Bedlam – Review
I’ve been playing a few recent games that feature rogue-like mechanics and perma-death. There seem to be a number of them around at the moment. Titles like FTL and Don’t Starve are quite popular. A number of these are indie titles, like Darkest Dungeon and Sunless Sea that have come to us via Kickstarter campaign, along with enthusiastic fan bases.
Skyshine’s Bedlam fits the mold of the afore-mentioned titles. Put together by the small, talented Skyshine team and made real through Kickstarter, it is a strategic single-player roguelike turn-based RPG. I had not heard of it before getting my review copy and felt a little bewildered after loading it up and starting a new game. The game provides a number of short tutorial videos, but they do cover the details quite quickly. Perhaps I’m a bit dim, but I was still quite uncertain about the combat mechanics when I started.
First things, first though. Bedlam is set in a post-apocalyptic version of North America. The place is basically a big desert filled with mutants, cyborgs, androids and other nasties (so it only slightly resembles current day USA. Sorry, that was a bad joke, but I made myself laugh). You play the role of the mysterious Mechanic. You are tasked with commandeering a massive armoured transport, called a Dozer, and leading it across the wasteland to the distant Aztec City where, hopefully, a better life awaits. You start with one thousand passengers, stores of meat, crude oil and power cells, and small crew of mercenaries.
There are three main portions to the gameplay. A map of the USA allows you select your next Dozer destination, or point of interest for your exploration vehicle. From the map screen you can also access other menus to manage upgrades to your Dozer, view available Dozer weapon details or view your crew profiles. Each crew member has various statistics and a back story. When selecting a destination you’ll see how much food (meat), crude and time (days) it will take to reach it. As you progress you’ll need to manage your resources carefully while making your decisions. Once you select a destination, you will generally be presented with an encounter or situation via text descriptions, sometimes with accompanying pictures.
Encounters are randomly generated and they help to build up the story of what is happening in the wasteland of Bedlam. However, I found myself clicking through them quickly to get to the action. Generally you’ll need to decide whether to investigate a landmark, a group of NPCs or something else along those lines. You may decide to attack, trade, talk, etc, via several onscreen choices. These could lead to loss or gain of various resources, or could result in a fight. This leads us to the combat.
Before each battle, you are given a chance to review and make changes to your combat team. You can select up to six combatants from available classes (assuming you have enough people) to take into the fray, but the rewards are greater if you use a smaller team. The classes have different attack styles, health and movement capabilities. There are also special elite units that need to be defeated in battle before they can be recruited. These special units take up more space on the battlefield, and often special attacks with high damage.
Each turn you have two movement points which are shared across your team. A movement point can be used to move one of your team or to get one of them to attack, if their target within weapon range. You need to pay attention to each characters movement range, and their attack pattern. For example, Dead Eyes (snipers) can only move a very short distance, but have a long strike range. However they cannot attack inside that range. Front liners can move quite far, but need to be adjacent to an enemy to attack. This makes positioning your team very important. You also need to consider your moves very carefully. If you spend one move point to get into range of an enemy, and your character is now in your enemy’s attack range, they get two attacks on your character for your character’s one attack. This really slows down the pace of play. If you rush you will incur high losses and/or have team members in recovery for longer. This really has a board game feel to it. To mix things up you have access to two special features of your dozer. Dozer weapons take one move point but can inflict massive area damage, negative effects or some combination of the two on your enemies. Battlefield equalizers can give your team an edge with effects such as healing or shielding.
There is also a cover system that utilizes walls, junk or barriers on the combat field. When a combatant is adjacent to some cover they will crouch and have a chance of avoiding attack damage entirely. However, it’s not as simple as just heading for cover and taking pot shots at your foes. Characters cannot attack enemies on the other side of cover, so you’ll need to use it strategically.
Combat animations are quite cool. They are particularly grizzly when someone (enemy or crewmate) dies from a high damage attack. In one animation, the victims flesh is chain gun right off their bones. Gross, but cool!
Any of your team that takes damage, will be unavailable for combat until a certain number of days have passed. Any that have died are gone for good. Team members that score a number of kills achieve veteran status, along with some stat boosts. Crew can continue to level as they achieve level milestones with more kills. Once again this underscores the need to carefully manage your team, their movement, your resources, and to plan carefully to stand a good chance to make it through to your goal.
The mechanics in Bedlam are solid. The art style cool and I like Skyshine’s gritty, desolate view of apocalyptic USA. However, I just found I couldn’t get into this game as much as some of the similar titles I mentioned at the start of the review. I wanted to rush through everything, so perhaps the slower pace is just not for me, or perhaps I’m just missing something. If you like careful resource management and strategic, considered combat and are not afraid of some punishment, you can pick up Bedlam on Steam.
Joel Guttenberg hearkens from the motherland in deepest, darkest southern Africa, but now calls Australia home. His interest in games led to a career in IT, both of which continue to this day. He occasionally wrangles electrons into stories that are hopefully fit for (e)print and never, ever, sleeps on the job.