with some rogue-like elements and a comicbook-inspired art style. It also features a lot of dark, dry humor, and a lot of things that want to kill you.
Void Bastards released in 2019 for PC and Xbox One, and came to Switch and PlayStation 4 in 2020. I played the PC version, and my copy came from Humble Monthly July 2020. Interestingly, this game was actually published by Humble Bundle. Yeah, they’re in the video game publishing business now too, since 2017.
You play as a randomly generated convict from the Void Ark, a prison ship stranded in the Sargasso Nebula. With no crew left to pilot it due to pirate raids, the ship computer on the Void Ark begins reviving inmates from dry storage and tasking them with exploring derelict ships scattered around the nebula. These derelict ships contain plenty of resources to scavenge, and you just might find the parts you need to get the Void Ark’s hyperdrive going and escape the nebula. You control those revived inmates one at a time - if you die while on a mission, the ship’s computer just revives another inmate to take your place, and the cycle continues.
You will die while playing the game too, at least once. There’s a death built into the tutorial, to teach you about the gameplay loop. The game can be pretty hard too, depending on your luck with the random elements at play, and how many upgrades you’ve crafted so far. Luckily, death doesn’t result in losing all your progress, because the next inmate can make use of the weapons and equipment their predecessor crafted.
Exploring derelict ships makes up the core of the gameplay. This is a very eerie experience in the beginning. I haven’t played System Shock 2, but I can definitely see the Bioshock influence here; the atmosphere in Void Bastards is similar to that. The ships are dark, hazardous, and full of hostile mutant enemies. They became less eerie the more I explored and got used to the gameplay loop, but exploration could still lead to some really tense situations even in the late-game, because you never know when you’ll round a corner and run headfirst into a turret, or accidentally set off a security alarm because you can’t shoot the security camera down fast enough. You’re also working against a time limit here, because you only have a few minutes until your oxygen supply runs out. If you can reach the Atmo room on a ship, you can replenish a few minutes worth of oxygen, but you always have to keep your remaining supply in mind when planning out your next steps on the current ship.
Each ship you explore is randomly generated. The rooms that make up the ships are all pre-designed shapes, but the contents have some degree of randomization too, and the connections between the rooms are randomized too. There’s enough variety that I never felt like I was exploring the same ship over and over. Before exploring each ship, you’re shown a map of the ship’s layout, which you can open at any time while exploring to get your bearings. Loot is only revealed on your minimap when you’re near it, unless you make it to the ship’s helm (if it has one) and download a complete map of the ship, which allows you to see loot locations on the full ship map. If there was a helm on the ship, I usually made getting there my first objective, unless it was really out of the way from the starting point, because it was nice to have all the lootable objects revealed on the map so I could tell if I’d scavenged everything or not. Once you’ve scavenged everything you want, you need to make it to the exit alive, otherwise you’ll lose all the loot you’re carrying.
Survival in the nebula requires fuel and food, both of which can be scavenged from the ships while exploring. On the nebula map, you can move one space forward at a time, which costs 1 fuel and 1 food. You can survive for a little while without either one, your character will become starving and lose health each day if you have no food, and if you have no fuel it will take you 5 days to move 1 space since your ship just drifts along, and you’ll run out of food much faster. You’ll usually have several different possible destinations to choose from. Most of the spaces are abandoned ships to scavenge for loot, but some spaces just give you resources like fuel or food. There are also hazards that move around the map too, like pirates, which will start following you if you land on the same space as them and follow you onto the next ship you dock at, and void whales, which will kill you instantly if you land on the same space as them, unless you have a torpedo, then you blow them up and get some food instead. Neat.
You don’t have to dock at every ship you land on either. You can choose to skip right past them if you’re good on food and fuel and none of the parts there interest you. Or maybe you don’t like the look of the enemy mobs present on the ship, and would rather skip past it. I skipped past a number of ships for all of the above reasons during my playthrough, especially if there were Zecs listed under the enemy types present. I had a hard time dealing with those things. They have a psychic shield protecting them from the front, so if they see you, you won’t be able to damage them with a gun. It’s probably better to use traps, poison, or radiation damage to kill them, but I was able to avoid them often enough that I never had to figure out a good strategy for them.
As you can see from the screenshots, the visuals are straight out of a comic book. I think this might be the best realization of “moving comic book” visuals I’ve seen in a game too. It’s been done quite a few times at this point, in the Borderlands series, and even as far back as Comix Zone on the Sega Genesis. But there are a few things I especially like about it in Void Bastards. I like that enemies are 2D sprites instead of being cel-shaded 3D models, and that they only have a few different frames of animation each. It makes for a really nice effect. I also love the onomatopoeia sounds effects, the “BOOMs!” and the “Kablows!” capture the comic book aesthetic perfectly. The last thing I like about the visuals is how they have a pretty limited color palette. It makes it seem like something that could have been printed in an early comic book, which is cool.
That’s Void Bastards in a nutshell. I was pleasantly surprised by this game! It looked and sounded pretty cool judging by the Steam store page, and I was in the mood to play another first-person game like this after playing Deathloop recently, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy this one. There’s a lot of replayability here too. After completing the game, you unlock Challenges, which let you start new games with extra challenge modifiers enabled. I don’t expect to be diving into those myself, but it’s a nice option for players who want to get even more out of this game. If you’re a fan of Bioshock and games with rogue-like elements, consider giving Void Bastards a shot, it might be right up your alley. My final time for this one was 7 hours 34 minutes.