[Review] Void Bastards – Nintendo Switch

Written by Richard Strachan
  • Developer: Blue Manchu
  • Publisher: Humble Bundle
  • Release date: 7/5/2020
  • Price: £24.99/$29.99
  • Review code provided by Humble Bundle

Introducing: Void Bastards Nintendo Switch Review

A few weeks ago I was preparing a review for another game (not this one). The game was hard as nails and I was tempted to throw a few swear words in there. I asked the editors on Nintendad their thoughts and was met with an unequivocal “No!”. Fast forward a few weeks and, well, here we are. Bastard Bastard Bastard! There, I said it! Once I got into Void Bastards there actually wasn’t a whole lot of swearing (other than my own cries of “Bastard” every time I died), but I finally found away around that family friendly Nintendad filter!

Space Bastards

Void Bastards takes place in the Sargasso Nebula, a fictional future dystopia where prisoners are routinely freeze-dried and put into storage. Your prison ship has ben attacked by Space Pirates and you are tasked with leading the titular Void Bastards on a mission to get their ship fully functional. In exchange for their labour (and most likely their lives) the prisoners are given a second chance and are “rehydrated” to get them out of their freeze-dried state.

The resulting quest leads you on a calamitous galaxy-wide search for the different components to get your ship back up and running. You encounter a wide range of mutants along the way and end up working your way through a fair share of the prison ship’s population. 

The game’s pitch dark humour manages to combine hyper-corporate language with some truly grim situations, leading to some genuinely funny moments. It also provides some food for thought when you see some of the ridiculous lengths the capitalist machine will go to during the ongoing pandemic to keep the cash coming in. The recent images in the media showing drive through strip clubs and PPE’d up workers giving manicures doesn’t feel a million miles from the cold corporate world of Void Bastards.

Hard Bastards

Void Bastards is a billed as a first-person shooter rogue-lite, but manages to feel like something much more cohesive. Rogue-lites can sometimes be so stingy with their progression that every run feels like its own discrete entity. Void Bastards handles its progression in such an elegant way that it manages to make you feel like you are constantly progressing rather than grinding away.

The developers have made no secret of the fact the game is inspired by System Shock 2 and Bioshock. Indeed Blue Manchu was founded by Jon Chey who was also one of the co-founders of the creators of Bioshock, Irrational games. The lineage can definitely be felt when you play the game, but Void Bastards manages to feel a lot snappier than Bioshock. It trims a lot of the fat and manages to avoid the more overindulgent story beats of its predecessor.

The meat of any first-person shooter is always going to be in the mechanics and thankfully Void Bastards delivers big time. The game doesn’t mess about with any of your ADS nonsense and is all the better for it. Weapons are chunky and satisfying to look at, looking like what would happen if the Star Wars and Nerf design teams got together for a piss-up. Each of the weapons hits like a mule and enemies respond appropriately, exploding into satisfying chunks when you dispatch them, along with a comic book style onomatopoeic pop up.

As well as the main weapons you can also collect a range of indirect secondary weapons such as grenades, mines and some other more outlandish weapons. You also gain access to a third tactical weapon which can be used to disable security turrets or even teleport enemies to your chosen location, adding a further tactical layer. The game really opens up as you unlock new weapons and devise different sneaky ways of dispatching enemies. Part of the fun is in planning an attack and setting traps to stack the odds in your favour.

You can also use the environment to your advantage by hacking ships’ systems, allowing you to disable security, lock doors and even turn enemy sentry turrets against your foes. There’s some real fun to be found in turning the tables on some of the higher level enemies by locking them in a room with a ticking cluster bomb and watching through the glass as they explode in a shower of gibs and visual onomatopoeia. BFLATCH

Poor bastards

The basic gameplay loop revolves around your character boarding a spaceship and hunting for loot. You are given a hint on your world map to point you in the direction of the next critical part for your ship and more or less left to your own devices. Each ship has a somewhat procedural layout which means that you never quite know what you are going to encounter. Over time you begin to learn that each ship is made up of a number of named rooms, each marked on your map. Each of the rooms has a key function and you begin to exploit those functions to get what you need from the ship. 

I generally found myself heading for the bridge deck to download a detailed map of all loot and enemy locations. Loot within the game generally makes sense, so food can be found in the canteen and so on. This helps you plan runs through a ship and helps when you are low on health. Sometimes you may just want to board a ship for some fuel or food before scuttling off and avoiding some high-level enemies.

The game has some satisfying resource management which manages to create some fun emergent situations whilst not being too overbearing. You need to manage your hunger and ensure your ship has enough fuel otherwise you meet an untimely demise.

Once you begin to learn the layout of the ships you get a feel for where you are most likely to find a resource. You can also find items like torpedoes and warp keys which allow you to defend your ship from pirates in the world map or jump to a different location to gain an advantage and save some fuel.

Clever bastards

Each ship has a limited oxygen supply, which can be replenished at a marked location. The game plays with this by introducing low oxygen environments and ships with unstable power supplies. Things can get tense when you’re low on oxygen and the power has just gone out, forcing a mad dash to restart the power and then a rush to the O2 stash!

The world map generally offers multiple routes and the option to preview each ship before plotting your course. This allows you to target a particular vessel based on the resources you need or the types of enemies you want to face. I often found myself faced with the choice of a resource scarce route with very little resistance or the gamble of some real good loot and the joy of dodging a group of Screws, one of the more terrifying enemies.

The gear you craft, from weapons to hacking kits persists between runs, giving a real incentive to hunt down parts to build new weapons and items or upgrade your existing equipment. You’ll regularly find yourself weighing up your options and the various risks. Upon death another prisoner is rehydrated and sent off to continue the quest, complete with their own set of unique traits – for better or worse. There’s nothing scarier than being allocated a heavy smoker with a cough to sneak through a ship full of screws!

Beautiful Bastard

The art style of Void Bastards is absolutely out of this world. The game relies of a comic book style aesthetic, somewhat different from the more commonly seen cel shaded style. Shading is used sparingly, with surfaces displayed in striking panels of primary colour.

The enemy design is fantastic, with each having a huge amount of character and their own disturbing and unique look. You quickly become familiar with the different types and of course with the noises they make (and the onomatopoeia that pops out from a door to a room where an enemy wanders). When you hear and see the familiar STOMP STOMP STOMP of a Screw, you genuinely need to consider whether you are in a position to take it on, much like the Big Daddies of Bioshock.

The enemies display as 2D sprites, which I didn’t realise until I saw the game in motion. This adds a really cool old-school vibe to the game and helps you to identify enemies easily and assess how big a risk any areas pose.

The audio design in the game really stands out as well, with atmospheric ambient sounds making way for tense chase music as you are suddenly hunted down by a group of Screws.

If you couldn’t already tell, I am absolutely besotted with the visuals and audio of Void Bastards. As well as just looking downright brilliant, the art-style and everything it encompasses feed into the gameplay in a really visceral way. You can learn just as much about your surroundings by listening and reading as you can by watching.

Bit of a Bastard

The game plays really well and gunplay is extremely smooth in both docked and handheld, but the game does suffer from occasional frame rate hiccups whereby the game seems to lock up for a few frames before continuing as normal. The isn’t significant enough to really hamper the gameplay, but it is frustrating. It seems to occur in the menus and world map just as frequently as it does during action sequences. The fact it isn’t prompted by any of the more taxing sections of the game (and indeed often absent during them) makes me hopeful it is something that can be ironed out, as it was literally my only complaint.

Final Thoughts

So, is it a case of “Avoid Bastards”? If you’ve read up to this point then you probably know that I am absolutely in love with the game! Void Bastards looks, sounds and most importantly plays like an absolute dream. The shooting mechanics are solid, the progression is perfectly balanced and the art style is spectacular. The strategic options afforded by the various weapons and skills give you multiple ways to approach combat (or avoid it altogether) and help keeps things fresh. The somewhat random layout of the ships ensures you never get bored and helps to throw up interesting scenarios. The biggest praise I can give is that Void Bastards manages to keep the constant tension of a rogue-lite, whilst simultaneously making you forget you’re playing one due to the generosity of its progression systems.

Upon completing the game you can access new game+ and a challenge mode, which gives you further incentive to come back.

The game also has a DLC pack which will be available at launch. I wasn’t able to test it out as it wasn’t available for purchase during the review period, but it seems to include a new weapon, enemy type and some options for new ship types. It’s a shame this isn’t included as most ports to Switch these days tend to be “definitive editions”, but the pack is available for less than a fiver, so I won’t begrudge it too much.

Pros

  • Those visuals
  • A perfect progression curve
  • Tactical options aplenty

Cons

  • Very minor frame rate hiccups

Verdict

Void Bastards is an absolute gem and a must-play addition to the Switch library. It looks unreal and plays like a dream. I implore you to take the plunge into the Void, Bastard!

5/5

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