Its name is Bedlam, and it will probably kick your ass. In a good way, mostly.
I love Fallout, but the recent games have been lacking in one major area. I wish there was more for me to be authentically, tangibly afraid of. Bethesda’s Fallout games (Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas) told me I was drowning in this mutated piranha tank of a wasteland, but it didn’t take me long to accrue the right weapons, items, and resources—to figure out not just how to survive, but how to dominate. Heck, in the first few hours of New Vegas I was sweet-talking Supermutants and dicing up Deathclaws. Upping the difficulty and playing around with some realism mods helped a little, but I could never shake the feeling that the game world—while chock full of amazing, well-written characters to meet and rad things to do—was too nice, too focused on me, The Video Game Hero.
Bedlam is not nice. The new Steam post-apocalyptic survival adventure/strategy game is an utterly merciless take on the “crazy, weird wasteland” motif. Taking cues from permadeath turn-based strategies like XCOM and roguelike-likes like FTL, it concocts a formula of virulent hostility. If you’re not being attacked by rogue AIs, Mad-Max-style marauders, acid-barfing monstrosities, you’re running dangerously low on food or crude oil, the substance that keeps your massive wasteland caravan, the Dozer, running.
And of course, battles themselves are brutal. Most units will die (permanently) in a couple hits if you’re not careful, especially early on in a run. (It doesn’t help that the combat interface can be a bit arbitrary and fiddly. I wish, for instance, that there was a way to scope out the battlefield before picking which units to send into battle. Without that tactical layer, the game’s randomness sometimes feels unfair. It’s also a missed opportunity for additional strategy.)
Sometimes, even outside of battle, bad shit just... happens. Maybe you try to grab some supplies mid-battle, and they turn out to be a bomb. Maybe you discover that passengers were trying to sabotage the Dozer from the inside. Or maybe you’re already on your last leg—oil supply a drying stain on the floor, food more toxic dust than substance—and the game adds insult to injury by sending you this guy for your random roll last chance event (skip to the end of the video):
OK, I have questions: 1) WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU? 2) Who, upon seeing a broken down Dozer full of passengers that are sure to die anyway, thinks to themselves, “I know! I’ll walk up and introduce myself as a kindly old drifter, and then—keeping in mind that these people were absolutely going to die anyway—I’ll unleash one of the most horrific bioweapons ever devised by man or mutant”? Has there ever been a dicker dick move? Like, in history? Short of, I don’t know, just hitting someone with a dick?
Anyway. The game is not actually unfair about its more disastrous moments. Usually, you can choose to investigate stuff or walk away. However, you’d be surprised at how quickly you decide it’s a good idea to investigate everything when your supply storeroom is naught but flies and desperation. I mean, why not, right? It’s not like things could get any worse. And while encounters can get a little repetitive (and typical; the game’s lore pulls from a few too many post-apocalyptic tropes, unfortunately), Bedlam has—on the whole—not stopped surprising me yet. Discovery is definitely a big part of it.
So yes, Bedlam offers what I would consider a more “authentic” wasteland deathtrap vacation experience than, say, Fallout 3/New Vegas or, come to think of it, the recent Mad Max game. That’s not to say I dislike those games at all. I love them! But I’ve also been wanting a wasteland-roving game that kicks my ass and leaves me terrified—paranoid that any single move might be my last—and this game fits the bill.
No decaying, maggot-infested bones about it, Bedlam can be extremely frustrating. Frankly, its difficulty curve could use some tweaking, as it has some major humps—do-or-die, make-or-break moments that basically decide if a run is gonna be successful or not. These tend to involve troops surviving and killing enough enemies early on to attain veteran status and, a bit later, dwindling supplies. These difficulty spikes are a bit awkward, and—if overcome—lead to the game almost becoming easy.
Still, Bedlam is a game that—in only five hours—has already provided me with some fantastic moments. While I’ve seen other players complaining about the combat (unlike XCOM, you get two moves per turn no matter how many units you have on the field), I like it pretty well. Strict movement constraints turn each battle into an entity one-part chess and one-part puzzle; get careless, and enemies will absolutely trap one of your units and use their bowels to string an upright bass (or whatever it is crazy wasteland denizens do for entertainment). I had my best success playing somewhat conservatively, measuring and re-measuring move and attack ranges and luring enemies into making mistakes.
You will lose a shit-ton of units. I know I have. That makes it tough to get attached to many of them—sing their praises to your friends, ala XCOM—but when you manage to keep someone alive long enough to cross the veteran threshold, you get really attached. Sometimes that leads to moments of glorious triumph, like when my all-veteran and boss-turned-ally WRECKSQUAD terrified a group of bandits into paralytic fear:
Other times, I had units go veteran right when they were on the brink of death, topping off their health and giving them an attack boost in the process. It was like watching them go super saiyan. Suddenly, they were forces to be reckoned with. Later, I started paying attention to how close my units were to going veteran and using it as a mid-battle tactic.
XCOM-style attachment to units can also be born of heartbreak. For instance, at the end of one particularly disastrous run, I had one unit still alive. She was a veteran sniper named Morrigan. Our resources completely exhausted, we had no choice but to stop the Dozer, grind to a halt and pray for a miracle. What we got instead were marauders. Snipers are glass cannons; I knew Morrigan stood almost no chance out there all alone. But it was either make one final, crazed stand on death’s doorstep or attempt to flee—and die without food or dignity. So it was Morrigan versus a horde of marauders.
For a few moments, I thought she might actually pull it off. Eventually, though, the last two cornered her, and I—the brilliant tactician I am—fell for their two-pronged trap hook, line, and sinker. Thanks, Morrigan. And sorry.
My favorite Bedlam moments so far, though, have come when the difficulty forces me to behave in ways I never would in, say, Fallout or another, gentler post-apocalyptic game. Games like Fallout give you the option to do vile, shocking things (kill innocents, eat people, lie, cheat, steal, etc) in order to get by, but they don’t make me feel like I need to. In Bedlam, I was at the end of my rope, and even that was fraying. With no supplies left, I was approached by a convoy of nomads.
They offered to trade with me. My units were basically in a colorful assortment of pieces on the floor, so ambushing the nomads would’ve probably been futile. I had two other options: trade meat for crude or trade passengers for crude. I barely had any meat, so I did what I had to: I traded away human beings. I wasn’t proud of myself, but I did what I had to, and I kept my group going. For a little while, anyway.
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