Bastion - ReviewCraig Snow, posted on 24 July 2011 / 13,168 Views
Each year, the Summer of Arcade showcases some of the strongest XBLA titles around, but there always tends to be one stand-out title, fondly remembered years down the line and held up as the best of the best. 2008 had Braid, 2009 Shadow Complex, and 2010 Limbo. This year there are three key contenders for the crown – the dark horse From Dust, the bold and striking Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, and, finally, Bastion, with its fantastic narration and clever construction of the world around you.
You play as ‘The Kid’, who has awoken to find that his home world of Caelondia has been destroyed by an apocalyptic event known as ‘The Calamity’. You make your way to ‘The Bastion’, a place of refuge and stronghold of last resort for the people of Caelondia, in search of survivors, an explanation, and to rebuild your world. The Kid is a silent protagonist, which paves the way for the narrator, Ruks. With his gruff, hypnotic drawl, the narrator not only guides you through the game and tells Bastion’s story, but he also makes clever contextual remarks. His voice is omnipresent but you never once tire of hearing it. If Bastion is going to be remembered for one thing, and one thing alone, it’ll be the sublime narration. Not since Portal has a game’s success been so closely tied to its stellar dialogue and voice acting.
For an XBLA title – heck, for any modern game, downloadable or otherwise – Bastion has a decent, yet simple story that delves into a whole range of ‘issues’, from racism and jingoism, to friendship and identity, but it does so in a way which is surprisingly subtle compared to most modern media, never hectoring or preaching at the player. Sure, it’s all wrapped up in a series of fetch quests – a crutch which the game relies upon far too often (read: constantly) – but it’s all there nonetheless.
The Bastion itself acts as a hub, one which you’ll rebuild over the course of the game. Each level you complete allows you to rebuild a section of Bastion and each section has genuine utility. From Bastion you can venture to new levels, tinker with various weapon and skill loadouts, purchase and/or utilise various upgrades or complete separate challenges that aren’t tied into the story.
Bastion is a fairly straightforward action RPG; solid but unremarkable hacking and slashing as you work your way through levels, acquiring experience and currency. There are plenty of weapons to choose from though – a hammer, bow, pike, shield, various guns, and so on. Each has its own unique feel and uses, though as with most games you’re likely to pick a couple of favourites and stick with them until you unlock a new one to test out. You can equip two weapons at any one time, and a single skill. Skills can be anything from the ability to plant mines and throw grenades, to a specific upgrade to one of your weapons. Each time you level up you unlock an extra ‘tonic’ slot. Tonics are passive bonuses which, for example, allow you to carry more health potions, give you extra continues upon death, resist more damage, and so on.
The currency comes in useful as it allows you to purchase any items you missed in the game at the Lost & Found store (one of the structures you eventually build in Bastion), from tonics to idols to resources to craft upgrades (each weapon can be upgraded several times, at ever increasing cost). Idols are Bastion’s version of skulls from the Halo franchise. By activating an idol you can increase the game’s difficulty in various different ways and gain XP bonuses from doing so. One of the minor criticism I would otherwise have of Bastion is that it’s incredibly easy; the idol system rectifies this somewhat as you can customise the difficulty in ways to suit you... and be rewarded in the process.
I have other qualms with Bastion’s gameplay which the player isn’t able to rectify, however. It can sometimes be hard to tell if you’re walking onto a platform or into the abyss. Falling off of the level is all too easy... and all too frustrating as well. Discovering a new weapon forces you to equip it for the rest of the level at the expense of one of your selected weapons, and so on. They’re little niggles for the most part, but they spoil the otherwise superb flow of the game.
If you’ve seen any gameplay clips of Bastion then you’ll be aware of the way in which the levels are constructed around you as you work your way through them. It’s a neat little trick. Bastion’s ‘dungeons’ are colourful floating platforms that couldn’t contrast more with the perception of what a dungeon should look like, and it’s all the better for that as well. The hand-painted quality of the art style is a great match for the ‘construction’ system. I’ve already praised the game’s narration, but its soundtrack is also a gem. ‘Acoustic frontier trip-hop’ is how the creators themselves describe it and it’s a very apt description, consisting or a diverse mixture of electronic, ambient noise, acoustic and country music styles. It perfectly complements the rest of the game.
Bastion’s main story doesn’t take long to complete – it took me around 5 or 6 hours. There’s a New Game Plus feature, which is handy because you’ll likely complete the game long before you’ve unlocked everything. Outside of the story itself there’s an in-game achievement system (in the form of vigils), weapon challenges and survival levels. Each weapon has its own challenge level where you have to work out the best solution/method of completing the level for various rewards. The three survival levels, whilst not strictly part of the campaign, do add a lot of back-story to the game’s main characters, and of course reward you heavily with experience and currency, so they’re well worth taking a look at.
The occasional hiccup aside, Bastion is an excellent XBLA title, with a superb soundtrack, enjoyable combat and upgrade systems, beautiful presentation and a narrator that’s second to none. Bastion is, for the time being, the clear frontrunner to be crowned this year’s Summer of Arcade must-have, and for good reasons.
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