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Wild Bastards Hands-On Preview: Space Cowboy Roguelite Fun

Platform(s): PC (via Steam, version previewed)
Genre: First-person shooter, space Western, roguelite

From the devs that brought you the unique-looking System Shock/BioShock-esque shooter Void Bastards comes a cowboy-themed roguelite with first-person shooting and gunplay: Wild Bastards. Already, this game has hooked me with its Western premise alone, as that genre and setting isn’t that common these days.

You play as two remaining outlaws called the Wild Bastards: with a bunch of vendetta-filled outlaws led by one Jebediah Chaste hunting you down, you resort to getting help from a magic spacecraft called the Drifter. This sentient being offers to resurrect the Wild Bastards and return home to the mythical place called the Homestead.

I’m very sure there are a bunch of catches the Drifter will eventually cash upon, but so far that’s the story bit that turns this whole outlaw resurrection program into a roguelite. Right now in this 45-minute long demo I played, this shooter’s got a promising mix of turn-based exploration and roguelite elements to go along with its unique brand of animation and simple-coloured look.

 

Cowpoke

You start in one section of the galaxy in your trusty Drifter ship, going from left to right through different jumps through space and searching through every pathway until you come across a golden coffin with your outlaw in it. Each path opens up a stage with its own map and nodes, where you have to find a working jumppad on the map to head to the drifter. Along the way, you’ll fight tons of outlaws and bandits in showdowns -each of them taking place in procedurally-generated stages- as well as uncover bonuses, shops for upgrades, and random encounters of possibly dubious Western nature.

The game is half turn-based exploration and half a first-person shooter where all conflicts are resolved with gunplay. Sure, you can bribe enemies to avoid a showdown, but where’s the fun in that if you have all these bullets and weapons at your disposal? But you can’t hang around one place for too long and exhaust all treasure and lootables; there will be bounty hunters and stronger outlaws in their own ships and super-powered possies who will chase you around until your band is dead, so you’ll need to secure an escape route when that happens.

The demo gave me access to three outlaws: Spider Rosa, Casino, and Smoky. Spider the multi-armed woman boss dual-wield revolvers, while Casino the robot wields a coach shotgun. Smoky the literal fiery-headed alien(?) can lob fireballs onto enemies; their flames will continuously damage enemies. No doubt the game’s upcoming outlaw roster will add a ton more variety with gunplay and special skills.

Each of them can also be strengthened further with mods and Ace cards. The former comes in equippable gear that boost damage, movement speed, and even add abilities like double jumps. The latter just adds powerful character-specific passive moves, like Spider’s crit damage passive that activates if she shoots someone in the back.

Spider’s clearly my favourite because she’s the only one among the cast who dual wields revolvers with decent range, and most of my showdowns in my few Wild Bastard runs are favoured towards long-ranged outlaws. As Casino’s shotgun has limited range and Smoky’s lobs are more effective as damage-over-time tools, Spider has carried me from start to finish. We’ll definitely get more outlaws to play around with in the full version, so she may not be my main in that version of the game.

What’s really cool so far in the demo is not just how fluid and fast the gameplay types are -the FPS fights and turn-based aspects go by really quick and transition in and out smoothly- but how the Void Bastards art style and animations translate well into a space Western setting. Wild Bastards’ thick black outlines for characters & backdrops, 2D animation style, and overall aesthetics just remind me of a smoother and clean-cut BUILD game in the 90s based on a non-existent Bravestarr spin-off. All this comes equipped with its charm and style to make it stand out from other first-person shooters that blend roguelite elements.

 

Riding In The Solar Sunset

So far, my only gripe with the 45-minutes I had with this space roguelite is the vertical combat. Enemies who are already on top of our outlaws already have a huge advantage as we had to search high and low for them, then get pelted a few health pips while searching. Climbing up ladders will position my FOV away from the enemy, meaning bad guys can get a jump on me when instantly teleport up from a ladder. Though to be fair, there’s no climbing animation when going up to these posts, so it’s not like I’m a complete sitting duck.

Speaking of deaths, most of mine all came not from enemy gunfire, but from poison. In some stages set in swamps, one wrong step into the bayou will inflict poison status onto you. It’s really strong and can down your entire health within seconds if you’re not careful with your step. Coupled with suicide bomber bugs and disappearing sniper snakes, and you can see that some stages in Wild Bastards can murder you faster than others.

At the end of the day though, it’s the luck of the draw like Texas Hold ‘Em (or an actual OK Corral showdown), as my second run-through with the game allowed me to finish the final stage of the demo quicker. This is due to the space thief near my side of the map who stole the golden coffin for me from a far point of the map and for free! I made my way through the nearby teleporter after a town skirmish, and I’m done with the entire demo!

Wild Bastards will be out later on 12 September 2024 for PC and features a ton more biomes, a ton more outlaws to recruit, and a lot more gunplay than you can shake a stick at. Preview build provided by the publisher, FYI.

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