Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Bastion: Building a Better World

A couple of weeks ago an event occurred that is usually very hard on my wallet; the steam summer sale. Often Steam sales result in me spending the same amount I would on one game for that same game and a bunch of others I will never play... as a result of last Christmas for example I now own all the Midway games which I'm told are historically accurate naval combat simulators. None of which I will ever install, let alone play. This year however I managed to avoid the summer sale largely because I have been horrifically busy with Amecon looming on the horizon (which I am running an event at, more on that in a few weeks). I did however pick up one game. That game was the Indy game Bastion.
And you thought your commute was bad
I have played a few Indy games over the last few years; Braid, Super Meat Boy, Limbo, Osmos the list goes on. And I've always had one major gripe with most of them, they're all a bit pretentious. Braid had moments of genius but it's central theme was so cryptic that it appeared to have been made just to prove the creator was more intelligent and deep than you, Super Meat Boy was a tribute to old skool platformers in which challenge far outweighed any sense of achievement and Limbo played out like a particularly nihilistic Swedish film student's wet dream. All of them had moments of true artistic genius and were obviously very high concept but they lacked one crucial thing: fun. Don't get me wrong they had entertaining sections but these were largely lost in a sea of heavy handed symbolism and overwrought subtext. It was like playing my teenage poetry.
Me in early 2008, first year of university, Pink Floyd and North by North-West on my dorm room wall. Trilby on my head.  This has not gone well.
I am pleased to say that Bastion was a complete breath of fresh air. I realise I'm a bit late to this party (it's now over a year since it was released on XBLA) but seriously, you have to play it if you haven't yet. Without spoiling too much about the plot Bastion is a post apocalyptic action RPG played from a top down view in which you play a young man with a shadowy past known only as "the Kid" who may end up saving what's left of humanity. If you think we're just retreading the blasted wastes of the first two Fallout games however think again.

Picking up the Pieces

Visually Bastion borrows more from the Disgaea series than fallout and it is beautiful. The world ending event (known only as "the Calamity") that starts the game's narrative launched the parts of the world it didn't destroy into the sky and the Kid possesses a magical emblem which draws in parts of those shattered lands as you progress.
This means the game world literally builds itself around you; dead ends become new paths and impassable chasms become bridges as you approach them. You literally put the pieces of your broken world back together as you move around, no side quests or back tracking, just your presence. It's very satisfying.

Your Weapon is Choice

Gameplay wise Bastion is simple but endlessly varied. You unlock new weapons as you progress though the game. These include a fast slashing machete, a blunderbuss, dueling pistols, a spear, a bow, a sledge hammer, a flame thrower and many more. Each weapon has a special move you can take with you on your missions to various levels allowing you to mix and match to find the combination that suits you best. There are also various unlockable tonics that augment the Kid and give him extra passive abilities in combat.
Many people will find themselves settling into a specific two weapon and special move combination mid way through the game allowing you to play Bastion your way. The weapons and tonics are well balanced as well and most enemies can be beaten using clever application of any weapon you choose so no back tracking to the hub world to rub a specific item on a specific monster so you can progress.

An Oral History, An Aural World 

One of the things that impressed me most about bastion is the way it tells it's story. From beginning to end your journey through the game is narrated by a character called Rucks. As in literally narrated; Rucks praises your choice in weapons, urges you on when times are tough and helps you find your way if you are lost. He also feeds you small snippets of information as you rebuild the world hinting at how things got so bad. This may seem like it would get annoying but it's done so well that you come to love him as if he was actually there fighting alongside you. Also he sounds like a prospector from the old west which makes the game feel like the post apocalyptic tale Mark Twain never got round to writing.
Have I ever told ya a tall tail I heard about a kid named Huck Fin?
On that subject the music of Bastion is also a masterpiece of sound design; somewhere between ambient electronica and good old boy western folk it hits all the right notes at all the right moments. Also specific characters have specific musical cues and songs attributed to them which have hidden meanings that become clearer the more you learn about them.

Bastion: An Individual Amongst Indy Games

Bastion stands proud of it's Indy game compatriots largely due to the relaxed way that it tells its story and the use of simple mechanisms to create a compelling game world that speaks for itself. It tells an honest, somewhat depressing but ultimately hopeful story in a simple, honest way. Visually it's beautiful, gameplay wise it's balanced, varied and fun and its characters are realistic, relateable and compelling. Why are you still reading this? You should be playing it!

Stay Crunchy Internet

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