Sunday, 22 July 2012

Monday Review: Bastion

I'm sorry. I apologise. I know I have a severely loyal audience that expected me to write a review of a game once a week. I decided to challenge myself and I immediately failed. I wrote a review and posted it last Monday and I couldn't even write another review in seven days. Anyway, here's a week-late review of Bastion.

Bastion, a lot like Limbo which I reviewed last week, made me want to keep playing with its aesthetics. I don't know what art direction is, but I can tell that this game perfected it. I heard it was good, but I didn't think it was this good. It's difficult to describe exactly what Super Giant Games made. It's a fantasy RPG with a western 'twang' to it - I hope I used that word right. In Bastion, I controlled 'The Kid', an unnamed child who wakes up in the aftermath of the 'Calamity', an apocolyptic event that shattered Caelondia. The Kid must fight his way through a variety of levels and enemies to find Cores to restore the 'Bastion' - the central hub of the game - and gain access to structures that gives you access to weapons, upgrades, abilities and other ways to alter how you approach the game.

When I say shattered, I mean it literally. Pieces of the ground float aimlessly through space and paths to large chunks of land comes together underneath you whilst you run. It's an interesting element to say the least. It makes sprinting away from enemies trickier when you don't know if the world is suddenly going to change direction without you knowing. It certainly made me feel like I was always teetering on the cusp of existence.

The centrepiece of Bastion is the narrator. The smooth and sultry voice of a wise, old man guides you on your journey the entire playthrough. The narrator provides brilliant exposition, gives you hints, and comments on your actions - never once repeating himself. Do not play this game with the sound turned down. The game would not be the same without that powerful voice because it's where Bastion's personality resides. You would also miss out on hearing an incredible soundtrack. The music matches the game play perfectly. For the most part, the music is fast-paced, which suits the break-neck speed that you fight at. However, the music also becomes solemn and withdrawn at times to enforce just how bleak Caelondia has become. Seriously, listen to this song. I'm listening to the soundtrack as I write this review. 

Bastion sets itself apart from other independent games I've played by having an interesting story and a fully realised world. The Kid comes across less than a handful of survivor's between the hack-n-slashing and tumbling. The narrator provides exposition of each character; he ranges from subtle to obvious without ever becoming boring. There are impressive sections of the game called Who Knows Where which are basically dream sequences where The Kid fights waves of enemies while the narrator tells the back-story of a character - they are not happy stories. I had to take a break after the first one.

While Bastion was making me care about its characters, it was also daunting me with the complete tour of Caelondia. You travel to lands, meet people and encounter things that all have a place in that world. It's a little bit hard to explain but Caelondia is a connected ecosystem rather than a disjointed collection of levels. Simply put, it's immersive.

Combat in Bastion is simple. The Kid is able to hold two weapons and perform a 'secret skill'. You are also given a shield and an evasive roll for defensive purposes. As the player, you are able to pick and choose from a variety of weapons and secret skills to suit your play style. I specifically fought through most of Bastion with a Breaker's Bow and Dueling Pistols. Whenever I have the option to fight with ranged weapons in a game, I do. 

You will come across more than a dozen weapons as you progress, all the way up to the ending. The weapon types are diverse enough for anyone to find a desired combination, but combat is essentially hack-n-slashing. I found myself clicking frantically just trying to clear the room with no clear strategy in mind. Pressing the shift key also generously locks onto target enemies for easy massacres.

The true strategy in Bastion is tied to the suprising number of options available that affect how you fight. Each weapon can be upgraded five times in total at the Forge. An upgrade allows the player to choose between two possible improvements for that weapon. Fear not though, the player can always change his mind and tinker with the upgrades while inside the Forge. The first time I upgraded a weapon was straightforward. However, it became a increasingly more difficult to accrue the materials and gather the fragments - the games form of currency - to upgrade them further. It was easier to just decide on my two favourite weapons and work towards making them as deadly as possible, rather than experiment with the other weapons.

The Kid can choose between an array of passive bonuses, called spirits, that go a long way in combat. As you level up in Bastion, spirit slots are made available to garner more spirits - you're given a few at the start and like everything else in Bastion you either find it through exploration or you buy it. Also, if for any reason the game becomes too easy, you can invoke an array of gods to make the enemies harder for more fragments and experience.

Bastion is a gorgeous game. The story is captivating, the characters are solidly human and the art direction is beautiful. Weirdly enough, I found the fighting and killing hordes of enemies boring compared to learning why I was fighting and killing hordes of enemies. I recommend you savour this game.

By the way, next week I'm going to review Mirror's Edge. The week after that will be decided by the poll in the top right hand corner of this blog. 

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