I recently ditched Apple after owning an iPhone since they were a thing and I am now happily existing on the dark side with my shiny new S10 plus. While sat there in the phone shop signing my life away, I was doing what all northerners do; talking incessantly (we don’t do comfortable silence in the North). With the weather thoroughly covered we started talking about gaming and how I do, in fact, review the occasional game. “So what game are you currently reviewing?” the assistant asked. “Oh I’m just starting Void Bastards” I replied and the girl near spat her coffee out. We watched the trailer on my old battered iPhone (likely to be its last ever task) and it was clear I’d already managed to get Blue Manchu a sale before even typing a word. Ok, obligatory silly story out of the way, what is Void Bastards all about?
This game has been created by Blue Manchu, an indie developer which has many ex-Irrational developers lurking within its depths. In case your gaming history is a little fuzzy, these are the talented folks that brought us legendary games like System Shock 2 and the Bioshock series. Out in the far reaches of space the Void Ark, a prison ship, has had a catastrophic malfunction and so it is down to the powdered occupants to save themselves. Yes, in the future human beings can be dried out and stored like Bisto gravy granules: if only the Avengers has been able to get this technology up and running. The Void Ark has deemed it necessary to rehydrate select miscreants of the Ark so that they can assist in saving the ship: who said community service was dull.
Void Bastards is essentially a first-person shooter with roguelike elements. More modern roguelikes tend to have levels of progression which are superimposed over the top, adding a sense of achievement even after your inevitable demise. When you start a new game you will be given a randomly hydrated convict, which can come with advantageous skills but also negative quirks. My first character, for example, had long arms which could reach objects across a room but also had a smokers cough which gave my position away when sneaking around. These can be changed and replaced later on in the game if you can find a gene repair station. The story, which of course is centred around saving the Void Ark, is a light affair littered with toilet humour and sexual innuendo. This will obviously be a plus or minus depending on what you normally find funny, but I think this game hits the mark with its one-liners and smutty mirth. When you achieve certain story goals the game's narrative is mostly delivered with comic book panels, each with lightly animated scenes that are voice narrated.
At the start of each mission, you are presented with the Star Map, which you move across from left to right choosing the path that suits your needs. Most of the locations you can jump to are derelict ships of various configurations/classifications and each will have a randomly generated set of onboard conditions. Sometimes you will have no power or an electrical field is jamming the radar system. Learning how each of these will affect your mission is part of the satisfaction that comes with playing. Within each wreck there will be numerous rooms, most having some kind of function you can exploit. My tactics usually involve heading to the helm to gather information on the loot locations and then working from there. However, if the power is off this won’t work, so heading to the power plant to get the juice flowing will be my first port of call. Your time on each ship is limited due to your ever depleting O2 supply, which can be extended with upgrades and you can also fill up once during a mission. I do wish that the fact you are on a wrecked spaceship had been used a little more. For example, doing an EVA to other airlocks or rupturing the outer windows and effectively losing that part of the ship. Hopefully, these activities could be considered for an update or sequel.
Each time you jump to another location you will use up fuel and food, which can be gathered in the missions. You can also rest, (which uses up food) when you have taken a bad beating and must regain some health. If you tag a certain item you wish to build, the locations that will assist you are helpfully highlighted on the Star Map. This Starmap setup is less free roaming than other games of this type, but the way they have designed it here works perfectly.
Mark Watney: Space Pirate
Of course, navigating the ships and stripping them of their loot is only half of the fun because there are rum folk abroad. In the planning screen, you can always see what kind of enemies (or citizens as they are called in the game) to expect on each ship and in what numbers. This then lets you choose the best weapon for the job, in theory. The threats you encounter vary quite a lot and many have interesting abilities, such as the spooks who can warp around (usually behind you). Interestingly the dart gun hasn’t been that popular when discussing the game with friends but I think this is the perfect weapon to dispatch spooks, as it kills them even when they are invisible. If you come across a Screw it’s usually a good idea to scarper, as they can quite easily bring your trip to a premature end. Part of the fun in fighting these enemies is some of the hilarious things they say while trying to kill you, it's a broad mix of English dialects from broad Northen to camp cockney etc. If you trip the ships security alarm you will get a sentry bot coming for you (think WALL-E but with more murder-bot ) and they will tear you to shreds in seconds. The same can be said for the space pirates who will board the same wreck as you unless you have a torpedo and annihilate them before they dock. The point is, in Void Bastards sometimes winning is knowing when to run.
You start the game with a basic pistol but very soon can amass a decent enough arsenal of weapons to dispatch your foes. As most of these weapons of war are homemade, they come with some interesting names and visual quirks, like the Toaster or Cow Zapper . It’s clever design because they still cover the basics of what you would expect from a first person shooter. The Rivet gun, for example, is essentially your machine gun and the stapler could be described as your shotty. On top of the more common weapon archetypes, you also have more interesting devices like the Clustafuk Grenade or the Rifter that can store an enemy inside and drop them anywhere you wish. The environments on the ship do factor into your fight to stay alive. Doors can be locked, allowing you to box off dangerous enemies and you can even do a Ripley by luring someone into an airlock. Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the combat such as bullet tracking, which seems to hit you regardless of how fast you are. Movement in Void Bastards feels a little clunky if I’m honest and this can carry over to the combat. You can jump and duck but vaulting over most objects isn't very graceful and I have died many times getting caught on objects when trying to flee.
Who’s the Gaffer?
They say the first law of the universe, is that you can never have too much duck tape. This revolutionary material has thousands of applications and occupies the kit box of any self-respecting inventor. The idea of making everything ad hoc from spare parts and bits of junk encapsulates the spirit of crafting in this game. Knocking items together is actually a big part of Void Bastards because aside from your starting pistol, pretty much everything else is cobbled together from what you find in your exploits. Most of the junk you come across can be recycled at the end of the mission into base materials. As you peruse the many items that can be crafted you will see what components are required. So you can either whip these up yourself or find them onboard the ships you encounter.
Even these items have a degree of humour attached to them, as you search for Whizz Rocks or try to get that Colon Irrigator manufactured you can’t help but chuckle. There is even a need for vacuum sealed testicles at one point. As you play you will also find Merrits which are a form of universal currency in the game. These can be spent in a multitude of ways, such as opening containers with rare items or turning a turret onto your side.
Is it PC?
Void Bastards, which is built on the Unity engine, uses a cell shading effect for pretty much all of its visuals and this gives the game a very stylish look. There are other advantages to this graphical technique such as low-performance requirements and it will also make the game age very well. Even with cell shading, games don’t always hit the mark in the visuals department but Void Bastards has enough detail layered over the top to make the various interiors interesting and not too cluttered. The carpets, which actually reminded me of the cartoon Rug Rats, have a simple pebble dash effect to give them texture. Colour is also used well, with green drawing you towards items that can be looted. There aren’t a great deal of options for players to mess around with, however, this one of those titles that just runs well right out of the box. My only slight issue is that the weapons do often take up a lot of screen space. You can alter the field of view but this then gives an almost fish-eye effect, so getting that sweet spot may take some effort.
Enemies animations are simple to say the least but again, the overall design of the game carries this very well and it never felt like a problem. As for sound design, as I have already covered the narration and enemy one liners are very good. The other sound effects in the game won’t win any awards but they certainly get the job done. The music is also decent enough and does react well to most situations.
In many ways, Void Bastards is light years away from the games its team have previously worked on. While it is not trying to emulate the mechanics of these classics, you can still see that DNA under its skin. I think given that Blue Manchu is a relatively new development house it was a shrewd move to produce a title that while smaller in stature, will still garner enough attention to make it a success. My only complaint is that there aren’t that many surprises once you’ve broken the games back and I would have liked to see new enemies right up to the nub of the story conclusion. If there was DLC released in the future that added new challenges and quests, I would happily pay for these.
This game is absolutely brimming with personality and has the chops to keep players engaged for many hours. Void Bastards has launched at a very reasonable price and given how much fun I have had (and am still having) I can highly recommend you pick up this game, it is certainly one of the best indie titles we’ve seen this year.
Thanks for reading my review of Void Bastards on PC. I would also like to thank Blue Manchu for providing a review copy of the game. If you like our site and would see more reviews please follow us on Twitter @riggedforepic where we post all new content.