Skyshine’s Bedlam is without a doubt a game tactical-RPG fans should pick up. It’s a tough journey through an uninhabitable land of failed transhumans, mutants, and marauders, in a sandy world reminiscent of Fallout. While I found it extremely disappointing to see that the developers favored the gameplay over the story, you can’t blame them when the strategy is so apace. It rewards those who push their luck and punishes those who push too hard. It takes inspiration from some of the best games and literature and mixes it all together into a thoroughly satisfying experience. I just wish I knew what was at stake.
WHAT WE LIKED
º Beautiful maps and cutscenes, that really stream together nicely.
º A large roster, including previous characters, all who feel different.
º Vehicles is a pleasant addition, and racing three terrains is fun.
WHAT WE DISLIKED º The initial investment is a lot for those who want the full experience.
º Some mini-games are very weak, and are there to pad out the game.
º Combat, on foot or seated in a vehicle, boils down to button mashing.
When I first saw Skyshine’s Bedlam at this year’s E3, I got to talk to John Mueller, Art Director on the project. Sitting down with the game, he told me of his team’s love of post-apocalyptic tales of survival, and their drive to bring it to the public. The idea originally started as a modified game of D&D, heavily inspired by properties like Judge Dredd, Dune, and Heavy Metal. As he showed me the basics of his game, I became lost in the world of Bedlam, as he spun me the tale of how this universe came to be.
Sadly, despite how well the world was painted for me at the event, Skyshine starts the game cold, with no introduction or even what the need to travel across the titular lands might be. I understand some won’t care, but the lack of an intro movie or narrative was a travesty, considering how absolutely amazing the world is once you get absorbed into it. This sad oversight, I wanted to treat like a band-aid and get it over with; because the rest of this review is going to be more positive.
Bedlam is like putting Mad Max, X-Com and The Oregon Trail together in a blender, and seeing what shakes out. Gameplay follows your giant technological wagon as you travel across the hostile wastelands of a world covered in sand. Players get no restore points, no redos- if you die, you go back to the beginning, Rogue. You’ll start the game choosing your race and dozer (your transport), and then you roll out of your factory, ready to cross the map like a barbaric Indiana Jones. I should mention however, my review copy only allowed me to play as Humans.
The map consists of about twenty areas, all controlled by rival factions. You start by choosing a path, which leads to random side missions, resource deposits, or the next border. The map, while a tad boring, is laid out to where the points of interest are randomly thrown across the play area, creating new experiences every time you start a journey. You may wish to move towards a deposit of oil, but end up going a completely different direction. There’s usually a way to get back, but do you want to risk the time and manpower in order to get there, especially when you’re not guaranteed the supply? When playing on the Bedlam difficulty level, you’ll definitely feel the sting of the game’s complete lack of fairness, perfect for such a hostile and unpleasant environment.
As you push on down the road, you may check out one of the points of interest on the map. It’ll consume some time, gas and food, but you may find something really important that you’ll need later on. For example, I went to one and found a small cave; and upon entering found a bizarre creature’s home. They gave me a ‘Gremcatcher’; something resembling a stone dream catcher, and possibly just as useful. Everything you find may seem useless, but you’ll discover uses for them… most of them… I think.
These story-based moments are delivered via short descriptions but still manages to paint a vivid image of the pile of twisted metal blocking the road you’ve been traveling down, and the shriek of the mutants who have trapped you. While I would’ve loved to see more artwork in these sections, I’ll forgive it due to the large variety of traps and missions that have been placed in the game. This leads to constant mental debates, questioning if you really have the manpower to try and save a random group of survivors from some hostile Rouge A.I. Sometimes, you’ll be rewarded- and sometimes you’ll test if fortune truly favors the brave.
But, no matter how well you play- eventually you’re going to get caught in a firefight, and it’s a joy to play them out. Battles play out like Advanced Wars, where you move troops around the board, seeking cover and utilizing squad tactics in order to keep your guys alive. Each character has their own strike patterns, power level and dexterity, and the more you bring onto the field, the less of a resource bonus you’ll end the battle with. This provides a real incentive to challenge yourself before every battle, as you try to think about how confident you are with two powerful characters over six disposable ones. You also have to worry about healing times, where injured soldiers must recuperate between battles. This keeps you from cranking out a ton of “trenchers” (shotgunners), and just huddling up in battle.
Each turn, you’re only able to complete two actions, be it moving one of your soldiers or taking a shot. This too adds to the desire to try to minimize your troops, otherwise you may end up with soldiers who stand there the whole battle, clueless. There’s also a challenge to delay that final death blow, because there are resources lying all around the map, giving you additional resources after the match. This is a job for the weak Frontliners (Shield and baton soldiers), as they’re able to run around faster than the other classes, and take a ton of damage. Each battle encourages you to think strategically and rewards your precious supplies for taking difficult risks.
This game is tough, and you will feel the sting of its brutal gameplay. Sometimes, the dice really just fail to roll in your favor, and a great run can be ruined by your inability to find or collect resources. Since the game autosaves throughout your journey, it can be very heartbreaking when you think you’re a shoe-in for the next battle and have to see your slow descent from the top. Your may be down on your soldiers, but you really want to investigate a crash site. You could always run from battles, but you’ll lose passengers who no longer trust your leadership. It keeps the odds wavering, especially as you get further along with your notoriety rising.
One thing I did dislike about the gameplay was the fact that you could run right into a sniper’s slanted line of sight. The enemy can take out your most hardened warrior by using both of their moves, laying into your hapless soldier simply because you didn’t count the correct number of offset spaces. A warning of some kind would’ve been appreciated, so I don’t ruin my run over something that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.
The style and tone of the game is fantastic, showcasing a beautiful blend of outlandish and believable. The character artwork balances a wide selection of organic to mechanical humanoids perfectly, but reusing the torsos make the characters all look overly stiff. The colorful graphics reminds me of a top-down version of Borderlands, with its cel-shaded look- although some elements have been upscaled, resulting in heavier stroke on various objects and ultimately an unbalanced look. These graphical missteps only usually come up in the battle arenas’ backgrounds, and perhaps they were done for aesthetic reasons.
The audio is nothing to really write home about either- it kinda just drones on, never really picking up or becoming anything more than a dime-a-dozen collection. In a game where you read the entirety of the story, I was hoping for more in this department. There’s nothing overtly bad about the arrangement- it just lacks anything memorable. There’s a deluxe edition with a soundtrack- I wouldn’t recommend spending that extra money. Sound effects, on the other hand, work well with the over exaggerated visuals, going for a more cartoony sound than realism.
Despite the difficulty, the game strives to be a journey through an unforgiving wasteland, and it succeeds. As I dug deeper into the game, discovering more about the lore of Bedlam, I found myself enamored with the game. It’s a difficult one, that offers very little forgiveness, and when you do fail, you usually have yourself to blame. This would be a great introduction to gamers unfamiliar with tactical role-playing games, and a fun experience for veterans.
· Publisher – Versus Evil
· Developer – Skyshine Games
· Genre – Strategy, RPG, Indie
· Release Date – September 20th (USA) & 25th (EU), 2015