by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
THE VOID ARK
All you need to do is look at Void Bastards to know it’s special — its distinct comic-book visual style is enough of a reason in itself to play the game. But it has a lot more to offer. Following somewhat in the style of Deep Sky Derelicts, you effectively play as all of the prisoners (or 'clients') on the Void Ark, a prison ship drifting in the Sargasso Nebula. Guided by the ships on-board computer, you must complete scavenger hunts, looking for precise parts in the other wrecks of the nebula, all in the hope of repairing your prison ship. But here’s the thing — you’re going to die a lot. The nebula has a strange radioactive quality which has mutated all the passengers of those ships, and their security systems are still in place. On top of that, space pirates are also scavenging the derelicts. You’ll get shot, blown up, suffocate, starve, and each time, a new prisoner will be re-hydrated, and you’ll assume control.
The focus of play in Void Bastards is essentially, get in, get out. You don’t have enough ammo or health to tackle every enemy in the wrecks, especially as the depth of the Nebula increases and each gets harder. Generally the approach is more about speed, grabbing what you can, avoiding enemies (by locking doors and sneaking) before your oxygen runs out. There are a number of stations on the ships to make your life easier, an oxygen refill station, a radiation cleanse, workshops. Different types of ships will have different items, just as different sections of the ships will also have different items.
If you need fuel, head for the FTL drive, if you need food, the break-room, the habitations, or the dining section. But in the procedurally generated ships, some of these tasks will be easier than others. It might be easier for you to head to the bridge to download a map/enemy locations, or to go to security to shut it down. The power could be off, or the lights out, so you might have to find a way to switch it on before you can access certain areas. All the while, you are running around a ship filled with enemies, so generally, the less distance traveled, the better.
All of those mechanics add layers of depth to every single level, making you consider your approach, select your weapons and items carefully, and even pick which ships you want to tackle. It’s the give and take of survival — I need food, but this wreck is deadly, would it be better to starve on my way to the next, losing a bit of health? This wreck has an item I need, but it also has pirates, should I risk it? As you move through the nebula, balancing food and fuel/avoiding hazards, these considerations remain with you every step of the way. Some ships, like the k-mart, will allow you to buy items, or pick up fuel, but others, like the hungry hermit or the Void Whale, will steal all your food or eat you.
There’s also a great deal of humour in Void Bastards, it feels very Hitchhikers Guide, that kind of sci-fi silliness, coupled with some dark funny moments. Things like the tourists saying “I appear to have lost my eyes” or just the general hilarious ramblings of the enemies. The Scottish space pirates are an especially great touch.
To tackle the wrecks, the Void Ark’s friendly ship computer will gift you a care package. In it you’ll have The Regulator (a pistol) plus some food and fuel. As you enact your looting frenzies across the nebula, you’ll gather further materials, which can be broken down and used to craft a whole host of new weapons, devices and equipment. The Stapler was my personal favourite, a shotgun which fires a bunch of staples, or the zapper, which stuns enemies. There are also items you can only gather in ships, such as the robo-kitties, electronic cats which follow enemies, drawing their fire, and blowing up upon receiving damage. You can also build armour to buff your health, which is incredibly useful, considering at the start of the game you’ll most likely die a lot due to health loss.
Void Bastards does a lot for such a small game — layered elements building a player experience where approach must always be varied and considered. The formula is simple — the ship computer asks you to procure items, you go find the items. In this sense, I thought I would find the game boring after awhile, but it’s actually surprisingly addictive, each wreck a new excitement-filled run, as you try to grab what you can, improvise on your feet, and most importantly, stay alive! Its simplicity is part of the appeal, but it also packages plenty of dark humour and absurd fun to go along with the ride. If you enjoy indie rogue-likes, or space scavenger hunts, the Void Ark awaits.
Lots of approachability, dark humour, mad fun
Can get a repetitive after a long while, could do more in terms of narrative