Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bastion Review

Rarely am I excited about games being released for Xbox Live Arcade. I oft look at them as I do PSP titles, with slight interest, but knowing I have other, presumably better games to play. Bastion took me by surprise, however, as it looked like a game I simply needed to play. I am still unsure whether it was the graphics, story, or gameplay that intrigued me enough to want it, but I could not be more excited about its port to Steam. Call of Juarez left me in desperate need of a palate cleanser, and as such I was delighted to start playing this isometric 3D action game. Was my gut steering me straight, or should I have given my purchase a little more thought?

Bastion follows a young man, simply referred to as The Kid, on his quest to rebuild his world after a cataclysmic catastrophe called “The Calamity”. He soon meets up with an old fellow named Rucks who explains to him that in order to get their society back, they must rebuild something he calls “The Bastion”. The Kid is sent to various different locations, each with their own history, to collect Cores that power and rebuild the Bastion. The story is positively the best aspect of this game. With each new level comes a bit about the history of The Kid’s city, Caelondia, and their longtime enemies the Ura. Rather than give you extensive backstory to read through like in Final Fantasy XIII, Bastion takes a somewhat classier approach by giving you a feel for the culture of the world through narrative. The game also knows precisely how much of the story to tell, never boring the player with drawn out explanations or sordid history, just simple stories that open a beautifully executed window into Bastion’s world. By breathing life into the surroundings as well as the characters, this game endears itself to the player on multiple levels and makes him genuinely care about the well-being of not only the Kid, but the entire world.

Breathing life into a story this grand requires careful planning and execution of the tale’s presentation. Or in Bastion’s case, a gruff but tender narrator who tells the story of Caelondia through the actions of the Kid. The seemingly omnicient Rucks is a large draw to this game as he provides the most well executed narration in recent memory. His words match your actions, sometimes in unexpected but pleasant ways. For instance, if I started destroying objects to get items, he might quip something like “The Kid takes out some of his anger on the scenery.” This is of course completely unnecessary narration, but those small touches reeled me into the game far quicker than I had bargained for. Rucks’s voice is hard to describe. Imagine you walk into a bay-side pub and see one particularly salty Captain drinking alone. If you happened to buy him a shot of rye and he spun a yarn for you, his voice and cadences would be akin to that of Bastion’s narrator. That description is the best I can come up with barring a link to an audio file.

The game has mostly standard action gameplay. The Kid has a number of melee and long range weapons ranging from a hammer to a mortar cannon. All of these are upgradable in shops in the game, making weaponry simple while still allowing for deep customization of weapons if you find one in particular that tickles your fancy. You also possess a myriad of special attacks, but can only equip one at a time, forcing you to think about what would be most advantageous for the level. The combat system is quite smooth and responsive, allowing you to plan your battles depending on what weapons you possess. The only aspect that left me yearning for improvement with was the shield, as it only comes out once you’ve finished attacking with a weapon. I cannot count the times I’ve nearly died because I got too carried away with my machete and had to wait helplessly for my attacks to end before the shield emerged to protect me. The only other awkward thing is movement; the isometric 3D layout of the game means that WASD is not the optimal tool for getting about. Of course movement would not be an issue if you downloaded this game on XBLA, so it is a flaw I can overlook.

The graphics look like what 16-bit era graphics would have evolved into had we not added the third dimension. Smooth lines and bright colors set this game apart from the sea of browns, grays, and bloom seen in most recent games. The game is an absolute treat to look at and listen to, as the music fits the atmosphere of each level quite well, though the battle music seems to end too quickly for my liking. Combine those with the narration, story, and fast-paced gameplay and Bastion starts to look like a steal at only $15 on Steam.

If you enjoy games nostalgic to the SNES days, great stories, or action games, Bastion is for you. Its graphics take a cue from Final Fantasy VII and the gameplay is similar to Zelda or really any other action based game. The reasonable price tag, incredible narrator and rich story make this game one of the must by indie games of the year.

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