Ooooh, that’s a bold headline and claim! FTL opened up a new sub-genre of roguelike games with it’s tight focus on reaching a destination, the integration of a vehicle for resource management and combat and the escalating difficulty as one moves from the periphery of the starting location to the endpoint. Skyshine’s BEDLAM takes the formula, puts its own twist on it, and comes out the clear winner in this early race to set the standard for the best in show for this type of game.
Like the looming showdown with your crew and Dozer with the wasteland overlord King Viscera, it is impossible to escape certain comparisons with Skyshine’s BEDLAM and other notable games and media properties. FTL for the vehicle-centric roguelike nature of combat, increasing difficulty with progress and difficult resource management. The Banner Saga will also see frequent mention for the tactical, turn-based combat that defines enemy encounters. There’s the obvious association between the Mad Max series, especially with the recent success of Mad Max: Fury Road and the bleak, post-apocalytpic setting with an emphasis on vehicles. However, one game that should also be brought into the mix that I have not seen mentioned in reviews and previews is Cryptic Comet’s cult classic Armageddon Empires, for the similarity in setting and factions, including the different bonuses each faction brings to the battlefield. There’s also a soundtrack that gives a well-deserved hat-tip to the Borderland’s franchise.
Skyshine’s BEDLAM doesn’t exceed any of the elements of these other titles, but what it does do is combine the parts to make something that feels like a game that gives the player greater control at triumphing over the random events, permadeath and victory conditions that made FTL such a success.
The backstory goes like this: you start the game in Bysantine, a fortress city walled off from the dangers of the wastes. Your job is to escort a Dozer, a behemoth of a transport and combat vehicle engineered for dangerous post-apocalyptic exploring, to the fabled utopia of Aztec City, a region far to the south of you. Your Dozer, which by default is crewed by the human faction and limited to the Boneshaker model, opens up to the other factions and their Dozer models after you’ve met the requirements for unlocking them. Dozers provide direct combat and support features, which are limited by the power resource. One of the tactical decisions you will make from the first battle is when to use your Dozer’s abilities, because power is in limited supply. The same goes for crude, which fuels your Dozer and meat to sustain your crew. Moving your Dozer to different locations on the map automatically consumes fuel and food. Failure to manage either will result in a quick end to your expedition.
Permadeath is a one of the biggest factors in Skyshine’s BEDLAM. Run out of resources, game over. You also start the game with a complement of guardians to deal with the inevitable conflicts you will run into on your way to Aztec City. Your party will include four of each class. There’s the Deadeye, a long-rang sniper that has limited movement, low health and no short range offensive capabilities, but high damage for targets farther out. Next are the Frontliners. They carry shields and melee weapons. They have good movement range, can only attack adjacent enemies, but have the highest amount of health and are excellent at shielding weaker characters, boxing in enemy units and going after resource drops. Gunslingers wield hand-held projectile weapons and have decent health, decent movement and decent range. Their biggest weakness if they have no short range attack. Trenchers have the second highest health, a shotgun-like ranged attack, but they also have the ability to attack enemies for the same amount of damage with a melee ability, making them the most versatile unit when it comes to combat.
Combat and balancing resource management make up the core of the game. Random and not-so-random encounters take place on a map that uses a grid-like movement layout. The maps are often strewn with various forms of cover, resources that you can opt to go after and an assortment of enemy types, usually composed of one of the four factions roaming the wasteland. Each of these factions, which range from mutants to robotic gangs, have a unique ability they can use in battle. Any damage your characters take will require 30 days to heal, so you learn early not to rely heavily on your highest level characters and also the necessity to consign some of your warriors to death with the goal of winning an encounter, protecting other characters with higher value or supplementing your precious resource stockpile with additions you can grab off the field. You can supplement your troops with high-level characters after defeating them in special boss battles. These characters have higher stats and damage output than your stock characters, but they are also subjected to the same healing limitations. Sometimes you might have to sacrifice one of your coveted elite party members to continue your quest.
The tension between choosing routes, looking into random encounters, what choices to make, how to approach battles, your short term and long term priorities…this is what defines Skyshine’s BEDLAM. While there is a large random element for playthroughs, the strategic choices you are forced to make give you greater sense of control of your destiny than what you experience in FTL, and this is why I feel it it represents the next step forward in the genre. There was a significant patch released just before the retail release, and I expect to see more patches of this sort in the future. The biggest complaint many will have is the difficulty and seeming unfairness of the journey to Aztec City, but once you understand that the game is designed to force you to make sacrifices to continue forward, your strategic and tactical focus changes, and like a general facing a much larger force, you will willingly lose members of your party to achieve your ultimate goal.