07/11/2011

Review - Bastion - OnLive

To help kick start the Summer of Arcade 2011, Microsoft decided to release Bastion, an isometric action/RPG and to commemorate my first OnLive review, I decided it was about time I explore this wonderful looking indie title in more detail.

You can tell simply by the screenshots of Bastion that it was going to stand out from the crowd of other Indie titles, given that it has a similar art styling to Braid and a control system akin to the cult-tastic Diablo series, everything seemed on track to present a fine action/RPG that would leave a lasting memory.

The Bastion - Complete with building plots for expansion.
What the developer – Supergiant Games – didn’t realise however, is how much of a lasting impression Bastion would leave. Bastion has become a prime example of how action/RPG’s should be created. They have created a game which positively oozes elegance and style.

In Bastion, you play as ‘the kid’ who wakes up on a floating rock after the world – Caelondia – has suffered a terrible incident - The Calamity.

The Calamity remain a mystery and all the kid can do is work his way towards The Bastion, a safe haven in the land. As the kid moves forward, the floor literally begins to construct before him and to quote the excellent narrator “The ground starts to form up under him as if leading the way. He don't stop to wonder why.” Which is exactly how you react to something like this in this game, it just happens and – suitably impressed - you look past it to the next innovation from the developers.

Some environments feel isolated and barren but still lovingly created
The next innovation in Bastion is instantly recognisable as the narrator. Now, in so many previous titles we have been subjected to voiced narration which quite frankly has lasted a short while due to gimmick appeal but then becomes increasingly irritating and eventually intolerable (the forgetful prince from the Prince of Persia games springs instantly to mind) but the –frankly amazing- narrator (voiced by Logan Cunningham) is amazing for a series of reasons.

The narrator in Bastion shines through as the best narrator thus far in any video game because he never repeats himself – through my entire playthrough I never head the narrator say the same thing twice. He also highlights not only important plot points or new weapons but seemingly insignificant occurrences: which enemy you attack first in a group – which weapon you use – which path you take – how long you wait before you make your first movement in a new level – if you choose to destroy or preserve the statues of petrified victims of The Calamity – whose statue you destroy – why you destroy it “never did care for his smile” the narrator says as I obliterate a previous denizen of Caelondia. Each individual action has a series of narrative notes which add so much life to this already moving and vibrant world.

The Bastion world is full of wonderfully colourful, almost Steampunk items to search - and by search, I mean destroy
Getting into the nitty-gritty of the game mechanics, the movement and combat controls are very simple to handle, I used keyboard and mouse to control the kid but I can quite easily see how this could be transferred to a control pad. The combat consists of the kid holding two weapons and a special skill, the weapons range from your trusty Warhammer to a speedy but light machete to ranges weapons such as an elephant gun-esque musket and pistols. More weapons are available to unlock at certain points in the game and in addition to the weapons you are also equip with a special skill, this can range from a devastating whirlwind attack to a Lure which summons an enemy to fight at your side.

The premise of Bastion is basic – travel around the remains of the world and gather ‘cores’, these large crystal cores will allow you to enhance the Bastion and search further for more cores. Coupled with the additional levels you unlock, you will also unlock weapon specific challenges to participate in and receive prizes for; these can be anything from destroying 100 items as quickly as possible with your hammer to shooting as many targets as you can with one of your guns whilst running along a collapsing platform. Adding an extra depth to an already deep and rich game.

The kids opening scene - just another post Calamity day in Caelondia  
The next nicety to grace Bastion is the Shrine, a building which you can choose to build on the Bastion which will give you specific quests you can complete for more experience (hitting 15 enemies in ‘quick succession’ is one of them) and touches like this and the Alter, an area where you can invoke certain gods to act like Halo Skulls – game modifiers which will increase or decrease the difficulty of your experience – again, wonderfully mentioned by the fantastic narrator “The kid’s thankful he didn’t invoke the gods now” the narrator said as I hacked my way out of a particularly difficult battle after deciding not to invoke the gods and increase the enemies level and also my experience gained from them.

Bastion is a world builder by nature – no, really – whilst it may be advertised as an action/RPG, with the landscape literally piecing itself together under your feet and your ability to build upon and extend the Bastion, this game is literally about building a world, that is the end game for Bastion, putting the pieces back together after the Calamity.

Some areas are lined with traps or ambushes - these are always fun when you aren't expecting them!
In conclusion then, Bastion is a game which does so many things well, it’s very hard to pick fault at the bad points – if there are any to pick at to begin with! The combat is familiar without feeling reused, the story is fresh without feeling alien but relatable without feeling borrowed. The graphics are different enough to invoke sophisticated opinions from reviewers but simple enough for everyone to appreciate. It’s the little touches that eventually make Bastion: The excellent narrator, the effect of the game world constructing before your footsteps, the excellent soundtrack. Supergiant have created the isometric action adventure RPG (indie or not) which all others will now be measured against.


9/10