With its colorful, comic book art style and dry, existential sense of humor, Void Bastards makes a strong impression out of the gate. A mashup of first person shooter and roguelike set in a Douglas Adams-esque outer space heavy on the irony and weirdness, the game has reasonable depth and complexity but never feels obtuse.
You play as a titular Void Bastard, a freeze-dried prisoner, reconstituted and sent out to an endless stream of derelict space ships in the Sargasso Nebula, in order to recover items and treasure to repair and maintain your base spacecraft, the Void Ark, with. You need things like food and fuel, of course, and all manner of bits and pieces and random junk that you can use to craft upgrades to weapons and other survival gear.
Right away, Void Bastards’ ballet of balancing different systems becomes clear as you enter a ship and start making choices. Do you go get a full supply of oxygen — which is dwindling rapidly — or head to the bridge and get a map of the ship’s goodies? Do you sneak past enemies or one-shot them with your newly upgraded weapon? Every ship comes with a list of potential treasure as well as probable enemy types, allowing you to make smart choices as to load out, or even to bypass that ship altogether. But traveling from ship to ship costs fuel and food so sometimes, the only choice is no choice.
Because Void Bastards is a roguelike, when you die you restart as a different prisoner, keeping your gear but dealing with a new and random selection of abilities and quirks. Sometimes these are incredibly useful, sometimes very funny and sometimes very challenging, but this is a game where the roguelike element isn’t too punishing and is baked intelligently into the stew of other mechanics.
Void Bastards has a distinctive and attractive comic book aesthetic, complete with iconic written exclamations and notated sound effects. Cutscenes further the comic book feel by playing out in cascading panels and although the textures and style are essentially very simple, the game looks great. Voice acting and writing are understated — at least, given the tone and subject — and the game scores more hits than misses when it comes to humor.
Over a dozen or so hours of play, however, Void Bastards reveals a few flaws, and almost all of them involve repetition. Although the derelict ships are procedurally generated, they are very limited in layout or look and the game really only has one loop: get stuff, make stuff, get more stuff, make better stuff ad nauseum. The enemy types likewise become very familiar, though they do increase in difficulty. Although the game controls well and movement is fluid, the lack of target lock-on and aiming down the sights adds some frustration to the combat for players who are muscle-memory accustomed to them. And finally, the enemies run out of new and clever taunts and quips way before the end of the game.
Although it would benefit from being either a bit shorter and/or having a bit more variety, Void Bastards is easy to recommend. It looks unique and has enough fun baked in that failure rarely feels frustrating or punishing. Fans of action games as diverse as Bioshock or FTL will enjoy it and anyone who chuckles at games like The Stanley Parable will feel at home with Void Bastards’ sense of absurd humor.