Void Bastards makes an instant impression with its cel-shaded graphics that replicate the look of a comic book. Yet, it is not just the visual style that helps this first-person shooter stand out. Void Bastards also ditches many of the established conventions for the genre to come up with innovative gameplay mechanics.
But what makes Void Bastards stand out even more is that it appeared out of nowhere. Until its launch in May 2019, the title had little coverage, seemingly popping into existence. But how does developer Blue Manchu’s second game stand up after the first impression?
In Void Bastards you play as a convict. This sets up the strange morality required to make progress in the game. After being freeze-dried and sent into space, you are brought back to life to stop your prison from falling into disrepair. The Void Ark is trapped in the Sargasso Nebula and you have to find the parts to keep it functioning.
Unlike most other shooters, Void Bastards is procedurally generated. This means that there isn’t any set layout for the Void Ark or characters to become attached to. That’s because each new game sees you randomly assigned a prisoner from the vast confines of the Void Ark. All you know is that Space Pirates are operating in the area and the former crew to deal with. These have been hideously transformed and now pose a threat to you and your home.
Unfortunately, that is about as far as the narrative goes. So if you are expecting a strong story you will be disappointed. However, it does a good enough job of giving an interesting setting and providing a platform for the gameplay.
The main hook of Void Bastards is the management of your resources. Of course, that might sound strange in a shooter where going in all guns blazing is usually the answer. As a prisoner exploring the vacuum of space, though, your resources are scarce. Players therefore have to think carefully about everything they do. Every action uses up fuel, food, and oxygen.
With all of those in short supply, Void Bastards quickly becomes as much about planning as it does fighting enemies. Each ship is also generated at random so that you never know what you are going to face. It is therefore impossible to know what you will need in each environment.
Upon death, you restart as a completely different prisoner. They get to keep any gear you salvaged but re-roll their traits and abilities. These can range from being able to use certain weapons to having detrimental effects.
For example, one prisoner I took control of was a smoker. This meant that he would randomly cough and alert nearby enemies. Dealing with these different traits is a clever mechanic that makes you think about how to approach encounters. You actively have to take into account your character and switch up your playstyle accordingly.
Combat is often a last resort as it is simply so dangerous. However, fighting in Void Bastards is also a joy. Your vulnerability makes each potential battle tense and full of drama. It is thrilling to feel as if you are never safe, constantly at risk from everything around you. The sheer range of enemy types and weapons also allows for lots of different tactics.
Whereas Borderlands and XIII helped to popularize cel-shaded graphics, Void Bastards takes it to the next level. The visuals are stunning. I cannot think of another game that so encapsulates the idea of living inside a comic book world. It really does feel as if you are living inside the pages of a comic.
Seeing such vibrant color is a delight but even more impressive is that the developers integrate it with gameplay. Comic book readers will be familiar with sound effects being indicated through specific types of text. The developers use this text in the game, cleverly indicating what type of enemies might be in a room by the noises they make.
Void Bastards feels very much like a British game. Obvious influences include Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, especially for the ship’s sarcastic A.I. The voice acting for this character is superb, as are the rest of the performances. Enemies often have great quips or snippets of dialogue that will make you laugh. This gives the game a real sense of humor and a definite personality.
Void Bastards deserves a lot of praise. It is an intelligent and innovative game. While it doesn’t come up with any new ideas, it uses existing concepts in fresh and interesting ways. Even with the lack of lore and story, it still manages to engross you in the world.
The fabulous visuals and great voice acting also keep the action from getting stale. You simply want to keep playing to experience more of what Void Bastards can offer.