Wild Bastards Key Art showing title and main characters.
Image via Blue Manchu

Wild Bastards Preview: Hyper-stylized space western almost reaches warp speed

The meanest, low-down, yellow-bellied outlaws this side of the galaxy.

Wild Bastards is described by the developers — a small Australian indie outfit known as Blue Manchu —as the "spiritual successor" to Void Bastards, their deep-space FPS rogue-like from 2019. Though Void Bastards won them awards for its comic-book style art and drew plaudits for its nihilistically absurd humour, it remains to be seen whether Wild Bastards will continue or buck that trend.

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What is Wild Bastards?

While still set in space, Wild Bastards gives the theme a thoroughly western overhaul, sending players on a spur-jangling rogue-like jaunt from planet to planet, where they'll have to recruit and manage a team of 13 outlaws, each of whom has their own distinct personality, powers, and guns.

Space navigation menu of the lamentation sector in Wild Bastards.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

There are multiple levels of gameplay, with the highest level involving navigating the gang's sentient ship, the Drifter, through space systems. From there you can pick which planet you want to land on next, based on enemy types and the loot present there, with the idea being to choose outlaws whose weapons and playstyles fare better against certain enemy types, and collect loot that will finetune their skills in the exact way you want.

The boardgame-like planetside movement screen in Wild Bastards.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

Once on-planet, you move your outlaws around in an almost boardgame style. There's a limited number of moves per turn, and only so many turns before a powerful bounty hunter lands to track the outlaws down. In that time you'll have to gather up loot and powerups, avoid patrolling posses of lawmen and shoot your way through roadblocks thrown up in their way.

On my first few playthroughs of the pre-release demo I wasn't really sure which of the pickups I needed, or what would be useful in a given gunfight. I found myself spending too long on each planet and getting blasted by the bounty hunter every time. This seems to be by design though, with most roguelikes taking a learn-by-dying approach. It only took a few runs before I understood the mechanics and aimed for the pickups and strategic bonuses that would help me get through, after which I was able to shoot my way in and punch my way back out without too much trouble.

Fast and frenetic gunplay

Since you're only ever able to load in one of your characters at a time, you're always outnumbered and outgunned. The only way to survive is to hit hard, hit fast, and move between cover. I found myself having to switch up my strategy on the fly most games, scrambling away from withering fire one moment and capitalising on a sudden opportunity the next.

That being said, there are only a limited number of enemy types available in the demo and these became samey quite quickly, especially as most enemies' weak spot is the head or mouth area. Though the full release boasts 41 different enemy types, so that should be more than enough to keep things fresh.

Pointing Doc Casino's shotgun at Koyotes in Wild Bastards.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

The enemy AI is quite weak in terms of their strategy, tending to rely on weight of numbers to try and get behind you or charging about wildly until they suddenly laser you from a distance (though they react well to any sounds you make, slinging bullets your way if you make too much noise coming through a canebrake). It took me longer than I'd like to admit to learn to move quietly and stop charging everywhere at full speed.

Smokey points his burning hand at a giant snake in Wild Bastards.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

Despite only three of the available 13 player characters being present in my preview copy, there's enough variety in terms of the weapons to allow for developing strategies. However, in their current form the character's special powers (or 'stunts') have no cooldown timer and feel completely overpowered (especially Doc Casino, whose power is to instantly kill a random enemy on the map no matter where they are), and because of the sheer abundance of 'juice' (special power fuel) I found myself wiping entire maps of enemies even on the hardest difficulty setting with very little effort.

Wild Bastards sells itself on how fast and frenetic the showdowns are, but for me, while unarguably fun, the gunfights felt a little static.

Spider Rosa aims her pistols at lawmen in Wild Bastards.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

Meeting the outlaws ain't like meeting the in-laws

The whole concept of the game — gathering a crew of misfits, weirdos, mutants, robots and aliens —hangs on how captivating and individual those characters feel. Now, I've only seen four of those characters and only played as three (the preview ends just as you rescue Judge, the robotic lawman sniper... boo!) but so far, so very good.

Character Mod Selector in Wild Bastards.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

Each character has their own unique weaponry, special power and skill tree. Each can be further customized during levelling, and by equipping them with gear looted from the planets. This allows for further fine-tuning of strategies and tactics.

They've really leaned into the pulpy, rompy, space western weirdness and I am here for it. I mean, just look at them:

The outlaws of Wild Bastards on the bridge of their spaceship.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

If this was the cast of an animation, I'd watch the hell out it. As is, I'll happily blast baddies with them.

The look and the vibe

Speaking of animation, Wild Bastards feels like being thrown plum into the middle of a cartoon, albeit the kind of blood-drenched and foul-mouthed cartoon you'd see on Adult Swim. Though they've dropped the overt comic book trappings of Void Bastards, they have retained the lurid color palette and over the top cell shading. This helps to keep things light and unhinged, without which a game where you spend the better part of your time gunning down lawmen might be too grim.

Spider Rose shoots a lawman in Wild Bastards.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

Meanwhile the music absolutely nails the tone, right from the main menu, with clear inspiration from the classics of cinematic westerns (we're talking Ennio Morricone by the shovel full), without ever feeling derivative. The opening guitar riff accompanied by gunshots had me reaching for the revolver at my hip before I'd even loaded in.

Doc Casino pointing shotgun at a gunman in Wild Bastards.
Screenshot by Pro Game Guides

A big part of what made Void Bastards such a cult favorite was the quality of the writing. Thanks in part to the stellar Cara Ellison, there was a 2000 AD-esque (and incredibly British) wry humour about it, with many of the laugh out loud funny one liners the enemies blurt coming straight out of UK pop culture (Cara made a return here, albeit only to contribute early character ideas). Obviously that exact classic British approach wouldn't make much sense for a western, but the dialogue (as handled by writer Jerry Holkins) still works well here as a kind of Borderlands retread.

My hopes for Wild Bastards

While there's plenty to enjoy about Wild Bastards, its whip-cracking art, violent adventure cartoon aesthetic, and juice-amped character design are held back by a lack of challenge to the combat. That being said, there's plenty of time between now and full release to turn this into the rootin' tootin' and shootin' showdown it oughta be.

Also, one of the only major complaints levelled at the previous game Void Bastards was the lack of replayability. From what the developers are saying, it sounds as though they are taking this seriously, having promised a procedurally generated challenge mode that will become available once players complete the main narrative.

All in all, this is one to watch.

If you're looking for more Roguelike coverage, check out Best Roguelikes releasing in 2024, here on Pro Game Guides.

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Image of Matthew Hockey
Matthew Hockey
For Matthew Hockey nothing has ever quite lived up to the thrill of spending hours programming games into the family Amstrad in the late 80s only for them to crash. He is excited to cover new releases, RTSs, RPGs, nerve-wracking extraction shooters and anything you can play with friends over a few beers.

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Wild Bastards Preview: Hyper-stylized space western almost reaches warp speed

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