Many big budget titles lately have lost their appeal in that they can’t seem to think outside of the box. It’s almost as if every big budget game has the ‘ad explosions’ button on standby for where the plot seems to drop out or the gameplay gets too dull. It’s becoming more and more likely that the games that influence people as people are going to come from smaller independent developers. Bastion is certainly one of those titles.
As the game starts out you’re introduce to the two primary characters of the game, the Kid and the Narrator. At the opening already we get a taste of the game’s many fine points: The art is amazing, especially in the way the scenery tends to appear around you. The music is simplistic yet atmospheric. The gameplay is crisp and simple, although it can be made more complex by invoking idols later in the game, and the Narrator is a constant reminder of the SteamPunk/Western style feel of the game.
As I’ve only played the PC version of the game, it feels very Diablo-esque, using the mouse buttons to attack with either of two equipped weapons. The spacebar is used to somersault and dodge, the shift key to block, and the Q key to use a special ability. The game has a large array of weapons and special abilities that are unlocked at trial areas, called Proving Grounds, where you attempt to master the various implements. Each of the weapons has up to five upgrades unlocked by finding pieces of the world – the game’s currency – and objects used on each weapon respectively. Upgrades increase damage, critical strike chance, attack speed, etc.
Later on in the game a temple can be unlocked to invoke the anger of the gods. This makes the enemies more powerful in various ways – they drop bombs when dying, they slow you when they hit you, they’re more aggressive, they have more hit points, etc. – and the more idols you invoke the more the xp/currency bonus increases. Experience in the game works in that it increases your overall health a slight amount, but its main bonus is that each new level – up to 10 – allows the player another slot for a Spirit – a beverage equipped at the Distillery.
Spirits unlock special bonus triggers and abilities, with primary ones ranging from Werewhisky, which gives you a huge critical strike bonus when at low HP, to Lifewine which guarantees that that final hit wasn’t so final, to Leechade which grants a life steal effect. There are 20 in all, so with the combination of idols and weapons the game can become quite complex and customizable.
For a game only six to ten hours long for a single play through – as I was able to complete most of the side missions and vigils (Bonus objectives unlocked at the Monument building.) and finish the game in that time – the story comes in small pieces but leaves a big impact, with a type of twist and ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ feature near the end of the game. Throughout the gameplay, the Narrator essentially links two otherwise alien portions of the game together – the gameplay and the story narration – so that they become a single flowing exposition. As you play, you’re left wondering about all the people – left in statues of dust – and who they might have been, what kind of dreams they might have had, and what is The Calamity and why did it take place? Why are the gods so angry?
This is a bigger step than most people realize, and I think most people tend to reflect on aspects of life as they work: Why am I here? Why are things the way they are? What can I do to change things? This is a subtle change as far as how the game is produced, but very large in how the psychology of the player interacts with it. It gives the game an appeal I like, which is one of philosophical depth.
This is all coupled with Bastions very crisp artistic aesthetic and gorgeous soundtrack, and as of this writing I can’t quite figure out why this adds rather than taking away. Unlike a catastrophe game like Fallout, where one might look around and simply understand that the world is a bleak and horrible place, Bastion’s landscapes are very beautiful with a lot of bright contrasts and stunning colors. In a way, this is probably due to the game’s intended plot – a set of characters with very grey histories are looking forward to building a new bastion (hint, hint) where they can not only live to see another day, but thrive and move forward. Of course, much of this depends on player choice – and for a game that retails for $15 and has been on sale three times for $7 or less in the past month, they’re choices you can afford to make.
Gameplay: 7 / 10
Sound: 9 / 10
Graphics: 9 / 10
Presentation: 9 / 10
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Retail Price – $15