BASTION (SUPERGIANT GAMES) – 2011
Imagine walking around all day with a voice in the background narrating your life – it would get annoying quite quickly don’t you think? It’s surprising then that having played Bastion (the third part of my Humble Indie Bundle V review block), that I’m not quite so adverse to the idea now. However, it’s not just a fantastic narrator that makes Bastion one of the most impressive independent titles of recent times; this beautifully styled game has a few more tricks up its sleeve.
The premise behind Bastion is relatively simple – you take control of a kid, known only as…The Kid, who appears to be one of the only survivors of a mysterious event called ‘The Calamity’ which destroyed the city of Caelondia and turned most of the world into floating pieces. Escaping the city, the Kid travels to the Bastion, a place where people were told to go in bad times. Upon getting there, he only finds an old man named Rucks (who serves as the narrator and is the only character to speak in the game) who tells him that he must collect a series of artefacts, called Cores, if they want to get the Bastion up and running again. The rest of the game has the Kid scouring the remaining world for the valuable Cores, and encountering the enemies that lie in wait for him.
Bastion plays primarily as an action game with role playing elements. The game takes place across a series of linear levels floating in the sky which build themselves as the Kid walks around, which is a very cool aesthetic to have. The Kid can attack the enemies present, including varieties of death-dealing plants and ‘Windbags’, with either a standard weapon such as an hammer or sword, or a ranged attack which includes bows and throwing knives. When he finds items called ‘Black Tonics’ in the wild he can also get access to special damage dealing manoeuvres tied to each weapon. It isn’t just a case of mindless button mashing however, as the Kid can also roll to dodge enemy attacks, and he also gets access to a shield which can reflect projectiles and stun enemies if they are blocked at the right time. By defeating enemies, the Kid acquires fragments (which act as the games form of currency) which can be used to purchase performance enhancing tonics and pay for weapon enhancements, as well as experience which increases health and allows more upgrades. Each level usually ends with a boss scenario of some sort, before the Kid grabs the Core and heads back to the Bastion.
It is the Bastion which acts as the hub world that ties all the levels together. As you slowly obtain more cores, the Bastion will improve and offer new facilities, including an arsenal to let you change weapons whenever you please, a temple where you can pray to the Gods to activate game modifiers (for example, enemies will dodge more but give more XP when defeated), as well as a distillery to let you select the tonics to take with you and endurance challenges unlocked by progressing with the story amongst other things. By activating the ‘Skyway’ at the top of the structure, the Kid can set out on his adventures, or take part in weapon training scenarios designed to let the player get better with their new toys. Achieving high scores in these scenarios can unlock new and otherwise inaccessible equipment to give you the extra edge in fighting.
Bastion proves to be an entertaining, if not overly challenging game. Due to the linearity of the levels, there is little chance to get lost, and excursions for additional items rarely step that far from the beaten trail. Enemies follow pre-set attacking patterns and can be outwitted with ease, and some of the later weapons that the Kid can get his hands on are ludicrously powerful. Health and Black Tonics are made regularly available from defeating enemies, and the game rarely punishes you from falling off the levels – you simply lose a small portion of your health and Rucks will provide a snide comment on your failure. When the modifiers are activated in the temple then things start to get trickier, and having them all on can be a challenge even for the most skilled players. A New Game + option is also available if you want to steamroll through the game for a second time, and if you are finding things a bit too tough, there is the option of a No-Fail mode where you can die as much as you like. To its credit, the variety of weapons on show means that you can play the game with a certain amount of flexibility. I managed to get to the end in roughly six hours, so there is a decent amount of stuff to get involved in.
To be honest though, you’ll be spending too much time admiring the presentation to worry about any shortfalls in gameplay. Bastion is a wonderful thing to play; from the way the hand painted levels clump together underfoot to guide the Kid on his way to the outstanding dynamic narration provided by Logan Cunningham, it’s a masterclass in presentation for a downloadable game. I’ve played few games recently that have been as appealing on the eye as Bastion is with its lustrous art direction; the animations of the characters, the backgrounds and the textual presentation is all top notch. The soundtrack is also a thing of beauty, inspired by old Westerns with some lovely composition by Darren Korb. It’s so good that one of the songs, ‘Build That Wall’, won the award for Best Song at the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards – and another song from the soundtrack was the runner up. My other personal favourite is the ‘Slingers Song’, which reminds me heavily of Red Dead Redemption for some reason.
Considering that only seven people worked on Bastion (which is less than a certain Forklift Truck Simulator I had to play recently for radio entertainment purposes…), the game is a great feat of development. On presentation alone, it’s well worth a go to see one of the highlights of last year in action. It doesn’t necessarily do anything to revolutionise action adventure games, but when there’s a man calmly telling you ‘The Kid falls to his death….just kidding’, you know you are on to a winner.