The Xbox 360’s Summer of Arcade was a spectacular showcase of Indie developer talent. These games formed a line of resistance against the extended gaming drought witnessed over the summer months. The quality and sophistication they display has been increasing year on year and provide proof against the idea that games must have multi million pound budgets to be ‘worthwhile’. Amongst this heap of accomplished code there is one stand out title: Bastion.
Bastion is an isometric RPG set in a world devastated by the “Calamity”. You control a character, titled simply as “the kid”, as you push onwards into a formless void on a quest to reach the Bastion. Each step forward in your quest reconstructs the shattered land under your feet. Huge stone plinths and smaller tiles crash up from the depths, spinning upwards the shards of land crunch together in a satisfying grumble of rock, like an explosion in reverse. It is a clever method of map design to have the world form before the player. It ensures that there is always something new to look at as you progress. There is never a point when you can see the path ahead and wince at the inevitable thumb gymnastics that will be required in order to continue. When the exploration of a world is measured in mere metres rather than expansive distances the player feels a basic urge to continue, to press forward and discover the next few steps of the world ahead, just to see what it uncovers.
The art style is well judged and helps bring a unique identity to what could have been the brown and greys of today’s big budget games. The visuals are beautifully textured in a bright pastel shaded watercolour style. With each characters design and animation fitting within the games established style, it forms a seamlessly cohesive whole. While the visuals are not as breath taking as the retina scorching explosions of today’s AAA titles, they can, on occasion be wondrous feasts of form and colour.
“Spell checker always hated the kid, but that didn’t matter. Other problems lay ahead.”
As you explore the world you will gather weapons and unlock skills and upgrades to help you defeat the enemies that spawn and attack you on sight. The weapons come in two flavours, melee and ranged. There are several different types of each with their own pros and cons. To add more variation to the game you can upgrade your weapons from items that are dropped by the enemies you encounter. I personally love the katana but hate most of the ranged weapons as they seemed rather ineffectual, especially against the larger enemies. Skills can be learned that add yet another level of personalization to your character. This aspect of the game, along with the two different endings, will ensure you play through a second time.
Now, while the story itself is not particularly ground breaking, (how many stories in games are these days?), the voiced narration that trickles through your speakers is. Although each separate aspect of Bastion is good in its own right, it’s not hard to imagine the game being forgotten or largely ignored without its voiced narrative feature. It’s this feature alone that brings the whole game to life and gives the experience its uniquely personal touch. Your every action is voiced back to you from the throat of some impossibly grizzly grandfather figure. Each word is honey and subtle guidance, when you feel like you should stop at a particular point to play another game you will hear his voice cajole you into going that little bit further. Never falling into the pitfalls that other games voiced companions fall into, Bastion’s voice never repeats itself, never annoys or preaches, never commands or insist on you paying attention to small details. It is a formless companion on your quest that comments on your actions and delivers depth and context to the world you find yourself in. Would this same style of narration work in other games? I can’t imagine it would, which only makes Bastion’s use of it all the more memorable and unique.
Bastion is a fantastic game. To stand at the forefront of this summer’s amazing line up of Indie games is an achievement in of itself. The game will be well regarded and remembered for many years to come. So for 1200 (Moon Money) Microsoft Points I have no qualms in declaring the game a must have.
After playing Bastion I can’t help but imagine that if I had the same narration in my life I would actually be able to get things done.
“The kid done good. Rest was on his mind; and he’d need it. Tomorrow was another adventure”
9 Dulcet tones out of 10