|Platforms||Windows, Xbox 360, OSX|
|Genre||Beautifully wrapped ordinary|
Bastion made a huge splash last year when it was released on Xbox Live Arcade and Steam, reaping excellent critical reviews and huge sales, especially for an indie game. Developed by Supergiant Games and published by Warner Bros., the game’s iconic narrator and haunting soundtrack have cemented its place as one of the cornerstone independent games of this decade.
I was impressed by its first hour last November, but reading my thoughts on Bastion’s start indicates a trend that would hold throughout the game: while the art, music, and voice acting is stellar, the gameplay is just sort of there. It’s solid, but didn’t stand out amongst the great presentation.
It took a few months and many, many games, but I returned to Bastion, restarted my adventure, and finished the game in a half-dozen sittings. Here’s my review of Bastion for the PC.
Bastion looks and sounds gorgeous. The isometric camera hangs above our hero and gives the player the opportunity to watch the world around The Kid build in front of his feet. Monsters are slickly animated and the backdrop behind each stage suggests a gigantic world hidden away. The ever-present narrator provides context, background, and light-heartedness to every step of The Kid’s journey, and through a little exposition, we get to know the man behind the voice better than even our hero. And finally, the music is just astounding, featuring a unique mix of mysterious ballads and what sounds like beat-heavy techno Indian tracks, Bastion could be defined by just its soundtrack.
But Bastion is a game, and games are meant to be played (though this hypothesis is getting blurred more and more as gaming grows up). Strip away the sprites, soundtrack, and storyteller, and you’re left with a pretty standard action RPG. Walk along a linear pathway, kill bad guys for some meager experience, collect new weapons, and fight a few bosses. You’ve done this before.
This isn’t to say Bastion still has some interesting ideas gameplay-wise, for one, the sheer variety of weapons you can collect is pretty awesome. From a giant hammer to a shotgun to a spear to a BFG, Bastion doesn’t skimp on letting you play the game you want to play it. The Kid can carry two weapons at once, and while the game nudges you towards wielding one melee and one range weapon at a time, that isn’t necessary. Each weapon has a very basic set of upgrades available to it and a training level that will immediately help you decide whether it’s a right fit for you or not.
Surprisingly, the best weapon in the game is the shield you receive early on. Once you learn how to counterattack with it and nail the timing down, you’re basically unstoppable against anything. “The Kid feels a bit overpowered with his trusty shield on his back.”
You can also equip alcoholic drinks that basically give our protagonist different perks, from carrying more potions to doing more critical damage, they’re mostly standard stuff that just give you more of an edge in combat. And yes, there’s a perk that makes your shield counterattack do even more damage. You can also turn on in-game “idols” which give bad guys a bit more pep in their step. Some idols allow them to do more damage or cause mini-bombs to be dropped from their corpse, this is where the real challenge in Bastion is introduced, and basically necessary for anyone looking to have their health decently threatened.
Bastion’s action is broken up into 15 minute stages where upon completion you return to a mini hub world that is upgradeable using items you found while out. Building your home base anchors the game in something other than just the presentation, but beyond doing some routine checks on the shops, there’s really not much to do there. I guess I’m not sure what I really expected, but at times I simply didn’t want to go out and play any more stages. The repetitiveness of the core gameplay (hacking and shooting) began to grate after two or three levels in a row and I would really just need a break. Having the hub world be a bit more substantial might have gone a long way in keeping someone like me playing for longer periods at a time.
The narrator in Bastion drives the story, and we’re told that each stage we visit was some key area in a time before. The problem is, this importance is only suggested through the storyteller, it’s almost never evident from what we’re doing on screen that we’re somewhere I should care about. At one point, the game’s sound/narrator broke and I was left without any context and found the game to feel totally empty.
The end does come to a series of interesting choices though that had me sitting for a minute pondering which road to take. Once again, the narrator drives all the story development, telling you everything that’s going on around you, but I still came away satisfied with my decisions and the story as a whole.
What’s clear to me is that without its art style, soundtrack, or narrator, Bastion would have been forgotten within a matter of weeks from release. The action is simply mediocre and relies far too heavily on the presentation to hold up its end of the game. This isn’t to say that Bastion isn’t a great game though, because the art, music, and narrator have a hell of a grip.
My main weapons were the hammer and shotgun, in the end I saved and evacuated.