Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bastion review (with video review)


Bastion is Supergiant Games' attempt at resurrecting a forgotten medium within contemporary game design. The isometric action-RPG is a deep and twisted beast with plenty of meat to go around, but it isn't exactly the most popular format out there presently. Whilst its gameplay may contain an anachronistic feel, Bastion is the game that's ever come closest to unseating Squaresoft's vintage SNES title, The Secret of Mana, as my most favourite title in the genre. Believe me when I tell you that's quite a feat in itself.

The main story behind Bastion is one shrouded in mystery. A catastrophic event, dubbed 'the Calamity', occurred from seemingly out of nowhere, sundering the world and devastating its population. Waking up on a floating island, the Kid makes his way to the Bastion, a designated safe haven that everyone is supposed to venture to in case of disaster. But the Bastion isn't what it used to be; it's fractured and hurt by the disastrous events, rendering its protective abilities null. From here, it's up to the Kid to fix the place by finding special Cores which will restore the Bastion, and hopefully aid in finding the answers to the Calamity. 

The first thing you'll notice about Bastion is the incredibly unique narration. Playing as the Kid, your actions are all taken into account and read like a book from the narrator. Rolling off a cliff, smashing an excessive amount of boxes, blocking every incoming enemy attack; everything you do is noticed and often addressed by the narrator. This seems like a recipe for disaster, as repetition quickly turns into frustration and annoyance, but it surprisingly never passes that threshold. As a matter of fact, the narrator will never - and I mean never, ever - repeat the same sentence twice. It just doesn't happen, and that's damn impressive. More importantly, though, the narrator himself acts as a device to craft and augment the game's story into something even more emotional. In a land where games copy games, where Horde mode makes it into every title and regenerating health is forcibly applied to a wide array of protagonists, this is something absolutely zero games have done before. And that's awesome.

These colours? Yeah, they're the real deal.

Just around the time you start to notice the narration, you'll probably realise the creativity behind the art and level design of the game. Everything is hand-drawn, beautifully animated, and a boon for the eyes to see. Colours explode onto your screen and wrap themselves around the situation at hand, which usually helps resonate the mood of the area, be it dark and dreary or bright and happy. One of my favourite design decisions takes place as you progress through each stage; the world builds itself around you. I'm not talking about geometry just popping in and calling it a day - the sky is literally falling with pieces of the broken world, moulding itself to your surroundings so that you can progress. Without this extra effort in building each level, Bastion would lose much of its charm. 

Combat is definitely a high-point, one that Supergiant Games didn't slack on in the slightest. The Kid rolls around on command, tosses his shield up the moment you press the button, and is overall lightning-quick on the response factor. Dodging foes becomes paramount to your success, as does timing your blocks to parry or counter your foes. Going berserk and mashing buttons will win you nothing, as Supergiant's system clearly rewards those who time their attacks and avoid unnecessary damage. Slugging away on enemies feels great, and utilising your abilities to the fullest makes those narrow escapes even more enthralling.

This rifle is longer than your whole body, which makes it even more awesome.

With quite a few options available, the Kid can carry two weapons and a secret attack around with him at all times. Whilst you can carry two ranged weapons or melee in both slots, I found it best to adopt the melee/ranged weapon standard (my favourite was the Brusher's Pike and Army Carbine). Every weapon has multiple upgrades, with two separate choices for every upgrade you make. The best part about this is that, if you find the upgrade you bought wasn't doing the business right, you can always flip to the other without incurring an additional cost. Besides aiding you in beating down the angries, these augmentations will actually help you pass the plethora of Proving Grounds scenarios that Supergiant has scattered about. Each weapon has one Proving Ground, which acts as a special test for the specified weapon, but it's going to take some skill and brains to garner the coveted first place position on each.

The Bastion itself is a feature that you'll constantly be coming back to. Here, you'll actually construct buildings like the Distillery, which allows you to equip a special spirit every time you level up. Each spirit bolsters your stats by granting unique passive abilities, such as providing health every time you successfully counter-attack an enemy. There's also a Memorial, which allows for in-game achievements that give you all manner of shards (the currency), and a Shrine that functions much like the skulls found in the later Halo games. Activating the idols found in the Shrine not only makes the game exponentially harder, but they also give you increased experience and shards for every monster vanquished.

The Bastion is a floating piece of land, but it's also your hub to the rest of the world - what's left of it.

I'm a sucker for a good soundtrack, and if you are too, then you'll be pleased to know that Bastion contains an exceptional one. Much like my much-loved Secret of Mana, Bastion's sounds fit each scenario perfectly, and offers catchy beats with some very surprisingly well done vocal work in a couple of tracks. My personal favourite track is entitled Spike in a Rail - take a listen and become entranced with the unadulterated awesome of Darren Korb. 

There's isn't much to dislike in Bastion, but I did run into a couple of issues which I found semi-irritating. The game has a habit of introducing you to a brand new weapon when there's no Arsenal around to switch your equipment. This becomes troublesome because the new weapon instantly replaces one of your set items and you can't switch it out until you make it back to the Bastion or happen to run into said Arsenal. Making you use two very slow ranged weapons, instead of some kind of mêlée weapon, makes those parts of the game tricky when they really shouldn't be. This isn't always a problem, of course, but it's an irritation nonetheless.

The Kid's on a boat!

It may seem funny, considering all the weapons and customisation options, but I found the game's replay factor very light. Once you finish the game, you're given a 'New Game+' mode, which allows you to start a brand new game with all of your current items and experience. The problem is that you'll absolutely blow past everything, and can finish the game in roughly an hour and a half, whereas your first runthrough will take you somewhere around six hours. Yes, there are certain challenges you can do, and you could always select all the idols in the Shrine to make the game even harder, but there's no really compelling reason to play though the game again, again, and again, except for maybe seeing the one alternate ending. Truly, this isn't a huge issue since the game isn't a full retail release, but it is something you should be made aware of.  

Bastion is a compelling action-RPG with the strong aroma of a time past - a glorious time. Whilst it doesn't have the longevity that a major RPG has, the atmosphere, soundtrack and excellent gameplay more than make up for it. Saying that, now that I'm done with the game, all I want is more Bastion.

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