Do I want to begin this review with a spiel about how some indie games blow up while others are eternally a mystery to people across the universe? Or perhaps how easy it is to get behind on the list of games that arise from the ether? Maybe mentioning how random my collection of games is becoming so that I have nearly 100 games on Steam, mostly due to Humble Bundles? Nope, I’d rather just start about talking about the Bass-tion abyss.
Release Date: 16/8/2011
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, XBLA, iOS, Linux, OnLive, Google Chrome
Developer: SuperGiant Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Rig: AMD FX-8320, 8GB of RAM, Radeon HD 7770, Windows 7 64-bit, Xbox 360 controller
Bastion begins in the wake of the catastrophic event referred to as the Calamity. A vague disaster that left the majority of people dead, and the world divided up primarily by tiles that are brought into existence as one of the few people left alive draw near to them. Though, that most often refers to a platinum blonde known only as the Kid, when in reality the old man telling this story just never bothered asking for his name. Said old man, who is named Rucks, is the first survivor the kid meets, as he is sent to the titular Bastion, which I believe is intended as a capsule of sorts to reboot reality, but to be quite honest, the story grabbed me pretty limply.
As previously stated, the narrative of Bastion and the world it is set in is told entirely through the narration of Rucks as he makes note of the Kid’s actions, why they are important, and where the blazes he is being sent in this destroyed monster infested world. As an idea, it certainly garnered a lot of attention upon release, but as I carried on, his voice, at no fault of the actor, began to grow into white noise as he spoke in very short bursts to give context for the gameplay. Though, when a larger narrative is introduced, one involving a series of warring factions and genocide, I was hardly invested in what was going on. As the characters you rescue from the ruins are not particularly interesting, in part due to how Rucks’ narration removes them, and the Kid himself from the ability to express themselves.
Leaving the gameplay to theoretically carry the title, though the comparisons I’ve seen drawn between it and various browser games feels fairly adequate. I suppose that one would classify Bastion as an isometric action RPG light on the RPG side of things and heavy on both combat, weapons, and upgrading. Sending the Kid off from an ever evolving base and into ten to fifteen minute long stages to bash through an assortment of baddies, though there are only about thirty types in total, slight variants and all. With a one way ticket through every area, ten weapons to shove into two slots, and a single special move to select alongside several passive buffs and debuffs to collect while going through some of the hardest to earn levels outside of the first two Paper Mario titles.
With a firm cushion of the potions that can be upgrade to serving as additional health bars and later becoming a total of six, the game is a bit on the easy side without considering your impenetrable shield. Made no better by how powerful you can make the starting weapons, even in comparison to the newer weapons that felt like a hindrance when introduced. Replacing the ones I previously equipped, meaning that combat was slightly slower and more awkward whenever a new weapon was thrust upon the Kid. The former being a constant, due greatly by how abysmally slow the Kid is unless he is rolling.
Although, what strikes me more than the pace is the Kid’s model, namely how ill fitting it is upon a closer inspection. With a three dimensional cel-shaded model that seems to be both out of whack with proportions set in a world that he naturally does stand out from, but only due to how the Kid doesn’t match the backdrop. The environments in the game are a series of constantly building well illustrated tiles that are crafted with quite a lot of detail, and unique tiles for pretty much every area in the game.
The problem I have with them comes to what is undoubtedly a preference against the art direction the game is going for, and how it feels consistent with the gameplay. While the painterly style is appealing, the art style feels like one that was crafted to meet a definition of beauty rather than be a lovely looking game in its own right. Resulting in what I suppose is the visual equivalent of a game feeling a bit soulless.
It feels more than a little odd to call a critically praised indie game bland, but that is what the Bastion ultimately felt like in my experience. Simple gameplay that could potentially be made interesting if not for how dead set the game seems to be on keeping things simple, as the final upgrade that could be thought of is the ability to jump while dodging. A relatively slow pace that does little to make the world endearing as you go through environments that, while well designed, amount to a pretty backdrop in an uninvolving play. A play that just so happened to have a sexy male voice read the story to you, one sentence every two minutes.
Fans of the genre or premise might enjoy the product. There is a kernel of goodness, but it’s still surrounded by some non-goodness, making the final product a bit “bleh”.