In the abyss of space, you play as a prisoner attempting to find parts to repair a prison ship so you can escape the nebula. Void Bastards is a first-person shooter with cartoon graphics. You seek out various items to help you escape. There are scattered ships and you get to choose which one to visit. Each have their own bonuses and sometimes negative modifiers. You can skip them or try your best to get a part you need. If you die, another prisoner is sent to replace your playable character. Your upgraded parts will remain, but you must regather fuel and food while starting back at the beginning. Choose what to bring and where to go. Random encounters happen and it may feel like you’re playing some kind of board game.
Here’s what I liked:
The Choice is Yours — Don’t like what the next ship has on board? You can fly over and skip it. Fuel will still be needed, but you can customize your approach to the areas that have the upgrades you desire. If you are provided with a convict with a negative effect you really don’t want, you can just die on purpose to roll the dice again. Upgrades often need the same type of parts, so you can read about what they do and choose which you’d like to create. There are all kinds of choices you are faced with, which really provides you with control of the situation. A few ships will have a computer on it that allows you to manipulate your own DNA. You can remove bad mods or trade for ones you like better.
Randomness — Even though most ships will be familiar, they will all feel like new levels. It all depends on what enemies are inside, how many there are, and what kind of modifiers are enabled. These can be good and bad. I liked having certain enemies that actually were set to peaceful. It was a relief! There are several that make you need to abort a level abruptly. One I ran into was that everything was on fire. I was losing too much health and needed to flee back to the exit and forget about whatever I was trying to find. It’s a very unique twist to make the levels feel like they aren’t all clones of each other.
Comicesque —Each of the storytelling sequences provide you with a comic book style of reading. The graphics are very cartoonish and appear as if you’re actually playing through one. I do wish the story was better, but at least it’s fun to read once you get to major plot points. There’s a certain mood this kind of artwork portrays, allowing you to have an appreciation without needing state-of-the-art graphics. If only there was a section in the options that allowed you to read more, maybe about the different enemy types showing you their weakness and origin.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Starting from the Beginning— As you get deeper into the nebula, you start gaining parts you need to repair the ship. If you die, you keep the parts and upgrades, but the real cost is the need to begin from the start. The things you need for upgrades are not going to appear at the beginning, so you’re repeating stages that don’t matter. Because of the fuel limit, you are forced to do several missions to get back to the mission at hand. The farther you get, the worse it feels when you die. It becomes a quitting point that most people will likely experience unless they’re absolutely loving the gameplay.
Unfair Enemy Types — There’s a vast difference between difficulty and unfairness. While most bad guys are tolerable, there are a few types that just won’t die. Or if they do, you spent a lot of resources to take them out. One kind takes almost no damage from your weapons. You’re basically just running from there. There are a few traps you can use but it takes too much time to accomplish. Another type has a shield in front of it. You’re hinted to kill it from behind, but they turn around. So unless you’re super stealthy, you’ll have to toss grenades and hope for the best. I played for hours and didn’t feel I was getting any better at dispatching them. One time I boarded a ship with guys that vanished and appeared behind you. They aren’t too bad, but when there are literally 30 of them attacking you it becomes a laughable death because, yet again, you either die or wasted a ton of your resources with no gain.
Instead of a game that grows on you, it starts becoming chore the more you play. If you die, you’re starting all the way back at the beginning. Just because you have more tools at your disposal doesn’t make it any more entertaining. There are great concepts here, which stem from Bioshock which was quoted as a main influence. From great to mediocre, Void Bastards is playable but becomes its own nuisance. There are both good ideas and bad ones that mix into an average shooter with a few annoying traits.
Score: Reader’s Choice
Void Bastards was published by Humble Bundle and developed by Blue Manchu Pty Ltd. on Xbox One. It was released on May 29, 2019, for $24.99. A copy was obtained via Game Pass.