Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Bastion for XBLA, PC, Mac, Linux and iOS

Bastion is one of the biggest success stories of the recent indie gaming boom, and it’s not difficult to see why; the beautiful world, wonderful music and best of all, a narration throughout the entire game by a husky voiced gentleman. What’s not to love? Sadly, quite a lot. Like Limbo before it, Bastion is a case of pure style over substance.

Bastion is set in and around the city of Caelondia following a nightmarish catastrophe known as ‘The Calamity’, which has left the world fractured, with the surviving pieces of the once beautiful city floating in a void. There’s a surprisingly complex back story to the game, but it isn’t conveyed particularly well, with a large amount of the details coming from simple messages in the loading screens. Although it’s clear the developers wanted to create a complex and compelling world to underpin the gameplay, and I don’t believe that they quite succeeded. Where they did succeed however is in how utterly beautiful the world of Bastion can be, creating a unique setting unlike any that I’ve seen before.

The player character of Bastion is known only as ‘The Kid’, a young man of a mysterious past, of whom we are only given a very limited understanding. Upon awakening after The Calamity as one of the only human survivors, he makes his way to ‘The Bastion’ a sort of floating shrine to the world before the disaster, under the control of the mysterious Rucks, the narrator of the game. Rucks sends the Kid out into the shattered lands of Caelondia to collect shards of, I don’t know, some kind of vague magicky stuff, which can boost the power of the Bastion. As the Kid’s journey continues the player learns more about the nature of The Calamity and what bought it about.

The plot of Bastion is quite thin, but rather interesting nonetheless. There are a few characters in the game apart from Rucks and the Kid, but it’s rather difficult to get a real feel for them, as they’re simply narrated by Rucks. The success of Bastion’s narrative lies not with the story itself, which is moderately interesting at best, but in how this story is told.

Bastion is an action RPG played from an isometric perspective. There’s little in the way of exploration; the player picks a level from the world map and then plays through in a generally linear fashion, all to the soothingly grave tones of Rucks. The combat is fairly simple, consisting of two weapons and one special attack, which can be customised in the Bastion, which serves as the game’s hub. There’s a wide variety of weapons to choose from, from the hammer seen in the game’s art to pistols and a rocket launcher.

The actual bread and butter gameplay of Bastion leaves something to be desired, usually devolving into fairly uninspired hack and slash. Something I did like was the wide variety of weaponry available and the amount of customisation available to the player; the game does a good job of introducing cool weapons all the way throughout the game, so you’ll never go too long without getting to try out something new. There’s some interest in the customisation of the Bastion, but this mechanic never really reaches its potential. As I mentioned before, like Limbo, Bastion is another indie game which shows style over substance. That said, if the style is suitable good this isn’t necessarily a problem; I actually really liked Limbo! The sad fact remains that Bastion simply isn’t that much fun to play, even if it is beautiful to look at and listen to.

Despite all of my misgivings about the gameplay of Bastion, the narrator is going to keep me looking back at the game with fondness. It’s so elegantly compelling that it’s a wonder no one else has done it before. The voice actor for Rucks was an excellent choice, soothing and mysterious, a trustworthy voice to carry the player through the game. The music for Bastion is also excellent, particularly a sung track towards the end of the game that sent shivers down my spine. The game also looks great, with a lovely art style, although the environments can look a little cluttered. I suspect that the blame for this lies more with the level design than the art design. For all its flaws, Bastion doesn’t look or sound like any other game out there.

I have extremely mixed feelings on Bastion; on one side I love that it took risks with its presentation, delivering something certifiably unique yet I wish that as much attention had been lavished upon the gameplay. I almost want to recommend Bastion solely because I want to support games like this existing, but the game as it stands simply isn’t good enough. If you spot it on sale, and fancy being taken on an interesting and fun narrative ride, pick up Bastion, but if you want an actual fun and satisfying gaming experience, you could do better elsewhere.

bastion

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