by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Off to the wasteland
Skyshineís Bedlam combines a couple of modern gaming mainstays: permadeath, and a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Itís a game about making it across this wasteland to the rumoured utopia of Aztec City. But itís not just you, you have got a giant city on wheels with hundreds, if not thousands of people inside. You have to manage food resources, upgrade your Dozer, and make sure youíve got enough oil to make it to Aztec City.
You start off in Bysantine, a civilization that survived the ďBarren AgeĒ. It used to be a nice place, but overcrowding has led to crime, corporate conflict, and class warfare. So, you are getting out of there. However, between Bysantine and Aztec City there are a couple of dozen other locations, each under the rule of various factions. Rogue A.I., Cyborgs, Mutants, and Marauders stand in your way, and most of them arenít friendly.
On your travels
Itís tough not to mention games like FTL when describing Bedlam. Replace your ship with the Dozer and the galaxy map with the map of the wasteland and the basics are still there. You have a number of options when you want to move around the map, each of them with a random event associated with it. On occasion you might get a few resources for free, but most of the time you will be ambushed, or tricked, or something equally bad will happen. More often than not, you are going to have to fight your way out.
You can take up to four crew members into combat with you, which you pick from a pool of warriors, each split into four classes. Deadeyes are your snipers, who do a lot of damage at long range, but canít take much punishment. Frontliners are your burly melee characters who charge in and absorb damage. Gunslingers are a mixture of the two, with decent health and pistols to deal damage, while Trenchers like to get up close and personal with shotguns.
You can name the characters yourself if you like, but thereís no real point since they probably wonít last more than a few encounters. Combat is turned based, but there is no priority order. On your teamís go you get two actions, an action and a move (or two of one of them), and any member of your squad can perform these actions. The same goes for the enemy too. Itís a bit of an odd system that had me completely ignoring members of the party in some instances because they were too far away from the action to be worth spending action points on. You canít place where your combatants start each combat either, with seems like an oversight. I donít want my squishy sniper to be up in the middle, Iíd rather they be at the back.
You can risk it and take fewer crew members into battle with you, and you will be rewarded with extra resources at the end of it. However, if all of your team members die, then some of the civilians in your Dozer wonít be too thrilled by your leadership skills and flee. This isnít usually a big deal, there are a lot of them after all, and they tend to eat your food, which never helps.
Combat takes some getting used to, but is a little frustrating when you see your prize fighter get picked off because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. As each individual unit earns kills, they level up and gain more health and do more damage. But for the most part, your squishy shooters will remain squishy, and if they die, they are not coming back. You have a couple of armaments from your Dozer to help you, such as a weapon that causes enemies to become hostile to each other for a few rounds. Or you can use it to heal your crew, or prevent a bit of damage for a while.
A dangerous place
However this all costs precious power cells, which are also used to upgrade your Dozer. Bio Research improves reduces your food consumption, Engineering reduces your fuel consumption, Barracks improves how much your crew heals outside of battle, and the Armory reduces how much you need to spend to use the Dozer armaments in battle. It becomes a balancing act, because you might be able to improve how far you travel using your remaining oil reserves, but itís possible you will need help from your Dozer in a fight.
Just like in FTL, the longer you stick around, the more dangerous things can be. You can spend time and resources by going to every little random event you can see if you like, but if you run out of crude oil before reaching your destination, youíll be a bit stranded. In addition, the threat level will raise as you play, as enemies will know you are coming and step up their defences accordingly. There are three difficulty modes to choose from: Easy, Normal, and Bedlam. Easy is just that, and can be completed in a very short time indeed. The real challenge comes from playing on the higher difficulties, and are in fact the only way you can properly ďfinishĒ the game. You also unlock new Dozers for the other factions when you play on harder modes.
Some more tweaking required
Skyshineís Bedlam has some good ideas, but for the most part we have seen them done before. The randomness of the combat can be frustrating at times, and your crew is just a little too expendable. When you add in the fact that you can run into trouble in the wasteland more often than not, you can see a good run go pear-shaped in a matter of moments through no fault of your own. Bedlam is enjoyable, but it needs a bit more tweaking to be worth recommending above other games of its type.
A good challenge. Some neat ideas that come together in places.
Randomness is unfair at times. Nothing truly original.