The ever-present theme of Bedlam is desperation, whether during the trail you’re low on crude oil with no surplus in sight or down three soldiers as your final scout gets surrounded by mutants.
Every journey starts the same: you set out with a Dozer full of people, crude oil, meat, and power cells. Maybe you choose to transmogrify a portion of your population into oil to continue, or sacrifice a melee unit as you send her on a sacrificial run for supply drops.
Most of your games in Bedlam will end in ragged gasps for some hope as either your Dozer runs out of fuel or all your soldiers die in battle.
Every game starts with you taking the role of the Mechanic, setting out from Byzantine City with a crew of people seeking refuge in the mythical Aztec City. A city utopia only talked about amidst the wasteland that is Bedlam.
The Dozer is your transportation, and changes based on which race you choose to roll as. Bedlam pushes you for multiple runs, and the amount of time put into a single playthrough is entirely up to the player. You can make a beeline towards the end goal, or meander about the dangerous outback looking for secrets.
Other than the occasional text description, there isn’t a lot of deep lore you are going to find amidst the desert and corpses.
What is there is decent, however, with AI robot religions, Mutant prostitution bars, and a main antagonist known as King Viscera who is mentioned constantly in order to build dread before a final confrontation that is wholly optional.
Each Dozer you choose at the beginning of your run, which also determines your passive and active abilities, need people, oil, and meat to run. Main posts about the wastes can eat up a good chunk of resources, and each stopping point has optional side quests.
Each of those are marked by an exclamation point and take a small toll on your resource pool. It’s a risk/reward system, as each marking can end with: gaining or losing resources, a battle, nothing at all, meeting a trader/alchemist, or finding a key item.
Special items you find randomly and have the potential to pay off down the line. Some can be used to unlock a large cache of supplies or to safely traverse through hostile territory.
The main travel points often lead to battles with major characters who, if beaten, will join your party. These units take up four spaces as opposed to one, deal more damage, and can absorb more hits than the standard soldier.
Your starting party is evenly split, but you can’t recruit more at will. Your small band of brothers and sisters are split between a melee, shotgun, gunslinger, and ranged class. The damage-to-movement ratio is inverted, so the farther a unit can travel the less damage he or she does.
Your group is very fragile, as multiple times my ranged class was shot down before I could even set him up in cover. The battlefield contains blocks which offer a cover bonus, usually cutting down received damage by half but will limit the range of attack.
Units also level up, with three kills making one a Veteran and bumping up their attack and health. Veterans are invaluable in the late game, and makes losing them so much more heartbreaking than the regular soldiers.
Often in battles I could not determine if enemies were initially placed way too close to my men so as to be unfair. Other times I wrecked the opposition with just my lone ranger who sniped the enemy down before they could even approach.
Bedlam is an unforgiving wasteland, and while I appreciate that the theme of that is carried over into the gameplay, it can prove to be very frustrating when you lose a few characters to what comes across as the game actively working against you. Since you only have a number of finite units, this can just multiply your anger.
The frustration can just be an extension of the risk vs. reward system, which is also incorporated into battles with supply drops that can double your victorious earnings. Obtaining them can be a gamble, as battles are made up of two turns, with movement and attack taking up either one or both of those.
Because of this, moving one of your characters to collect some rewards can be great for when you’re running low on resources, but risky since it puts you out in the open for preemptive attacks.
Enemies also can build up a Blitz meter, which is added to every turn. When it becomes full, the enemy can utilize three turns instead of two. This may not seem like a great advantage but can easily turn a battle in their favor if the positioning is correct.
The Blitz mechanic is incorporated into traveling as well. As more ground is covered, the more aware of your presence King Viscera becomes, raising the threat level as well as battle difficulty. Linger too long in Bedlam and you’ll find yourself facing more fearsome foes.
As mentioned earlier, the Dozer you choose at the beginning also changes your access to active and passive abilities. These take up power cells, which is a resource you may also use to upgrade the regeneration rate of your wounded men or cut back on how much crude oil is used when traveling.
Passive abilities for battle include protecting your units for one turn or teleporting them anywhere on the battlefield. Active abilities are much more costly and are offensively based, dealing damage or causing enemies to turn against one another.
New Dozers are unlocked as you press onward towards the end goal of Aztec City on harder difficulties. Some also grant access to a special character out the gate, such as the AI Dozer giving you a gunslinger who can dominate in the early game.
While the overarching theme of survival and desperation can cause some hair pulling and laptop throwing when a late game battle is botched, Bedlam is all-round very satisfying.
The difficulty is never so punishing that you feel like you can’t improve, and playthroughs can be short enough that you are never too far from just restarting a run fresh in order to succeed where previously you failed.
The lore is shallow yet entertaining and battles infrequently unfair, but I keep finding myself wanting to play just one more run to see if I can perform better than last time on my way towards utopia.