Developed by Skyshine. Published by Versus Evil. Available on PC. Copy Provided by publisher.
Take one part tactical miniatures game, one part roguelike, and one part Oregon Trail. Blend it together with some Mad Max and a heaping helping of difficulty, and you end up with Skyshine’s Bedlam, a post-apocalyptic game that is practically in its own genre. It tries to be a lot of things at once, and as a result can feel overwhelming. But if you can accept that you will die, and die a lot, you can at least have fun dying historic on the
Fury Road Bedlam.
Bedlam has a lot of plot, but not a lot of story. It’s the far future. Everything has dried up into a desert. Humans, cyborgs, mutants, and robots are all warring for the last few precious resources the world has to offer. Most people live in a hellish metropolis called Byzantine, ruled over by the selfish King Viscera and his bands of marauders. But rumor has spread about a paradise called Aztec City on the other side of the titular wasteland. Only the brave or the foolish would attempt to cross, but you just so happen to be both. So you pack up a band of 16 warriors and 1000-ish civilians into a gigantic moving fortress called a Dozer, and attempt to find a better home. It’s too bad that King Viscera doesn’t take kindly to deserters, and decides to give chase. At worse, he will kill you. At best, he will kill you and take Aztec city for his own.
Thus, the game begins, and the story of Skyshine’s Bedlam grinds to a halt. Although each individual member of your caravan has a full backstory, Bedlam eschews traditional storytelling for spurts of world building. Narrative is dished out in classic roguelike fashion, with an omniscient narrator describing your actions in the second person. This produces a feeling of detachment, which is appropriate for the post-apocalyptic world you are in, but makes it hard to attach yourself to any one character. Considering the ludicrous amount of permadeath you’ll encounter this detachment might be a good thing, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Basic gameplay takes place on a map with Byzantine on one end and Aztec City on the other. Your location is shown with several points of interest and travel destinations around you. Clicking on a point of interest will cause you to check it out, while clicking on a travel point will make your dozer move there. Either will cost you meat, to feed the residents of your dozer, and fuel, to make your dozer go. If you run out of either, you end up having to make tough decisions, like resorting to cannibalism, or converting dead bodies into fuel. It will also leave you open to bandit attacks. You have to strike a balance between pushing forward and exploring, in order to pick up more meat and fuel along the way.
Each time you travel you will be encountered with events and choices. Do you pick up the random band of travelers? Do you explore the strange caves? Do you raid the broken down fuel station? Most of these choices boil down to “will you fight for extra resources, or flee?”
And you will be doing a lot of fighting. Battles are the best place to earn resources, but they also put you at the most risk. Any character that dies in battle dies for good. Injured units take days to heal. Also, if the battle takes place in or near your own Dozer, losing the battle means you lose the game.
It’s a good thing that battles are so incredibly fun. They run on the same engine The Banner Saga did, with a couple tweaks. Every turn you get two action points, which can be used to either move with a unit, or attack with a unit. Your units come in several varieties, including melee tanks called frontliners, short range shot gunners called trenchers, mid-range pistol wielding gunslingers, and long range snipers called deadeyes. The movement and range of these units varies wildly. Frontliners can move clear across the map, but do very little damage, while deadeyes can move one or two spaces at best and can only attack five spaces from their position, but do four times the damage of a frontliner. As I said before, it feels a lot like a tabletop miniatures game, where you do your best to position your enemy in such a way that you can spend double turns attacking with your most powerful units. It’s simple at core, but individual interactions are varied and intricate.
Your opponents get the same two action points that you do, with a small exception. At the top of the screen there is blitzometer, which fills as turns progress. If it hits max, your opponents can take multiple turns at once, essentially spraying their mouths with chrome and going berserk on you. This keeps the battles tense, as you can’t simply sit behind cover and wait for the enemy to come to you. A full blitzometer means death for at least one of your units.
You have your own unfair advantage in the way of power cells. You can spend this resource to use special abilities, like party heals, shields, or even weapons fired long range from your dozer. However, you can also spend this resource to reduce the amount of meat or fuel you spend while traveling, or to increase the speed at which your injured units heal. It’s another balancing act of deciding whether you want to be more powerful in or out of battle.
Battles in Skyshine’s Bedlam are incredibly hard. Every single action point needs to be spent in the best way possible. A single mis-click will likely put you in the range of an enemy, and since most units can’t withstand two attacks from an enemy, this usually means character death. It’s not uncommon for you to lose 2-3 units in your first battle of every game. As you get kills your units start to rank up and level up which gets them more HP and damage. You also eventually invite vanquished bosses into your caravan. These new beefed up units make the game much easier, but also present a liability. As the game goes on, your opponents level up and increase in ferocity. If your veteran units perma-die in battle, you are stuck with only rookies, left, which invariably means you’ll be poorly equipped for the battles ahead.
Difficulty is Bedlam‘s biggest strength, and also its biggest weakness. Roguelikes like this are built on the struggle to survive difficult randomly generated circumstances. But the difficulty of Bedlam is unquestionably punishing. You can’t choose your starting layout, so sometimes the game will simply choose to put your best units in harm’s way on the first turn of battle. On normal, you can find yourself with half a crew and no resources before you are a quarter through the map. On easy, the game is more manageable, but you don’t get any unlocks like new dozers and crew on easy, and these are the primary reasons for playing the game multiple times. On the game’s highest difficulty, I can barely manage to survive the first few battles. This is not a game for the faint hearted, and certainly not a game for anyone who is used to having their hand held. Heck, the game’s tutorials are kept in a completely separate menu. If you just jump in you will receive no guidance whatsoever! You have to be willing to accept that sometimes the game will just hate you and kill you for no reason in order to have any real fun with Bedlam.
But if you can, you’ll find that Bedlam faithfully recreates the feeling of Mad Max… probably better than the officially licensed Mad Max game does. It feels like a world gone mad, where anything can happen, and chaos reigns. Only your ability to adapt to the chaos will allow you to survive this wasteland. That’s exactly how I want driving a war-rig across the desert to feel. Bedlam knows its theme, perhaps better than its audience does. The difficulty may be discouraging, but it honestly makes beating the game feel like you have finally found your paradise.
Bottom Line: Skyshine’s Bedlam is a tough but rewarding trip through a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Recommendation: Fans of tactical games, strategy games, and roguelikes will adore this title. Any fan of Mad Max or other post-apocalyptic genre flicks will also get a kick out of it. Just be prepared to die and die a lot.[rating=4]