If you took my favorite things and threw them in a blender it would come out looking like Skyshine’s Bedlam. Its blend of Mad Max's aesthetic, turn-based strategy combat, and roguelike trappings made me think I’d found the perfect game for me. But just like love at first sight, once I got to know Bedlam a little better, I realized that looks can be deceiving.
In Skyshine’s Bedlam, you helm a vehicle known as the Dozer. The minute story details change from playthrough to playthrough because of the procedurally-generated nature of the game, but the main goal is to flee your home of Bysantine and drive you and your passengers to the Aztec City--Bysantine is suffering under the tyranny of a crazed warlord, King Viscera (no, not the ex-WWE wrestler). Along the way, you're stopped by wanderers, hostile factions, and other events and people that prevent you from just making a bee-line to your destination.
Combat is a turn-based affair where you fight groups of marauders, mutants, and cyborgs. Your entire party can perform two actions per turn, which can be used to either move around, or to attack an enemy; for example, if you move one character and attack with another, your team's turn is over. This is far too restrictive in practice, and you often feel like there are only two strategies: move your character out of harm's way, or kill one enemy and have one of your characters die because you couldn't get them to safety.
Simple tactics, like using a shotgun to knockback enemies into range of another character's attack, feel rewarding, but those moments are fleeting. There's not much strategic depth, and other than move distance, attack range, and damage, there's little else that distinguishes one character class from another, and little else to toy with during combat. I ultimately felt lucky--not accomplished--when I was victorious.
The comic book-like presentation is great, and there's some enjoyable animations to behold, especially during combat. Killing an enemy with certain weapons, such as puke or a shotgun, causes them to crumble into a pile of bones. Characters perform finishing move animations if you kill an enemy point blank, like kicking them in the balls and delivering an elbow drop. These are pretty satisfying to watch and make some of the shots look absolutely devastating.
The Dozer plays a major role in the world-traversing part of the game. During these segments, you click on icons to move around a randomly-generated map at the cost of food and fuel; the icons on the map will deliver tidbits of story through text. Sometimes you end up in a fight, sometimes you find some resources, and sometimes nothing will happen. Unfortunately, the variety of text that appears on the map is low, as I found text repeating itself quite early on, which pulled me out of the story.
There are times when they're unhappy, scared, or in need of a breath of fresh air, but it doesn’t delve deeper than that and I really wish Bedlam would give me a good reason to care about them. You rarely get the feeling that you're harboring living, breathing humans.
In addition to providing transportation, the Dozer can be used to heal teammates, turn them invisible, and to attack enemies. These abilities don’t count as an action, but they require power cells--a rather limited resource. These attacks deliver a devastating blow to your enemies, but because of the high resource cost--due to the rarity of power cells--I rarely used the Dozer for anything but healing my group.
In the context of the story, your passengers are precious cargo, which you can lose if you're unlucky, or play poorly. There are times when they're unhappy, scared, or in need of a breath of fresh air, but it doesn’t delve deeper than that and I really wish Bedlam would give me a good reason to care about them. You rarely get the feeling that you're harboring living, breathing humans. Though the game ends if you run out of passengers, they're oddly plentiful, to the point that it's a no-brainer to give some of them up in trade to refuel the Dozer. As long as you make it to Aztec City, you are rewarded with new soldiers, regardless of how well you treated your crew.
Defeating all of the hostile factions--Marauders, Mutants, Cyborgs, and Rogue A.I.-- allows you to unlock new factions and their respective Dozers. Each faction has its own unique abilities and stats; Rogue A.I. can teleport, while the Cyborgs can go invisible, allowing them to avoid getting hit for a turn. The big problem is that it’s not clear how you defeat a faction; it requires luck and patience, as finding the events that lead to unlocking a Dozer is seemingly random.
Not being able to make meaningful, permanent progress is ultimately its biggest flaw, and when something so crucial is missing, it’s hard to recommend.
You occasionally run into Elites during your travels, which are significantly larger and stronger characters than the average wastelander. With a greater amount of health and strength, they're tough, but they will join your ranks if you can beat them. It feels like a special event when they appear, and I always make a beeline toward them when they show up, dreaming of my powerful new recruit. Favorites include a lizard-mutant that pukes an acid-like substance and a giant wildman with a triple-barrelled shotgun that shoots incendiary ammo.
Normally, you organically find Elites during your journey, but in the new Challenge mode, you start with a random crew of Elites and stronger-than-average soldiers from the get-go. Here, your goal is reversed: you travel from Aztec City to Byzantine, though King Viscera and factions are still on high alert, now with increased health and strength. This puts you past the stage of leveling up your crew and puts you right into the middle of hard-hitting combat. This is initially thrilling, but it can also be frustratingly difficult; you often feel forced to focus all of your resources on boss characters, which often leaves you empty handed, and ill-prepared to face the rest of your opponents.
Skyshine’s Bedlam has some good moments, but the story is devoid interesting or layered tales. The experience is largely defined by chasing simple goals while enduring repetitive dialogue and narrative beats along the way. Combat feels good enough, but there's not much to it, and little to strive for. Not being able to make meaningful, permanent progress is ultimately Skyshine's Bedlam's biggest flaw, and when something so crucial is missing, it’s hard to recommend. There is some fun to be had, but Skyshine's Bedlam ultimately mirrors the reality it depicts. You can survive hardships, but only if you struggle through them.