When you’re at an event with lots of games to potentially try out, it’s a bit like scrolling through Netflix in search of something to watch. You’re at a loose end, paralysed by choice, and a great name can be all it takes to grab your attention. That’s exactly what happened when Den Of Geek, gazing across the room at an ID@Xbox showcase in London, spotted a desk emblazoned with these words: Void Bastards.
There were lots of intriguing titles on display at this event, all from indie developers that Microsoft has supported, but the moniker that pulled us in like a tractor beam was Void Bastards. We gravitated towards it before we’d even grabbed a cup of coffee, and we weren’t disappointed at all with what the game turned out to be.
Developed by the Australian studio Blue Manchu, with Humble Bundle lined up as publisher, Void Bastards is a first-person shooter set in deep space that is destined for a release on Xbox Game Pass and PC. What really stands out about the game, once you’ve gotten over the name, is its eye-catching aesthetic style. Inspired by the 2000AD comics that birthed such franchises as Judge Dredd, the visuals of Void Bastards are designed to look like a graphic novel come to life.
The game is set in a dingy future, where corporations send well-armed prisoners across space to scavenge from derelict spacecraft. As soon as you load up the game, you’ll take control of one of these nasty convicts (who each have their own special skills) and venture into space.
From here, you’ll be able to select which ships you want to target and which weapons you want to take with you. Void Bastards is a strategic game, and you’ll quickly find yourself thinking tactically as you make your way across this junkyard of a cosmos. If your character dies, which is easily done, the corporation will send another crook (with different special skills) to take their place.
There is a structure and a story to the game, which lets you delve into new depths of the galaxy when you’ve gained the right gear and experience. But if you want to keep mucking around in any particular area, Void Bastards will keep generating new ships to keep you entertained indefinitely. You could literally play this forever.
The playful 2000AD-inspired art style is backed up by a charmingly dark sense of humour, which penetrates every facet of the game: on missions, for example, you’ll be able to use deploy such quirky gadgets as tiny robotic cats to distract your enemies (which include a vast array of aliens and mechs); in the menu, meanwhile, you’ll notice jokey illustrations that offer odd background details (like the fact that the only food spacemen eat is very British-looking sandwiches); and you’ll also find that some power-ups are less useful than others, to humorous effect (watch out for the special ability that makes your character loudly whoop, attracting enemies, every time you pick up an item).
We played the game for under an hour, but that was enough time for the developers to impart the basic rules: each ship has an engine at the rear and a bridge at the front, with loot, rooms, corridors and enemies randomly generated to fill in the gaps. You’ll find yourself rushing around, searching frantically for your desired items, dishing out damage when you can, and dashing away from enemies when your weaponry supplies run low. Frantically locking doors behind yourself is quite common, too.
There are different types of ships (from luxury hotels to stationery storage) and lots of alternate enemies (all of whom have their own abilities and weakness), and heaps of new gear to discover and craft (you can turn your robotic cat from a distraction into a weapon, for instance). There are also other ships exploring the galaxy around you, which can cause your choice of destination to backfire badly. It’s an impressively detailed game, especially for one from such a small team.
At its core, crossing this detailed-yet-playful galaxy one ship at a time feels like a fun mechanic, which could get addictive very quickly. A bit like in Football Manager (where you always want to mastermind one more match before bed), it’s easy to imagine engaged gamers being kept up at night (in a good way) by the urge to explore one more ship.
Although we only saw a tiny fraction of the game’s literally limitless offerings at this event, we’re really looking forward to jumping into Void Bastards and having some more madcap fun when it launches. Perhaps it’s more than just a great name…