Void Bastards (Xbox One Review)
Xbox Games Pass has shown itself to be an increasingly worthwhile service to invest in, especially for those looking to expand their indie game library. Out of the bunch available, Void Bastards takes centre stage here. Void Bastards’ colorfully unique aesthetic, whitty charismatic caretaker, and in house pedigree of talented developers make it one of the best Rougelike shooters this side of the console war.
Void Bastards’ story revolves around the escort of a large prisoner transport vessel known as the Void Ark, a space ferry filled to the brim with comically convicted criminals. You play as one of these unlucky sods, tasked with repairing the Void Ark after a quick skirmish with some salvaging pirates. Over the course of the galactic road trip, you’ll come across various parts needed to repair to the ship; communications, engines, and the like by looting various vessels; frigates and cargo carriers – becoming an impromptu space pirate yourself. Jumping from ship to ship takes resources and time, requiring you to scavenge for food and fuel too. From the offset it’s all very straight forward. Survival elements are at a bare minimal and waypoints are ever present to give you guidance. It’s all too easy. Well, too easy until you board an occupied vessel full of nasties, that’s when Void Bastards really takes off and the main chunk of its gameplay comes in to its own.
There is a plethora of ships to board while traversing objective waypoints, each with their own resources to plunder. Large Krell cargo vessels contain masses of fuel, while smaller Vox medical vessels offer up a place for the player to heal outside of their own ship – some ‘crafts even carry pet supplies for you to craft your very own explosive petting zoo. The real trouble here is making it back off these ships in one piece. The once peaceful denizens of this nebula have morphed into grotesque forms of their former selves. Space faring tourists are now explosive gelatinous blobs and chief security officers are now massive, spike spewing behemoths that’ll perforate you if you cross paths. And that’s only to name a few. Each enemy is designed specifically to be fair enough to fight, yet difficult enough to trip the player up if they are not paying attention. Enemy audio queues are unique enough to separate each from one another and to clearly identify what type of enemy is near you and how to approach it. If that doesn’t make things easy enough, comic book-esque text prompts will appear on screen when passing through doorways that emphasise the enemy’s footsteps. So if you see text appearing saying ‘Stomp’ or ‘Squelch’ then you’ll know it’s a hardened Screw or a squishy Tourist you’re up against, respectively.
Between these tense encounters, you’ll have plenty of downtime to scour around for parts and components — Void Bastards main form of progressing the storyline. Containers in which the player can search as easily identified by a green hue as to alert the player there are goodies inside that need snatching. Components are used to craft everything from new weapons to health upgrades and many other peripherals. Component gathering has to be done on a dime though as players are subjected to an in-game oxygen timer, having only a finite amount to search the ship they are currently on before their suits supply runs out. This means that Void Bastards is a story of the quick and the dead. If you somehow don’t manage to make it out alive with the components you’ve gathered then, I’m afraid, it has all been for naught. That character’s journey has come to an end. However, any piece of equipment that you had created prior to your death will be carried forward to the next character, so it’s not a total loss. Especially considering how Void Bastards can get increasingly repetitive the longer you play.
The only real alteration to gameplay that will affect you going forward is different traits per character, some negative and others positive. For example, the odd character consumes less food while traveling the nebula while others will sporadically shout whenever they pick up an item, giving away their position. Unfortunately roguelike elements take over and players don’t have much of a choice of what character they are given nor the traits they receive. Still, it creates a fresh approach to each new run, diluting Void Bastards repetitive nature.
What never gets old is Void Bastards’ silver age comic book art style. Character animations have flair and bounce right out of the screen at you. Edges of the environment are all trimmed in black lining giving the overall environmental aesthetics of Void Bastards a much sharper look to them. Different vessels come with their own personalised paint job, so it’s easier to understand which ship you’ve docked onto if you happened to ignore it to begin with. The striking visuals are adversely easy on the eyes whilst subtly giving the player feedback from their environment. It’s those wee things that keep us jumping ship to ship, exploring every nook and cranny.
Void Bastards is fantastic in every sense. Its environmental design, its artstyle, and the variety in its crafting options are just spot on. They keep you hooked. As time progresses so does the strain on its repetitive, loot grinding nature. Although, this is usually par for the course when it comes the looter shooter subgenre, but Void Bastards holds up longer than most. If you’ve yet to try Void Bastards, then it’s highly recommended that you do and if you have Games Pass you have literally no excuse to try one of the best indie roguelikes this year.