Monday, November 10, 2014

Bastion (Supergiant Games/WarnerBros. Interactive Entertainment, 2011/2012)

I talked a lot about clones in my Ittle Dew review, and about how most games released these days are slight variations on existing ideas. The recent renaissance in indie games by smaller groups or even individuals has lead to some pretty radical new gaming concepts, but sometimes games come along that manage to give us something we're already familiar with, but in a new way that makes it feel like something fresh and unique. This is the case with Bastion.

If you had to categorize Bastion, it would be an Action RPG with Hack n' Slash combat, but that immediately brings up images of Legend of Zelda mixed with God of War as seen in the Darksiders series, and really Bastion is not at all like those games. It has a laid back patient pace to it, and a strong charm that while not exactly whimsical, is definitely leaning in that direction.

Much of this charm comes from the ongoing narration. Ever since Joe Montana II: Sports Talk football for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, sports game fans have seen, or heard rather, the evolution of real time play-by-play commentary, and while it's nothing new in the world of digital ball tossing, it's something rarely featured in adventure games. Bastion utilizes this technology to tell you a story in past tense about not just the main objectives and plot points, but what you are doing moment to moment, and how well you are handling various situations. It's a surreal experience that pushes the art of interactive storytelling into new territory. Hopefully it becomes a trend and we can see how far it can go.

I mentioned the Hack n' Slash roots of the gameplay, and as would be expected, Bastion has a very active combat system. What I found unique was how large of a variety of weapons the game offered the player, and how different the gameplay felt with each weapon. It's not uncommon for action games to have fully fleshed out projectile vs melee combat systems, but the differences between using a sword vs spear vs hammer, or a shotgun vs bow and arrow vs machine gun felt almost like playing different games.

You are able to carry any two weapons at a time, and since they map to different buttons on the controller, switching between them seamlessly becomes a large part of the experience. Optional training areas for each weapon are available as side missions allowing you to learn the pros and cons of each without the need for standard tutorials, and really help in trying to find the combination that best matches your preferred play style.

Try not to get too comfortable with any one play style though. As you progress through the many environments and enemy types Bastion has to offer, you'll be changing up your equipment of choice to best suit whatever challenge you find yourself up against. What works great against swarms won't get you far in a boss fights, and the best way to take down larger enemies won't work well when attracted by quicker moving airborne foes. Some areas require a more focused style of play, while others demand flexibility.

Throughout Bastion, resources are collected that can be used to upgrade your character, or your weapons, allowing the ability to further customize your playing experience by making your weapons stronger or faster, or increasing it's range or ammunition capacity. The ability to perform these upgrades isn't available right away however, first you must upgrade your main base of operations, the Bastion itself.

Bastion takes place right after a horrible accident destroys the world. You play as The Kid, as you try to reassemble some of the pieces to build a small bit of habitable land floating in the vast nothingness, all the while befriending fellow survivors and unlocking the mystery to discover the cause of the calamity. Each character has their own back story, and their own take on the land's history. The Kid's story gets fleshed out the most, and there are some touching moments as he discovers the fate of his lost loved ones. This is where the narrator really helps, allowing the emotions to surface in more of a literary way, rather than a typical cinematic approach.

Visually, Bastion also manages to stand out from other games. The 2D isometric artwork presents a detailed world that flows into place from the empty vastness beneath as The Kid nears an edge. Everything has a strong and consistent style to it that packs just the right amount of eye candy into it so it never seems stale, but never gets distracting. This is complimented by the laid back twangy yet atmospheric music reminiscent of some of the lighter soundtrack pieces from the Borderlands series.

Bastion's relaxed pace brand of introspective combat adventuring may not appeal to gamers looking for pure adrenaline fueled twitch combat, and the desolate world devoid of traditional towns and NPCs may feel a bit lonely for rabid RPG fans, but if you've been on the lookout for something that feels just a bit different, Bastion is an experience you won't want to miss out on.

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