In principle your goal in Bedlam is simple, reach the Aztec City and its promises of relief from a barren apocalyptic desert. To get you there you need wheels, or claws actually in some cases. Not just any wheels but impossibly gigantic ‘Dozers’ made for the sole purpose of carting you, your equipment and a whole platoon of passengers across the wastelands to the promised city. And that’s pretty much the end of anything in the way of ease as far as Bedlam is concerned.
Bedlam certainly qualifies for punishing roguelike status. Aside from managing valuable resources like fuel, food, energy and travellers you will need to fight. You start with a respectable roster of fighters including snipers, gunslingers (with multiple weapons), shotgunners and hardened melee fighters with shields. As you might expect they all perform different roles in combat and knowing how to use them all properly can help you win a fight – sometimes.
Problematically it can only help you win. I’m no stranger to X-com, FTL and other roguelike/strategy games but the fighting system in Bedlam is overly punishing. For my first run I set the difficulty to easy (and haven’t managed to move beyond it yet) to try and figure my way around the place. Unfortunately even on this setting it’s quite difficult to get to grips with the mechanics and especially the combat. Keeping long range characters behind your tough characters makes little difference when your hardest fighters can take at most 2 hits before death. If the enemy gets a critical its death straight away with no chance at all. Yeah that was fun.
My frustration quickly grew from having no tactical choices to make during combat. The enemy has the same skills and abilities as you do except being an AI has the luxurious advantage of not needing to win. It also doesn’t need to concern losses which are, of course, permanent. I’m happy to sustain the occasional loss, anyone who’s completed Xcom on impossible a few times knows as much, but when sustaining almost total casualties during the first battle I found myself unable to play. Improving your fighters also requires them to fight so if you shy away from combat your crew will never improve. But taking them in will likely get them killed.
One thing that has to be said for the combat is that the pacing is excellent. By avoiding awkward menus or overly complex targeting systems battles are speedy and satisfying at least in mechanical terms. Targeting and movement options are clearly displayed and it took only two or three battles and a quick video tutorial for me to get going and start losing.
Aside from the combat your time will be spent resource managing and deciding how to respond to situations and also deciding on the best route to take across the wilderness. It’s not quite as easy as just heading south and often the options open to you will be limited, at times even sending you temporarily away from your objective. As with most games of this kind the situations and character interactions are presented through text with a few accompanying pictures and the occasional sound effect. Again Bedlam manages to keep the pace up and lets you feel like your moving at all times.
It doesn’t really allow for any meaningful character relationships or connections but that isn’t Bedlam’s goal. Its goal is to keep you playing and making decisions rather than reading wall after wall of text. It does this very well and far better than any other roguelike I’ve played which can often get bogged down at points and even become boring. There’s definitely one thing you can’t call Bedlam and that’s boring.
Another big success for Bedlam is the awesome styling. The second you load up the game there is a styled theme running through that can’t be avoided. It does a great job of creating a post apocalyptic world setting through some beautiful cell shaded artwork. The menus, vehicles, characters and weapons are all hugely stylised the entire presentation just oozes with style. It’s a particular treat during combat when you can see character animations, weapon effects and some good old fashioned gore.
Skyshine’s Bedlam is a fast paced and exciting take on the roguelike genre and avoids being over concerned with text prompts and telling a story. I love a good story but being faced with endless walls of text is never much fun. There is a meaningful resource management and exploration mechanic at work that, sadly, you often don’t get to enjoy because the combat is massively too difficult. Even on easy it’s almost impossible to escape from a fight without casualties. You might win every fight but it’s almost certain you will have at least one death each time and often many more. When you have 16 precious soldiers your game can end very soon. More often than not I lost 3 during the first fight. I’ll just restart again then. But the outcome rarely changes.
Difficulty isn’t specifically the problem but the fact that the pace is so high means that combat has little to no tactics. It’s not like you can try something different or find better cover. It just doesn’t matter. You play out the combat and see who loses first. With permadeath this doesn’t work out well and quickly got me annoyed and basically ruins the game. A majority of players will not be able to play Bedlam even on easy and honestly that’s a real shame.