Reviewed on Xbox One X through Xbox Game Pass
Imagine a world where BioShock didn’t exist. Are you imagining it? Yeah, I don’t like it either. It’s often underestimated in its influence. While it wasn’t the resurgence of the immersive sim like many System Shock 2 fans like myself were originally wanting, it’s a game that finally introduced an absolutely killer story into the first-person shooter genre. With the development director of BioShock spearheading the development of the uniquely presented Void Bastards, will this new game be anywhere near as influential?
The answer is a resounding no. Despite being advertised as some sort of BioShock/System Shock lite, Void Bastards feels entirely removed and, when it does take up the Shock lineage, it’s far more System than it is Bio.
There’s an absence of story here: as a prisoner of the Void Ark, you’ll attempt to escape your fate by travelling through space and exploring derelict spaceships. This is it for the majority of the narrative, although slight bits of lore will be doled out as you make your way past key objectives. However, narrative isn’t essential in a game like this; while it looks Shock, it acts FTL: Faster Than Light; you’ll have to craft your own story.
Your own tale will consist of miniature ventures through numerous randomly generated ships each with their own enemies, layouts, objectives and quirks. One ship was early on was a delightful sprawl through a medical facility that also happened to stockpile weapons munitions in the back room. Another ship was a harsh powerless husk full of deadly enemies that effortlessly chased me throughout the vehicle’s long and foreboding hallways. It did, however, reward me with a robotic cat afterwards.
As you bounce from ship-to-ship on your star map, Void Bastards does give you the option to rest on or skip missions completely. Sure, you won’t be able to reap the rewards and you’ll simply burn resources (and heal) instead of acquiring some luscious loot, but you also won’t get horrendously swarmed by foul-mouthed Juves that definitely don’t want to be your friend.
While it may not look it, certain sections of Void Bastards can be thoroughly terrifying. On more than a few occasions I’ve found myself huddled up in a small reception area, both doors locked, as I wait for terrifyingly powerful foes to sod off and leave me alone. With each randomly generated character’s perks and cons added, and you’ll be dropping bricks hard. My original character, God rest his soul, had a con that meant he could randomly cough, alerting enemies nearby. He didn’t last long.
As you continue your ventures through the unpredictable world of deep space, you’ll probably perish. Scratch that: you’ll definitely perish. While missions here are a tad more forgiving than others in the genre—on normal difficulty—you’ll inevitably find yourself shot, blown up, radiated or gassed to death at some point within your journey.
Thankfully, there’s an effort here to keep you pushing through, to keep you going once you think you’ve lost everything. Unlike a lot of other roguelike titles, you’re able to keep most of the items you acquire throughout your travels. If you’ve unlocked a new weapon, you’ll keep it. If you’ve crafted an upgraded set of body armour, you can keep wearing it. It’s not an unfair title for those playing on normal; it feels like a game that wants you to keep playing despite its difficult core loop.
Void Bastards is full of personality—it’s also exploding with uniqueness. If you’re looking for a gorgeous survival title with unique gameplay, stellar visuals, a grand sense of humour and actually wants you to beat it; there isn’t much better than Void Bastards.