I was approached by a cool guy named Trice to write a review of a game he’s gone bonkers for – take it away! I love these kind of posts, so if you want to do one, feel free to get in touch!
Skyshine’s Bedlam is a turn-based roguelike where players drive a ginormous APC across a post-apocalyptic desert riddled with mutants, robots, marauders and the occasional boss battle.
Think of it like Mad Max does XCOM does Fallout does The Banner Saga does FTL.
Where to start? I know, I’ll make a list of games that made me curse the universe and all the gods the most:
- Demon’s Souls
- Super Meat Boy
- Skyshine’s Bedlam
Bedlam is John Mueller’s baby – the creator of the critically acclaimed graphic novel OINK, which I wholeheartedly recommend. John has a twisted mind, in the most fantastic and interesting way you can think of. However, gaming-wise, that twisted mind of his slaughters your innocence from the get-go.
I swear, I tried to keep it cool, but when your favourite bruiser gets one-shot by an enemy DeadEye just because you can’t math properly, then all hell breaks loose.
It regularly punishes the player, and this regularity brings all sorts of despair and suffering – at least for the first few hours. To paraphrase some Nietzsche – and make all of you think that I’m the biggest hipster snob there is; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Eventually, you’ll figure out the best combination – a little bit of luck sprinkled on top, some positioning know-how and when to back down and run for the hills.
When you’re not losing resources – fuel, power and food; you’ll be losing passengers or fighters. There’s always a crisis ready to overcome your sand ship. Juggling with how to best save resources is followed by other small, but equally important, situations. Every now and then your exploration is going to be interrupted by turn-based fights.
At first, you’ll most likely lose all of the fighters that have “willingly” volunteered to carry out the battle in the name of Dozer – your APC’s name. Simply put, enemies will bite the life away from your crew.
During my first attempt at playing the campaign, everything was in the red – meat was sparse, I had fuel only for two or maybe three nodes and I stupidly started a fight with some A.I loonies.
It goes without mention that I failed in my search for Aztec City.
I was disappointed because of the lack of tutorials and the huge difficulty level. My second attempt ended within minutes because I thought I could take on Mutants with just my DeadEyes.
Yet, I found myself itching to get back into Skyshine’s Bedlam time and time again. I couldn’t stop thinking of it and how to come up with new strategies to at least play more than 30 minutes.
After you understand that you have to pay attention to every little thing, then you’re golden – well, not really, but you’re on the right path.
Bedlam’s combat system takes inspiration from the Banner Saga, and it somewhat polishes it to be more fun and less infuriating. However, it’s still infuriating as hell. Everything looks like a gory Saturday morning cartoon show for the adults that grew up with Biker Mice from Mars – but wanted BMFM to be more dark and gritty.
Art-style is scrumptious, and it’s best noticed when in combat. Every character seems like it’s ready to be an action-figure, special weapons deliver a satisfying punch, and bosses are crisp and pulpy. I very much love the art direction, considering that the 99 percent of post-apocalyptic infused games of the past 10 or 15 years have been yelling grim from the top of their lungs.
Death scenes are exaggerated to the point of becoming goofy and cartoony – think of Looney Toons on LSD. Acid vomit burns fighters to the bone, leaving a pile of skeletal remains in its wake, nukes pulverize even the toughest SOB, and bodies collapse in a rewarding manner when you hit a head-shot – in a not-so rewarding manner when you are the receiver.
It becomes maddening when you level up a Trencher and fall in love with his ability to clear wave of enemies without losing a drop of blood, only for Brutus to meet his demise because of poor positioning.
You can’t bring back characters from the dead. Once a fighter is dead, he stays dead. But you can heal them in your Dozer by letting them rest. On your search for Aztec City – the place to be if you don’t like all the terror that the wasteland conveys; you’ll find intriguing characters to join your ranks. From cyborgs to marauders, you can recruit everyone – except mutants. The only mutant that wants to join your quest is Chunderok, and that’s because every boss battle that you win entails a crew member reward. As in, the boss itself.
Writing is top-notch, and it stays well between the limits of absurdly funny, and stupidly absurd, with just a couple of one-liners that made me cringe.
You don’t have to necessarily pay attention to the lore. But you have to carefully read the text prompted by interactions with Bedlam denizens. You don’t always have to fight marauders or mutants, there are other ways to get passed seemingly unavoidable situations – some characters that join your crew have the ability to talk with certain enemies in order to avoid a gruesome bloodbath.
Be warned, though, there are some individuals that will sabotage your mission from inside the Dozer. Be careful who you take under your wing.
Yet, the star of the show remains in obscurity until it fails to work – The Dozer. The huge APC that carries crew members and shuttles fighters along with a ton of unseen civilians that need a new place to call home, is often overlooked at first.
Your Dozer can run out of fuel, which basically means game-over; and it’s the place where you check your other crucial supply – meat. Nestled inside the Dozer are 1000 civilians, which can die if you make bad decisions.
I remember encountering a tree of sorts that had seemingly delicious fruits. I gave a green-light to commence the process of filling-those-empty-bellies and out of the blue a quarter of my people died of poisoning.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away my ass.
You need to protect them at all costs. That’s actually the point of the whole game – find a safe haven for people to establish a new community. That’s where you and your crew of fighters come in.
Your crew is split into four classes:
- DeadEyes – which are basically snipers;
- Trenchers – your lovable shotgun-wielding maniacs;
- Gunslingers – fast firing units;
- Frontliners – your average tanks;
The one that has the longest range is obviously the sniper, which, of course, has the lowest amount of HP and can deal the most damage. Frontliners have the shortest range of the bunch, they deal low damage but they can take a beating.
It takes a lot of time and patience to master the perfect combination against A.I, marauders, cyborgs or mutants. Boss battles are a huge challenge, but the reward is massive – a new boss character joins your crew.
You can deal some sweet damage with Chunderok. And considering that there’s no cap on how many Boss characters you can have in your crew, it’s time to pick them up one by one.
Your units can increase in level by killing enemies. This means they get more damage and more HP – with the latter not increasing above a certain point.
Unfortunately, the combat system is a little bit bonkers. When you start a fight, you’ll be positioned totally random on the little battleground – the enemy also. More often than not, I have found my DeadEyes placed exactly near a bunch of enemy Trenchers that just obliterated my beloved snipers from existence.
This isn’t the only time the game shows an insane measure of cruelty.
The battlefield in front of you resembles a chess table – a twisted and demented chess table where you have to calculate two and even three steps ahead so the enemy doesn’t overwhelm you.
Your DeadEyes can’t shoot if the enemy is under their range, regardless if it displays that it can shoot a target at a bigger distance. There are boxes that block LOS, a bullet can reach the square in front of you, but not the one on your left or right.
This entails a lot of clicks on your troops to see where to position them so they can reach the enemy, and also a lot of clicks on the enemy in order to see if they can kill you in two moves or not.
It doesn’t sound so annoying on paper, but in practice, all that clicking can get to you. The logic system will eventually become decipherable. You just need to stick to your guns.
To sum it up, I quite enjoyed Skyshine’s Bedlam and its chess-like restrictions. It has an amazing art-style, and the lore is fantastic if you take time to delve into it. It can get real infuriating real fast, so take a second and unwind.
When I get angry at a video-game, I take to the words of one of my personal heroes – Satoru Iwata.
“Above all, video games are meant to just be one thing: Fun for everyone.”
You can buy Skyshine’s Bedlam off of Steam for $19.99. It had a tough launch with a lot of bugs and balance issues, but the 2.0 version is downright exquisite. The developers are listening to community feedback and they are trying their best to resolve problems that might arise.
Timothy Rice Bio
When I’m not gaming I’m usually writing short-stories about my escapades in the wilderness. I’m a Kubrick fan, but I agree that Wes Anderson better understands symmetry. I couldn’t live a day without chocolate, I couldn’t live an hour without writing.