AMD Radeon HD 5550
Bastion is the latest indie sensation doing the rounds on XBLA, PSN and of course Steam. It boasts a traditional isometric view, a unique art style and fully narrated gameplay. Let us delve further into this indie title to see whether its beauty is only skin deep.
Bastion could best be described as an isometric hack and slash style game with some vague RPG elements to stitch it together. As with most indie titles, exposition is thin and more implicit than games with larger budgets. The story starts in the midst of what's called the 'calamity' and then fills in the gaps as it goes along. It gives hints as to what might have caused this to happen and the effect which it has had on the world. Cut scenes are static and rare as with most indie games, the main meat of the story is told by a narrater who tells the story as you play. This seems to be one of Bastion's main unique features not really found in other games. Narrators are usually either used for passing the story in between levels or for the most part not even present at all in modern video game storytelling. The narration is fairly sensitive to what you do but luckily doesn't comment on absolutely every step you take and every swing of your weapon as that would get rather irritating rather fast.
The narrator is more of a commentator. I always thought it felt a bit like watching a movie with the directors commentary turned on. The narrator is used, a lot of the time, to give more personality to the world and help to explain the back story of the calamity and of the protagonist as which you play. Whether the narrator is a good thing or not depends on your point of view but I never really found myself getting annoyed with it on.
The Bastion itself from which the game takes its name is a form of a hub world connecting everything else. Think of it like the nexus in Demon's Souls. The Bastion is connected to other zones via a skyway since the world has been broken in chunks. Most of your quests involve going to these places and finding what's called a 'Core'. Cores are found in the various zones and getting your hands on one will usually involve overcoming some sort of obstacle such as a Boss fight.
Unique style helps this game stand out
As I mentioned before, Bastion can best be described as an isometric action game with the lite RPG elements which seem to creep their way into pretty much all other genres nowadays. There is no complicated character sheet or the like with a huge array of stats. The RPG mechanics basically just come down to gaining experience from fallen enemies and upgrading weapons etc. You do all of these things from the Bastion itself which you can outfit with potion shops and a forge etc.
The gameplay feels fairly action-orientated. Weapon strikes can be used to chain combos together but again it's not exactly a combo-based game just as it is not really an RPG based game. Bastion never really has enough traits to pull it too far in the direction of one genre or too far away from other ones. It feels like a jack of all trades but a master of none. Weapons include slower but more powerful hammers as well as less powerful but speedier sword-type weapons. There are also projectile weapons like bows and muskets and you always have a ranged weapon and a melee weapon equipped at the same time meaning combat requires you to stay on your toes balancing hitting enemies from distance whilst watching out behind you and taking enemies out with a close-up melee weapon.
The only part of combat which I didn't really like was the shield mechanic. Since most things in the game are 2D and the view is isometric, sometimes it feels like I'm not at the precise angle to block something and it ends up hitting me and taking down a lot of my health. The whole 2D style also cuts out some of the satisfaction of hitting an enemy really hard with a massive hammer since the models are painted and thus rather static. It's a small gripe but for a game so focused on combat I would've liked it to have felt more satisfying.
You will either love or hate the combat
Like a lot of other indie games out there Bastion seems to have received lots of TLC in the artistic and visual department. The game is one of the most beautiful and visually appealing games I've seen in a long, long time. The character models have a weird not quite 3D, not quite 2D look to them, especially the model for the boy himself and the colour palette is very varied and exquisitely saturated. I do like the way such a bright world can still contain such a strong hue of melancholy about it. I should also mention that the path appearing before you as you run along it is a very cool little feature indeed. It doesn't exactly add a whole lot but it's another colourful feather in the game style-hat.
The game's soundtrack should also deserve special mention as the game's score has also received lots of loving care as well. The dry sounding acoustic guitar and piano numbers go great with the almost bluesy tone of the narrator's voice creating a great cohesive marriage between music and sound effects. This coupled with the artwork makes the game appealing to almost all of your senses provided you have a taste for this sort of thing.
Bastion is a game in which some bits are tremendous and some parts are just good. The artistic direction blew me away as well as the soundtrack and the added atmosphere from the smokey commentary gives the game a unique atmosphere. The problem with this game is that if the art and soundtrack don't mean much to you then the game can feel almost average in places. Combat doesn't feel hugely deep or responsive or particularly satisfying and can become a drag when you're fighting a lot of the same enemies with the same weapons. The game does have a lot to see and do. There are weapon challenges to complete and a good amount of upgrades to get but I really didn't feel very compelled to do an awful lot of it. If the art design and the soundtrack attracts you to Bastion then by all means play it. The game is good for the price and is one of the best looking indie games out there and has a lot of soul to it. The gameplay is good, but it's just not on the same level as everything else.
- Looks: Spectacular art and level design
- Music: Absolutely fantastic soundtrack
- Feel: This game has a soul
- Content: Lots of extra content that you might not want to do
- Combat: Combat might become a drag
- Gameplay: Gameplay gets repetitive