Wasted is the type of game that’s incredibly tough to review. Not necessarily because of its subject matter, but rather because what we have here is a game that goes heavy on the difficulty and roguelike elements, and the result of that is a game where it can take you several hours before you even breach the first real level. Of course, the true measure of a game such as this is how often you find yourself coming back to it, even with full knowledge that your ass will be thoroughly kicked ten ways from Sunday, simply because things are just too fun. And underneath its liquor-fueled, neon-sparked coating, Wasted does indeed manage to be quite a fun FPS indeed. A brutal FPS, but a fun one.
Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland during an alternate (and basically permanent) 1980s, the backdrop of Wasted is that nuclear war has broken out, and humanity has decided to seal away its best and brightest in underground bunkers called “Coolers.” Unfortunately, cut corners during cooler construction caused coolant leaks, and long story short, the best and brightest are now either the deadest or the most mutated and mindless, leaving the more dim-witted yet strong-armed survivors – Wasters – to rule the remaining Earth above. And once they discovered that the leaks in the coolers also spiked the beverage supplies inside, the precious resource of Booze was created, which Wasters are now willing to fight for the right to harvest and scavenge. Basically, imagine Fallout: New Vegas meets Idiocracy.
The former back there heavily influences Wasted’s gameplay, as well as a good chunk of its aesthetics. Heck, in several ways, it almost feels like its a parody of modern Fallout games…when it isn’t playing things straight when it comes to the gameplay. Aside from the Coolers being obvious Vault stand-ins, you also have traditional first-person shooter gameplay where you loot weapons and clothing from enemies in order to boost your stats, countless traps and radioactive hazards along the way to look out for and potentially disarm, simple stealth mechanics allowing you to either sneak by or get the drop on your opponents, and so forth. Basically, if you’ve ever played any of the games from Fallout 3 forward, you should be able to adapt pretty quickly, and it’s all executed very well for the most part.
Of course, Wasted is a roguelike game as well, and it just isn’t going to let you through that easy. The basic goal in each cooler is to advance deeper and deeper, floor by floor via the elevator you reach at the end, trying to find what you need to either complete a quest in another location or trigger a new area to go to and explore. Of course, with each new floor, the difficulty increases, and you run a larger risk of dying. Once you perish, you have to start over with a new randomly-generated character, with the same basic supplies you began with and everything you previously collected during your past run now lost.
This is where the Booze comes in. After every few levels (or if you stumble across a hidden bottle), you’re given a selection of liquors to choose from, each with their own “Hangover” effect. If you’re afraid that thing will intensify too much, drink the Booze, and you exit the level and return back to your house after passing out, where you can stash your loot and Cornholio-approved TP currency for you and future characters to get at later. However, the hangovers will give your current Waster permanent stat changes as a side effect, such as lowered speed, reduced storage limits for items, or explosive enemies. You can also come across mystery flasks in the process, giving you a random stat change – positive or negative – for the rest of the Cooler run.
Each floor in a Cooler can get quite maze-like as well, and naturally, you’re encouraged to search each area in order to come across powerful weapons, rare items, and various secrets. Dawdle too long and stir up a ruckus, though, and aside from the threat of various enemies you come across while weakened or whatnot, and a Syndicate of Buzzkills Purifier will be released into the current floor to hunt you down. They’re a happy bunch of fellows who are incredibly slow, but that’s only because of the massive minigun they’re carrying, which is quite the incentive to scoot for the exit ASAP, unless you’re tempted by the possibility of valuable loot to uncover.
Basically, Wasted is a game all about risk versus reward, and having to come up with new strategies during a run based on what you can salvage and using what you gather to prepare for future runs as well is highly enjoyable, injecting a nice dose of strategy into the proceedings and contributing to a great level of challenge, making you weigh all of your options before things potentially get too spicy. You can also take advantage of the TP you have stashed away to grab mystery Cocktails to give you special effects on your next run, grab supplies from vendors, or even take on the Courier Run, a once-a-day challenge where the goal is to make it through a more difficult yet shorter set of levels (taking the form of a story being told to you) in order to stash away a rare piece of loot to be given to you.
So Wasted’s gameplay can be best described as simple yet fun and challenging, with some neat wrinkles. But it isn’t without a couple of flaws. As is the case of any roguelike game with procedurally generated levels, sometimes fate ends up being a cruel mistress, and you wind up on a floor with the likes of too many powerful enemies or too many dead ends, the latter not being particularly welcome when the Purifier is unleashed (who can get slightly grating, admittedly) and you suddenly realize it may be too late to double back. Then sometimes you may even get something sillier like a shotgun trap aimed straight at a wall two feet away, although given the intelligence the characters inhabit, it almost seems appropriate.
Also, the controls are quite fine, and the action is nice and intense, but sometime it can’t help but feel like the RPG elements get in the way, depending on how you play things. Yes, you can choose to wear gear that only enhances your skills in tinkering and sneaking instead of shooting, and yes, your opponents may be wearing some tougher armor as well. But when I’m able to fire directly into an enemy’s uncovered face from a stone’s throw away with a rifle and it still doesn’t hit them, like an infamous XCOM 2 moment, it just seems a tad ludicrous.
We haven’t even gotten to the game’s aesthetics yet, which is one of the biggest draws of Wasted, and for good reason. The graphics are charming and cartoonish, making perfect use of cel-shaded graphics and the giant heads that add to the insanity, with their exaggerated features (which you can unlock more of as you go along) and various getups for each gang you encounter. Dark, grimy colors and blasts of neon work side by side here, and complement each other well. The game’s sense of humor also channels the previously-mentioned Idiocracy, showing how to do crude humor well. item descriptions and computer messages can easily raise some chuckles, and the cast is a finely-voiced bunch that’s rather entertaining (how can you not enjoy a game where Richard Nixon has a tiny, living Henry Kissinger for a penis?).
Yet if I had to choose an MVP here when it came to the atmosphere, it would be the music. The synth-based scores are absolutely perfect, setting the stage for a gleeful rampage cued by an Uzi you just pulled out of one your three neon fanny packs while still sounding a bit foreboding and chilling as you descend even deeper and deeper into a Cooler. the kicker here, though, has to be the songs you hear in the boom boxes scattered throughout the game, playing what honestly sounds like songs that could pass as genuine Top 40 material from the ’80s. It’s little touches like that which you truly have to appreciate.
You will die in Wasted. You will die a lot, it is a given. But thanks to its easy-to-learn, enjoyable gameplay, great use of roguelike elements and perfectly implemented Thunderdome-esque 1980s atmosphere, you will easily find yourself coming back again and again, ready to cough up more extra lives like the the arcade games of its era. Even if it’s just a chance to see more of it’s colorful, insane world, there’s always a reason to head back into the Cooler. Those who like particularly challenging yet fair games that encourage exploration will find a lot to like here, but even those who just admire a good FPS, ’80s homage or quirky indie game in general will find a lot to like about Wasted. It may knock you into a hangover-like stupor at times, but the way it quenches your thirst is still worth it indeed.