One of the key points that’s often argued in favor of indie game development is the idea that you’re allowed to be more innovative if you’re not tied down to a publisher. That’s true! You can make any game you want if The Man isn’t holding you down by offering you funding, ensuring you get work done and trying to direct you toward product a marketable product. Of course, that last bit isn’t guaranteed in indie games or AAA games alike, and as we’ve seen in recent years, indie developers have learned that doing what works sells. Thus: Skyshine’s BEDLAM, a strategy title that’s very similar to a game one or two of you out there might recognize called FTL: Faster Than Light.
In BEDLAM, you play the Mechanic, essentially a convoy leader who heads up the crew of a massive transport machine called a Dozer. Your goal is to get your crew and passengers safely across the wasteland of BEDLAM to the mythical Aztec City. As the name might suggest, this journey’s not going to be sunshine and roses; BEDLAMN is packed with nastiness of all sorts, ranging from killer mutants to rogue AI to your classic Mad Max-style raiders, and they’d all like to crack open your Dozer to get to the tasty innards. Even without all the denizens of the desert trying to kill you, you’ll have to manage fuel and food stores as well as conserving power for essential upgrades.
This probably sounds like FTL already! The two have a lot in common – you’ll travel from node to node, paying fuel and food for each trip and dealing with situations as they arise. Quick thinking and risk-taking can earn you rewards, but it can just as easily result in unnecessary and expensive combat encounters or negative random events. Plotting out your path and dealing with whatever arises is a good time, though the number of random events feels a bit low compared to FTL so you might run into repeat encounters before too long; ideally this will be addressed in future updates. You’ll find upgrades and weaponry in the wastes if you’re lucky, as well as more significant upgrades like new crew members or even new Dozers.
The game’s most significant change from FTL’s formula is the combat system. What we’ve got here is a turn-based system that features a similar risk-reward mentality as the rest of the game. You’ll bring in up to six members of your crew per battle, each with their own class, and try to bring down whatever flavors of evil are out to kill you today. Your crew is divided up into four classes – Deadeyes, snipers that deal lots of damage but have a very specific attack range and are easily killed; Frontliners, which use melee weapons and deal little damage but have lots of movement speed and health; Trenchers, with shotguns that push back opponents; and Gunslingers, which strike a balance between the attributes and can counterattack when struck. Naturally, death is permanent, so you probably shouldn’t get too attached to your characters (especially the Deadeyes, who will drop like flies until you figure out how to protect them).
Every turn, you’ll get two actions consisting of movement or attacking to spend amongst your squad as a whole, as will the opponents. This ties into that risk-reward thing I mentioned; while you can bring up to six crew members, bringing fewer will earn you additional post-combat bonuses. Turtling is an effective strategy at first, but the enemies have an advantage in the Blitz Meter, which fills up over time and will eventually give them a three-action turn. You’ve got your own equalizer, though, in the form of…well, Equalizers! These are short-term buffing and healing abilities that you’ll find as you explore the wasteland. There’s also Dozer-mounted weaponry you can fire to even the odds. Both Equalizers and Dozer Weapons cost a huge amount of Power Cells to use, though, and since you also use those to upgrade your Dozer you’ll have to be careful.
Combat gets even more interesting when you run into one of the boss battles randomly scattered throughout the wastes. These guys are big, bad and ready to eat your crew for lunch – literally when it comes to the “big” part as they’re four times as large as your average crew member! Bosses are likely to take a few crew members with them on the way down, but when they’re defeated they’ll join your Dozer and you can use them in future battles, which is a nice touch. If you’d rather breed your own badasses, all you have to do is keep a crew member alive long enough to get a few kills and they’ll be upgraded to Veteran status, offering them increased attributes and higher damage. Further killing results in even greater bonuses, so as difficult as it can be to keep people alive it’s totally worth it.
Presentation is generally well done, though it’s worth noting that the sound is astoundingly loud by default and might blow out your eardrums if you start playing with a headset on as I did. The graphics are done in a gritty post-apocalyptic style reminiscent of a ’90s comic or something out of 2000AD. Despite the gruesome proceedings, violence is generally played for laughs, as characters are skeletonized by gunfire and such; Hatred this ain’t. There’s also the odd voice clip here and there, though the game lacks full voice acting.
If I had one complaint about Skyshine’s BEDLAM during my time with it, that would be the game’s brutal difficulty. You’re going to lose crew members and Dozers. It’s going to happen all the time. Get used to restarting. If you’re patient, though, and you’re willing to endure catastrophic game-ending losses, then BEDLAM is an enjoyable experience on par with FTL. If you’re into the roguelike thing that’s all the rage with indie developers these days, you can’t go wrong here.