Diving into Bedlam's Mad Max-like Apocalyptic Wasteland

It's like FTL in the Mad Max world with chess-like battles and the humor of Borderlands!

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When you start up Bedlam, you're greeted with a loading screen. Tool-tips give you useful advice for survival in the game's world. Every few seconds, the message changes. It's common in games; most games have loading screens, and most of those have messages on those.

But Bedlam's are notable: they aren't necessary. It doesn't need the lengthy load time to boot the game. The team at Skyshine Games put them in simply because it wanted to force players to read the messages. As I watched, the tool-tips started to devolve into an increasingly self-aware monologue. It culminated in an existential questioning of the nature of time.

That set the tone for the entire demo.

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Bedlam is a roguelike set in a post-apocalyptic world dominated by mutant beings all seeking resources and especially gasoline. You take control of a caravan that sets up shop in a giant vehicle called a Dozer, which carries you and your group from one end of the map to the other. You must bring your whole entourage all the way to the southern tip of the map to survive.

It's very reminiscent of 2012's popular game FTL: Faster Than Light, and the developer does not shy away from the comparisons. Bedlam brings you into places that threaten to destroy your entire caravan. It forces you to make decisions necessary for survival, but that might end in ruin. The game lives on the player's drive to explore just a little bit further, even if that additional push might spell disaster. In the short demo that I was able to play, within ten minutes I was forced to search further, sacrifice more crew members, and risk more in order to have enough gasoline to continue to move.

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And when you do get into combat, its turn-based system immediately forces you to make strategies and think through your actions. This is where Bedlam breaks with FTL and makes its own mark: Its combat is difficult from the beginning of the game, and it feels most like chess in its execution. Your characters have no set order and you can move twice a turn. I was most impressed with the style of the combat, however: your characters finish enemies off with flourishing, brutal animations. My favorite was when my mutant character spat green slime on an enemy, dissolving it to bones. Unfortunately, the simple act of selecting and moving your characters can be frustrating; I often clicked wrongly and wasted moves, or accidentally attacked an enemy that I wanted to inspect.

Problematic controls aside, Bedlam's combat shows great promise. Every encounter is a chess match, requiring all of your wits to line up shots properly and protect your characters. It's way more strategic than FTL, and it actually makes battles interesting and suspenseful rather than chores that you want to avoid.

Bedlam shines most in its exploration, however. I continually wanted to drive my Dozer deeper into the Mad Max-inspired wasteland and to see what was in the next sector. The little stories told at every junction fleshed out the world and added humor to my bumbling, ill-fated expedition. The developer has added small, amusing additions to the framework of the game, making something as simple as selecting your crew or jumping into a battle funny and interesting.

Bedlam channels FTL and Mad Max to great effect, but it also differentiates itself and brings an original take to the roguelike formula. I found myself drawn into the world and immersed in the tactics of combat, and I felt genuinely motivated to play again and push it further when I ran out of gas and died. If the developer tightens up the controls, Bedlam could inspire the passion in players to keep coming back and to forge their own stories in the game.

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