Skyshine’s Bedlam is like FTL crash-landed into Fallout

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My apocalyptic bruiser is easily ten feet tall. He and his hundred-point sledgehammer have been making short work of a gang of mutants. While the rest of the squad hangs back. Sledgehammer man approaches a lumpy, green mutant that looks like a frog with a thyroid condition. The mutant gags and vomits an acidic green bile, melting sledgehammer man down to fat. A few minutes later, my entire squad has been rendered to tallow.

Skyshine’s Bedlam is most easily understood as FTL mashed with Fallout. Starting from the sanctuary city of Bysantine, an expedition has been formed to cross the wasteland for the fabled land of Aztec City. Why exactly Aztec City would be safe or even exist is not explained. It’s the promised land, and you are Moses.

The expedition sets out inside a massive armored vehicle with a thousand passengers. Each day spent in the wasteland lowers your stocks of fuel and food. If you run out, the expedition is over. Along the way, Bedlam throws random encounters with cyborgs, mutants, rogue AI, and mutated monsters of all stripes at you. Each random encounter could restock your supplies, kill some of your crew, or bring new companions on board. Bedlam’s roguelike influence gives you one shot to make it to the finish line, and your crew’s deaths are permanent.

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So far, so FTL, right? The twist comes when the combat kicks off. Rather than scrambling around the rooms of their vessels, both sides face off in a small isometric battlefield reminiscent of Fallout’s random desert encounters. The developers have likened the turn-based combat to chess, and I think that’s roughly apt. Each turn is short and made up of two actions. Players can either move a character twice, move a character and attack, move two characters, or attack twice. Combatants come in four classes (melee, close, medium, and long-range), and each class has a set range for movement and attack. With care, talented tacticians can move troops so their fields of fire overlap. An enemy forced into overlapping kill zones will be dead fast.

Balancing the four classes for effective combat might be a problem as Bedlam approaches release. I had a particularly hard time getting the hang of the sniper class. Snipers are weak, slow, and their attack isn’t any stronger than the shotgun class’. Snipers have an extremely limited shot window, and faster troops can easily get inside their range and trap them. When I finally reached the end of the wasteland, all of my melee and close-range troops had killed and died for the cause, but the sniper roster was still full of rookies. I never used them to good effect.

I also came across a couple of game-stalling bugs. Nothing major, but Bedlam’s enforced roguelike style meant that when an AI refused to take his turn during combat, my game was over. I hope that the full release has these ironed out, because with permadeath on and roguelike rules in force, a minor bug can easily erase an hour of play.

Nice ride.

Nice ride.

There are several different races and technology types to experiment with, and different factions start with different dozers. Some are sleek and high-tech, others look like they belong in Mad Max. One in particular is a giant, living beetle, presumably lobotomized to become a stinking, oozy Uber driver to paradise. Each ship offers differing amounts of fuel efficiency and food storage, but picking one over the other didn’t change the entire game the way a new cruiser in FTL did.

One thing Bedlam definitely has down is the atmosphere. Between the grungy menu readouts and gorgeous illustrated character cards, Bedlam paints a portrait of a nasty, dangerous world. The music plays a big part in this immersion, with its Western-inspired steel guitar riffs. In several hours of scrounging for crude oil and whacking mutants with hammers, I never got tired of the looping, twanging soundtrack.

Pending a few bug fixes and perhaps adjustments to the combat design, Bedlam might be a new standout in the PC's growing catalog of permadeath adventures. Its release is only a couple of weeks away, on September 17.