Space invader, galactic pirate, cryotube convict, oh my!
Traveling from derelict ship to luxury cruiser in search of the supplies necessary to survive has never been better. Void Bastards is a roguelite first-person shooter where you pull a MacGyver with the random junk collected, à la Fallout’s loot cycle, in order to gain better and better weapons and tools, as well as the food and fuel needed to progress further. Strategizing when to fight and when to sneak, as well as which ships are worthy of docking, make for a journey through the solar system that is both memorable and challenging.
You and your fellow Void Bastards are trapped aboard a prison ship carrying convicts across space. The journey was stalled prematurely, and thus the prim-and-proper, HAL-9000-esque computer that controls the ship has begun waking prisoners in order to send them off to gather the supplies needed to get the ship moving again. Pirates, space whales, and all manner of obstacles stand in your way, but luckily plenty of ships are floating about to board and loot. The story isn’t deep as the gameplay loop doesn’t allow for much in terms of lore, but what is here is quirky and comical. With the British-voiced alien’s chatter, smart dialogue, and the backstories for each new protagonist, you have chuckles abound throughout this adventure. The only real downside to the storytelling is that such an interesting section of space has been created here with very little to learn about outside of the actual functions and mechanics of each race encountered.
As a roguelite, a similar gameplay loop repeats, making slight progress that is carried over from run to run. That progress is made through the gear built with the high-quality pieces of space junk found while fighting through each ship. With the new tools and weapons available, you have more at your disposal to take on foes, as well as upgrading each to be more powerful. Each item utilized is enjoyable to use, with a good balance between being laughable and actually useful, where strategies can be invented based on the properties offered. Distracting Kitty Bots could be used to get enemy units into the open or for gathering weaker units together where the device’s explosive properties can take them out. The Rifter is a gun that captures an enemy unit, only to be dispelled in some way later, thus allowing for all sorts of shenanigans. From grabbing a tough unit and releasing him in a locked room to hacking a turret, grabbing it, and throwing it down between you and enemies, you can play with the different ways you discover. Regardless of your favorite loadouts, each can be utilized in multiple variations allowing for some really good times.
You also have plenty of ability to go in guns-blazing, but depending on which enemies you come across, choosing a different style might be best. Tourists explode when you get too close, Spooks turn invisible and reappear behind you, and more, but each mechanic can be turned against the aliens in order to allow your knowledge of the mechanics to get further each time. Only about a dozen or so enemy types exist, with changing colors signifying tougher versions, which was a bit disappointing when you spend so many hours running around ships seeing such similar enemies. This lack of variety also comes through in the actual ships to board, as styles are limited to only a handful, even with the random-generation allowing for different layouts each time.
Besides the actual loop of entering ships, grabbing loot, and blowing aliens to bits, you also need to navigate the system as a whole. A layout of ships is presented to you, with some minor descriptors available, such as what aliens will be on board, what loot could be available, and other mechanics that spice things up. Picking and choosing which ships are worth risking entry is a tall order, as well as determining the best route to avoid the pirates and other enemies that can follow you and attack through your journey. Keeping properly filled up on food and fuel allow more flexibility with where you go, but taking a fast approach across the galaxy can be a useful strategy too. The recurring theme here being that you get to make this story whatever you want, with several ways to progress and be successful.
The aesthetic and sound design are top-notch. Creaks and mumbling aliens throughout the ship keep the adrenaline pumping so much it almost feels like a horror title. The bright, comic-book-esque coloration and style is distinctive, making for an experience that is truly well-crafted.
Performance-wise, things could be a bit better. Hitching and lower framerates occur on certain ships that either have too many enemies or rifts, which makes all aspects of the game tougher as quick-twitch reflexes and speed are necessary things. Most of the time, this doesn’t occur, but once in a while, especially in the later, more difficult ships, these issues happen more frequently. The rest of the package is good enough to make up for this, and it really happens once in a blue moon, but it happens on the toughest of ships, which is not great.
Void Bastards was everything I wanted as a huge roguelike fan. The first-person shooter aspects are surprisingly competent, gameplay loop is perfectly challenging, always keeping you on your toes, and the aesthetic and sound design are out of this world. Some hitching and frame rate issues on packed ships aren’t enough to knock this one down a peg, as the mix of Rogue Legacy and Fallout on offer here is necessary for the libraries of any and all roguelike fans who own a Nintendo Switch.