Skyshine’s Bedlam Blends FTL, Mad Max, 2000 AD, Chess And XCOM

That’s a headline packed with good things, isn’t it? And here’s another good thing – even if you don’t like any of the games films and comics listed in that headline, there’s still a possibility that Skyshine’s Bedlam [official site] will have something for you. Maybe you liked The Banner Saga? Bedlam is built on the engine used in that game. Maybe you really like the idea of riding around a broken world within the guts of a giant mutation? Sure. You can do that.

I was sold on Bedlam after about a minute in its company. The FTL influence is in the structure of the map, which shows a series of territories in a post-catastrophe United States. You take control of a Dozer, a huge vehicle that is home to your crew and passengers as you travel from point to point in an attempt to build up enough resources to tackle a threat in the distant south. Working from the top of the map to the bottom, you’ll engage in scripted interactions with various characters and turn-based tactical combat.

The combat is superficially similar to The Banner Saga’s handcrafted battles but a combination of randomisation and a more rapid pace make it feel altogether unique. Rather than chipping away at armour and health as in Banner Saga, the encounters force you to rely on the specific abilities of each of your units. They can move and attack in a single turn and where you choose to place them will determine whether they survive to see the next turn. Even the toughest units are relatively fragile, and they will die if you leave them in harm’s way. Developers Skyshine draw a comparison with Chess and it’s earned – there’s a tension as to every placement and sacrifice will be required to draw enemy units into vulnerable positions.

There’s no equivalent of initiative or turn orders. You can move any unit on your turn, so using a single character to manipulate the movement of enemies is a legitimate tactic. The kill-range of every unit is visible and the small maps are split into safezones and dangerzones. You do not want to be welcomed into a dangerzone but it might be necessary if you are to expose an enemy to your allies.

The variety of units is impressive. They’re drawn from four factions: Marauders, Mutants, Cyborgs and The A.I.. Each has their own style of Dozer to play with and combatants to encounter or deploy. Skyshine showed me the Marauders and the Mutants. The former are raiders/Warboys, kitted out with spiked shoulder armour and funky goggles. Mutants are one with radiation and the remnants of chemical warfare. They have to be taken out quickly because the gain hitpoints with every turn that passes. That makes combat encounters with them a completely different tactical proposition to a fight between two gangs of Marauders, who have a more conventional set of abilities.

All combat has a time limit of sorts though. A meter rises after every turn and when it’s full your opponent gets two moves for every one you make. Life is unfair and so is Bedlam’s world. You’re working with one save per playthrough – if you lose half of your crew or passengers during an ill-advised detour into the land of sentient machines, you’ll have to make the best of whatever’s left over – but the game is designed to grab your interest from the first minute. Part of that is the randomisation, ensuring you’re not simply repeating the same opening stage over and over, but the other part is the structure around the random elements. From what I’ve seen, there’s a real sense of progression built into the game. You’re always moving forward, always improving your Dozer’s weaponry and abilities (which can sway battles in your favour), and always discovering new encounters.

It all looks splendid. Smart combat and a compelling string of encounters across a fascinating world. The world is the icing on the cake. It might be the cake as well as the icing actually. It’s a mish-mash of science fiction ideas that felt more like Dredd’s Cursed Earth than Mad Max to me, and it’s a creation that two of the developers have been toying with for years. A fusion of many of the pop culture worlds that they love, it manages to feel novel, partly thanks to the context of such an unusual game and partly thanks to the sheer brilliance of the art. Sometimes visuals that look fantastic in stills lose something in motion – Bedlam is even more striking when it’s happening right in front of you. I haven’t seen a better looking game this year.

Whether the simple resource management will be sufficient to make the journey between one encounter and the next compelling in its own right isn’t clear. Resource gathering carries through into combat in the form of optional risk-reward pickups but I think it’s mainly handled during encounters on the main map in the form of brief choices – send a few crew members to steal fuel from marauders and risk losing them. That sort of thing.

Whatever the case, this was one of the highlights of a crowded and exceptionally entertaining Gamescom. It’ll be out later this year and, busy as I am, if it were out tomorrow, I’d be playing it right through the weekend.

32 Comments

  1. ExitDose says:

    Maybe I’m misreading, but are you saying that this is like FTL because it has a point-to-point map, or is there some other facet that it shares in common?

    • Jeremy says:

      Sounds like it. “The FTL influence is in the structure of the map”

    • fredtoy says:

      I suppose that the FTL influence is the basic structure of the game. A crew travelling in a veichle to a defined destination on a point-to-point map dealing with randomized events at each stop. The veichle is also upgradeable.

      Never heard of the game before. Now, I’m hyped about it. The artwork reminded me of Geof Darrow’s work.

      • phlebas says:

        Geof Darrow style linework, and the colouring (especially of that top image) has a D’Israeli vibe. Lovely.

        • phlebas says:

          Aha. John Mueller, apparently:
          link to conceptartworld.com

          • SagaDC says:

            Yeah, in a recent interview Mueller mentioned that the world in this game is loosely based on the same world he created for his indie comic series, “Oink”. Though he mentioned that it was basically like a crazy version of that world.

      • Turkey says:

        I guess it’s faster to write FTL than Oregon Trail.

  2. GWOP says:

    The last image… it’s like a less adorable Ohmu.

    • guygodbois00 says:

      Ahh, Nausicaa – one of the best animated movies there is.

  3. RedViv says:

    There can be only one Bedlam, and this one does NOT have Rab Florence. I think.

    Still triggers a lot of my WANT processing organelles, but eh. Why.

  4. raiders says:

    @Adam Smith, thank you for writing this up; because frankly, i had forgotten all about it.

    i first saw this game during it’s infant kickstarter campaign.
    i was then like you are now.
    man, i wanted to play the game based off of the few images it had posted alone…which was like 3?

    sadly for me, i didn’t back them.
    but it’s not my fault.
    that was during a time when i was fed up w/kickstarters.
    and based on the amount of funds they had accumulated at the time, i didn’t think the game would see the light of day.

    i also thought it would only appeal to people like me…and that niche, i’m sad to say, was pretty damn small
    (i mean, i still don’t see what everyone finds so great about witcher 3 & dragon age inquisition).

    nonetheless, i am very pleased to admit i was so wrong.
    i added BEDLAM to my wishlist, man.
    looks like i’m gonna have a wonderful september this year!

    • klops says:

      “I love Bedlam” the song.

    • Hobbes says:

      I looked at bedlam, then at the kickstarter, and found out that the version on Steam will be content incomplete. Seriously, this BS needs to stop. Even Bloodstained buckled to it to some small extent by making a swordwhip and boss KS edition exclusive.

      The Indie’s version of AAA-preorder-culture needs to die a death, in chemicals, preferably the kind that you keep in Teflon containers. I’ll be actively recommending against people buying this because I don’t want to support this kind of asinine practice. This needs to get filed under “Never pre-order” and become a thing that people actively start dealing with.

      • qrter says:

        Oh dear, it has KS backer-only content? That’s disappointing.

        It wouldn’t be so bad if the extra content was offered as DLC after a period of time, but that hardly seems to happen in previous cases like these.

  5. Artist says:

    Cool, Chess! Im interested… sorta…..

  6. alisonburgers says:

    That mix of influences, plus the first image, makes this look VERY appealing to me.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    So are you saying that you can only move one of your units each turn? Or do I misunderstand? I’m not sure I’m into that, if so.

    • Henas says:

      My understanding is that you move and/or attack with any unit then the enemy will do the same. That constitutes a turn. Next turn, you can use the same unit again if you wish.

      I would be interested to know if one of your crew dies in the combat, are they dead for good or is a KO type mechanic and they’re revived after the combat ends?

      • SagaDC says:

        Each turn you can activate two units, or one unit twice. Each time a unit is activated, you can either move or attack. Once your turn is over, the enemy does the same thing. There’s no forced initiative order, so you can activate the same unit repeatedly if you wish.

        If one of your crewmen gets wounded, it will take them several days or weeks to fully recover. If one of your crewmen gets killed, they’re dead forever unless you’re fortunate enough to have one of the few items or upgrades that will let you clone them or heal them back from the brink of death.

  8. Xzi says:

    This is definitely my type of game. Day one purchase for me.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    The concept and influences immediately reminded me of Convoy, although obviously the gameplay is very different. Looks like fun.

  10. The_invalid says:

    Ooohhhh, that art style is fantastic. This is 200% my thing. Really looking forward to this.

  11. RanDomino says:

    “You can move any unit on your turn” and I’m no longer interested.

  12. trn says:

    ‘(i mean, i still don’t see what everyone finds so great about witcher 3 & dragon age inquisition)’

    Amen, brother (or sister).

  13. Rumpelstilskin says:

    “You’re working with one save per playthrough” – was actually very interested up until that point. Although if it’s TBS’s engine, it’ll probably be easy enough to back it up, so I guess I still am.

    • AndreiCristian90 says:

      I was so hyped until that. What do you mean just one save per playthrough? :/ I was about to pre-order it on Steam. Now I’m just going to wait for more reviews to see if it’s worth it or not.

      • Rumpelstilskin says:

        If it’s anything like TBS, which it probably is, then it’s a single save slot that’s updated on exit and after something happens. “Something” can be things like a combat encounter, or losing your best fighter in a scripted event because you made “wrong” choices. Luckily, it also means you can easily alt-tab and back up the save before it’s overwritten.

        • Xzi says:

          Gamers these days are so afraid of defeat. Roguelikes and games with roguelike elements get it right: only through failure can you eventually succeed. It’s true in life as well as the digital world.

          • Rumpelstilskin says:

            Well, one can argue that doing things right is also a pretty solid way to succeed. That said though, how is loading a save not retrying after a failure? Quick heads up: the entire civilization is built around minimizing recovery costs in case of failure, otherwise people would still be dying from bad teeth or failing to kill enough mammoths to survive a winter. This makes iterations faster, and accelerates progress. In fact, I think the “singularity” thing is when intelligence finally becomes powerful enough to be able to do exactly what’s necessary to achieve the goal without making mistakes.

          • qrter says:

            What are you on about..? One of the truly unique things about games is that you basically can travel back in time and take the road not taken. I do enjoy roguelikes, but this weird fetish for irreversability is idiotic.

          • Machinations says:

            There is a certain point though that there are gamers who enjoy difficulty and permadeath, and those who very much do not.

            I find these tend to align into the groups that play for ‘fun’ and those that play ‘for challenge’.

            Anyway, I love permadeath games, and while I wont complain about overly easy titles – oh hi, Shadow of Mordor and pretty much every other AAA game ever made – I like permadeath, I like brutal difficult, I am not alone, and I am certainly not ashamed.

  14. Prosper0_cz says:

    Oh really? Please, tell us more.