July 18, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA
Gaming

Broke Signal Badlands is a Fallout pocket RPG for weird dice-addled Western mystics

It's hotter here than inside a horse, so what better time to play an RPG about randomly driving through the desert in search of enlightenment. The role-playing game in question is Broke Signal Badlands: a world of desert adventures, and yes, that's a very optimistic subtitle for a game where you can die after getting your hand stuck in the door of an abandoned Fonts Museum, or while pulling cacti off your foot. There are also shootouts, in which the dice serve as bullets, but so far I have only managed to die due to pathetic human error and clumsiness. Consider me unenlightened, but enthusiastic.

Coming this year to Steam with an older version already on sale at Chop, Broke Signal Badlands casts you as a lineman (a phone repair engineer, I think) who has suddenly decided to steal the company truck and go on a mystical journey. Over the course of the next few hours, WASDrive will traverse a tilted 2D map painted in dazzling shades of Danger Yellow and Vimto Violet, investigating landmarks like forgotten mines and dealing with fleeting pop-up events like hitchhikers.

I'm not entirely sure what technology, medium, or era channels the visual direction, but I like it. The map reminds me so much of the original FallThe overworld and last year's pulp comic style. The fabulous fear machine. The HUD is curiously abrasive: rough illustrations of events and missions slowly materialize from bottom to top, as if from the belly of a fax machine. This gives the accompanying text a peculiar mix of suspense and irritation, as you tap your cactus-pierced foot waiting for the full scene to be revealed, or recoil at the thought of seeing the horrors described. The writing itself is as spare and dry as the bones of a cable repairman who went looking for himself on the moors and suffered a fatal wound while tidying up tumbleweeds after dark (yes, this is one of the missions).


A scene from Broke Signal Badlands, with a monochrome illustration of a dry lake bed on one side and text describing it on the other.


The world of Broke Signal Badlands at night: a black and purple expanse of desert roads and mountains

Image credit: forward instinct

The strange Western premise and vignette-based structure obviously recall Kentucky Route Zerobut instead of being an experimental episodic adventure like KRZ, Broke Signal Badlands is a short pen-and-paper style adventure. role playing game in the vein of horror world. Once again, the game is a quest for enlightenment. How does one become enlightened? By Mad Maxing your stats, apparently.

There are three: Cunning, which describes how cunning and sneaky you are, Strength, which describes how likely you are to fall and get hurt while climbing a table, and Attunement, which describes both your level of empathy and your sensitivity to things like passing. UFOs. Each point you add to a stat gives you a die that you can roll to complete or fail an event or quest. You will need a lot of cunning, for example, if you are going to sneak into the back of the Fonts Museum. More Guile than me, anyway.

If you can level each stat up to six, you will pierce the veil of ignorance and emerge from the wastelands as a more complete and complete being. You will most likely be injured repeatedly, and each injury reduces the number of quest actions you can perform each day. When that number drops to zero, the game is over.

Broke Signal Badlands is apparently based on real-life trips to the Mojave; some of the illustrations look like they were created from photographs of those trips. I have to wonder if the Forward Instinct developers found enlightenment in the process and if this game is the result. If you like the atmosphere, but prefer to play something with more luxurious writing, I recommend Where the water tastes like wine.

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