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Skyshine's Bedlam

Platform(s): PC
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Versus Evil
Developer: Skyshine Games
Release Date: Sept. 17, 2015


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PC Preview - 'Skyshine's Bedlam'

by Thomas Wilde on July 23, 2015 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

Skyshine's Bedlam is an action-packed RPG that features heavy-duty turn-based battles, over-the-top effects, and tons of replay value with random encounters and a punishing "new game+" mode.

What first got my attention about Skyshine's Bedlam was its poster art, which makes it look like something that might have run in Heavy Metal or 2000AD, once upon a time: thick lines, a postapocalyptic theme, big mutants that actually look alien, and characters that aren't afraid to be a little ugly. As it turns out, that wasn't an accident, as the art director on Bedlam is John Mueller, late of Vigil Games and creator of the '80s indie comic Oink!, who counts a lot of those same British science fiction comics — Robo Hunter, Strontium Dog, the work of Moebius and Geoff Darrow — among his primary influences.

Unsurprisingly, given that, Bedlam looks like some kind of lost arc from early Judge Dredd comics. It's a postapocalyptic roguelike, set in the old '80s version of what the world would look like after a nuclear war. You must navigate a desert wasteland full of raiders, mutants, and bizarre tribes of survivors, fighting over what resources you can wring out of what's left of the continental United States. Life is short, death is cheap, and the entire place looks like the least settled bits of Arizona.

Bedlam's a Kickstarter game, and like a lot of those games that showed up at E3 2015, it has a feel like it's somebody's 30-years-in-the-making dream title, mostly because it is. It openly draws its inspiration from sources that range from Oregon Trail to FTL to Final Fantasy Tactics and the original XCOM, and much of theworld is based upon the developer's childhood homebrew tabletop games. It's exactly what the Skyshine developers had always wanted to play.

Your role in Bedlam is that of the Mechanic, who discovers the wreckage of an old robot inside an abandoned tank. Once he fixes the robot, it tells him that it was once a member of a guild of explorers who freely wandered the wastelands outside Byzantine, the last city on Earth. It still has the stored coordinates for a second city on the other side of the wasteland, which it describes as a utopia. The Mechanic and the robot promptly recruit a handful of mercenaries and adventurers and set out in the tank, called the 'Dozer, to try and find that city.

When you first begin playing Bedlam, you're cooped up in the Dozer with a combat crew of up to six characters, and you must balance available resources to be able to keep going. The wasteland south of Byzantine is split up into a series of tiles, each of which is controlled and constantly fought over by one of four factions in the wasteland.

Moving through each tile can trigger random events, where you can encounter NPCs, learn about the world (and there's a lot to learn; Mueller told me that they've been working on this world for years now), find items to salvage, recruit new characters for your crew, or inevitably get into fights. That random element means that no two runs through the game will ever be exactly the same; two different players will have wholly different experiences.

The combat in Bedlam is turn-based and set on a hex-based battlefield, with both sides employing pistols, shotguns, rifles, grenades, and the occasional acid-spewing mutant buddy. The equipped weapons or available abilities determine characters' roles and ranges, which forces you to pay a lot of attention to positioning and possible overextension. In motion, it reminded me a bit of the old "gold-box" D&D games from SSI, or the earliest levels of play in a Disgaea game before things get crazy. It's slow, deliberate and thoughtful.

It's also very tense because Bedlam features permanent death. Your characters are fragile, with many having as few as 8 to 10 HP from what I saw, and even the toughest characters can only soak up a couple of enemy gunshots. If they die, it's permanent, and all you can do is replace them, which means one tactical error can cost you your favorite character. With that said, you can recruit a variety of units for your team, ranging from gunmen and snipers to giant clawed mutant death machines, so you're likely to develop a strong bench as you move through the wastes. Try not to get attached.

I gave Skyshine's Bedlam one of my nominations for the best game at this year's show because I'm exactly the kind of sucker this is targeting: it's a British science-fiction apocalypse that plays out like the viciously difficult turn-based strategy games that I grew up playing. At the same time, it reminds me of a few different indie comics in how it wears its influences openly on its sleeve, and how it's a tour through a very specific blend of someone's favorite bits of pop culture: big mutants, giant gas-burning tanks, berserk marauders who speak in Cockney rhyming slang, friendly robots and a quest for utopia. As with a lot of games at E3 this year that owe their existence to Kickstarter, I have to salute Bedlam for being exactly what its creators wanted it to be, marketing and focus groups be damned.

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