Reviews

You'll Move Through 'Skyshine's Bedlam' Like a Board Game

Skyshine's Bedlam is an inviting roguelike that proves the journey is more important than the destination.


Skyshine's Bedlam

Publisher: Versus Evil
Price: $20
Players: 1 player
Developer: Skyshine Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Release Date: 2015-09-16
URL

Bedlam is a lawless wasteland, ostensibly ruled over by King Viscera and his Marauders, but in truth they’re just one faction among many trying to kill each other and everyone else. There’s also the Rogue AI, the Cyborgs, and the Mutants. They’re all out for blood, or fuel, or human remains that could be used for both. There are rumors of a paradise city far down south, Aztec City, but it’d be madness to try and cross Bedlam. So of course that’s exactly what you’re going to do.

Skyshine’s Bedlam is a turn-based roguelike that combines the structure of FTL with the aesthetic of Mad Max.You’ll be crossing the desert of Bedlam in a dozer, a huge armored colony on wheels. You begin with a few resources, some soldiers, and 1000 civilians; how far you get is based on strategy, skill, and a little luck.

You move through Bedlam like a board game. The dozer is a big red game piece that slides from node to node over a map of the desert. Each move adds a number of days to your journey, and each day uses up fuel and meat. You’re in constant need of resources, and each node presents you with a random event that can result in treasure, battle, death, or nothing of special note. There’s a good variety of events, and even a few that can branch in story depending on what ancient artifacts you’ve found, but the real highlight of the game is the combat.

Skyshine’s Bedlam is the fastest turn-based combat I’ve ever seen in a game. Normally in this type of game turns are based on teams (my team moves then your team moves), but Bedlam speeds up the whole process by only allowing you two actions per turn: Move two characters, shoot twice, or move and then shoot, those two actions are all you get.

This means things are always happening, there are no stretches of inactivity where you hunker down and wait for the enemy to come to you. The thing to learn about Bedlam is to give up any hope of perfection. The speed means that you can’t play defensively: Retreating with one character leaves all the others exposed. Soldiers will get hurt and have to sit out the next few battles as they recover, but wounds are better than death. The game is less about setting up long-term strategies and more about how well you react when your back is against the wall. It’s a fascinating departure from the usual turn-based combat design.

This become more apparent the more you play, and the more you learn how to use each of the four soldier types. The Frontliners are your bait; men and women with a shield and energy sword, they don’t do much damage but they can take a ton of it. Deadeyes are snipers, prone to dying in one hit, but armed with a damn strong rifle. Gunslingers are your grunts—average health, average damage, average range—and in my experience are the ones most likely to die as they’re strong enough to fight in the front but easily killed in one enemy turn. Finally there are the Trenchers, the shotgunners, the guys who need to get in close but can thankfully push an enemy back with the force of their gun.

This collection of types plays well off each other—almost too well. One makes up for the other’s limitations to such a degree that it’s tempting to think of them less as individual soldiers and more as different limbs of a single fighter. The game actually allows you to name each soldier, and provides backstory for all of them, but I was never that invested in them as individuals. They existed as cogs in my combat machine, each in their place and each with their role. The extra attention to narrative is still appreciated, however.

The soldiers that do stand out as individuals are the elites you can pick up along your journey. These encounters are always marked on the map with a specific icon, so you know what you’re getting into, which is a nice bit of warning as these are very hard battles. A single elite can decimate your team if you’re not careful, but win the fight and they’ll join your crew, and boy are they worth the effort.

That little warning before fighting an elite is indicative of Bedlam’s attitude towards the player: It’s more forgiving than most rougelikes. You can flee any battle at any time, saving your soldiers at the cost of some number of your civilian crew (who lose faith in you and abandon ship). However, this really only affects your ending score, or if you run out of meat it means you have fewer emergency rations at your disposal. On that note, if you do run out of resources the game gives you a Hail Mary shot at survival: You spin a virtual six-shooter in a game of Russian Roulette, with a 50/50 chance of death or a random event. The event isn’t a guarantee of survival. It can be anything from a helpful stranger to a sandstorm that kills you for good, but it’s the chance of survival that’s important. That chance encourages you to keep playing even if you’re having a bad run, because with the right roll of the dice you might get a second wind.

Bedlam is also easier than most other roguelikes. The Normal difficulty is pretty brutal (the enemy AI is noticeably more aggressive and tactical), but Easy mode is, well, pretty easy. I got to Aztec City on my first playthrough of Easy with plenty of fuel and meat to spare. Yet this victory didn’t leave me entirely satisfied, I felt no desire to put the game aside now that I had “beaten” it because I knew it was going easy on me.

There’s also a lot more content that’s locked behind the other difficulties. On Normal you can find other dozers, which allow you to play as those other factions, or you can hunt down King Viscera himself and free Bedlam from his marauding rule. Bedlam is more than just a game board, than just a space to move through, it’s a world of mystery and secrets and violence, and I want to see more of it. This journey is more important than the destination.

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