Put simply, Wasted is the kind of game that scrapes at greatness, but never quite gets there. Developed by Mr. Podunkian (once member of the Garry’s Mod devteam), Wasted puts you in the role of a survivor in a post-apocalyptic world, tasked with looting and exploring vaults – or ‘coolers’ as the game puts it – in the pursuit of irradiated booze.
Wasted makes no pretense about how heavily it borrows from the Fallout series for its inspiration, and offers up what is essentially a roguelike-shooter hybrid with randomly generated vault layouts. Though there are some story trappings, the grit of the game is in exploring randomised vaults in search of better gear and slaughtering any wasteland gang, robot or zombie that gets in your way. Wasted presents itself with a style saturated in colour and cartoonish proportions, and is novel in its jolly take on the post-apocalyptic genre. As is typical of a title published by Adult Swim, Wasted maintains a comic tone throughout, from the frenzied yelps of crazed gangs to a bevy of 1980s film references embedded in dialogue, game items and cutscenes. There’s a microcosm of nods to pulp sci-fi, from Arnie’s trademark shades in The Terminator to Valley Girl gun specialists a la Night of the Comet. Wasted’s glossy presentation gives the game an appealing finish and has a number of unique touches. A particular highlight is when your character dies and is replaced by a new wastelander – as they approach their new home, the old character’s sign falls from the roof of the house, revealing the name of the new character beneath.
When the game works, it’s a lot of fun. There’s a wide variety of weapons at your disposal to suit your playstyle – from weak but accurate pistols for those inclined to deliver stealth headshots, to rapid-fire Uzis, sawn-offs and grenades when you want to blow up everything in the room. Generally speaking, each run offers up enough ammo to get by on, and there’s always melee weapons to fall back on when the magazines run dry. Your success in combat depends on how you choose to utilise and mix up stealthy / aggressive approaches, and how well you compensate for the inaccuracy of certain weapons. Accuracy is tied to the weapon, not player skill, so you may discover that your perfectly lined-up headshot does not go exactly where you want it to, or misses your target entirely. While the enemies in the game are varied and colourful, their AI is not. Once spotted by an enemy they will bee-line towards you, firing or swinging whatever weapon they’re clutching without hesitation. This means that on occasion, combat boils down to who can empty the most bullets into the most bodies, so it is fair to say that when engaged in direct combat your strategic options are limited.
The roguelike structure of the game emphasises a risk-reward approach. There is nothing to prevent you from attempting to fully explore a cooler in your first run, but sometimes it is wiser to retreat by drinking booze which will cause you to awaken at your home with your gear and a brand new hangover. Hangovers are an important component of the game as they provide your character with a permanent buff (until they die). These buffs include increased weapon damage, regenerating health and higher carry limits on ammunition among others, which will pose a significant boon on your next run. If you die, you lose everything.
Junk food is the most plentiful resource.
Unfortunately, death is the biggest flaw that the game has. You will die many times throughout your playthrough, but they won’t always feel like it’s your fault. Sometimes enemies simply dogpile onto you, dealing enough damage that your character is stunlocked into submission until they crumble to bits. When this occurs, it rarely feels as if you could have done anything to prevent it. Adding to stunlock issues are the game’s floaty physics, so if an enemy is carrying a shotgun or explosive, you will likely be flung around the room and disorientated enough that the enemies can resume stunlocking you to death. This is a serious blemish on the game’s fun factor – when I started off playing Wasted for the purpose of this review I loved it, but the game has stymied me into a position where I just don’t want to venture into a cooler, build up my character, and lose all my progress when the game decides to throw another roomful of unbeatable odds at me again. Added to this is the presence of the ‘Purifier’ – a heavily-armed enemy unit which spawns in pursuit of you roughly 2-3 minutes after you enter a floor. If the random map generation has been particularly unkind, you’ll find your run ended when you’re stuck in a corner of the map far from the exit and he shreds you apart with his chaingun, with little recourse to prevent his onslaught.
Beyond this there are other flaws. After the first few runs there is a noticeable lack of variance in the dungeon layouts, and many items in the game are the same junk / useless items discovered ad nauseum. Items of clothing are something you’ll consistently discover while running a cooler, but since your inventory space is so limited (unless you’ve got some coveted bum bags) you’ll find no reason to pick them up. Healing is also harder and more arbitrary than it needs to be – junk food is the most plentiful resource for this and heals 10 (of your 100) HP, but you have to wait thirty seconds before you can eat again. Medication heals you for 25 HP, but its healing is also not instantaneous. While neither of these issues are hugely detrimental on their own, shifting items in and out of your inventory while waiting for healing timers to cool down makes the experience of gameplay more frustrating than it needs to be. The final annoyance is that of quest items I tried to bring back to NPC characters. Since I died en route, I lost my equipment. The quest specific item was delivered to a group I can pay to retrieve the item from… but they need a sum of money I have never been able to raise throughout the course of the game, and do not have enough money of their own banked so that I could exchange equivalent items with them for what I need. This means that I cannot currently complete a number of quests without intensive grinding for resources as opposed to playing the game proper.
If you are reading this review and consider the issues I’ve raised here to be negligible, then I expect you will take a great deal of enjoyment out of Wasted. As the game stands there are still elements of it that I enjoy, especially as a fan of both the Fallout series and roguelike gameplay. Despite the glaring issues with the game itself, I have found myself coming back to try run after run, even if they typically end with a frustrating and arbitrary death.
Unfortunately, unless the game is given significant rebalancing to combat and greater variance between runs, I can recommend it only to those whose interests in Fallout and random generation overlap. For you, Wasted might be the game of your dreams. For everybody else, stay far away.