Bastion Review

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Bastion Publisher: WB Games
Developer: Supergiant Games

Platforms: Xbox 360 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

The Calamity has left Caelondia shattered. Literally. All that remains of a thriving city are tiny floating fragments and scattered survivors, human and otherwise. A hard-boiled kid with a smattering of fighting expertise allies himself with an older stranger, the first survivor he meets, to construct an outpost – the Bastion – that can be a safe haven for survivors and perhaps even undo the devastation of the Calamity.

Kyle Ackerman

I try so hard to avoid learning anything about a game I plan to review. In a perfect world, I want to come to a game fresh, without preconceptions or expectations. With Bastion, that proved to be a challenge. Somehow, rave comments crept in from the periphery, raising both my expectations and my anticipation of Bastion. Much of my disappointment in Bastion stems from those raised expectations, so I'll try not to take it out on the game.

Bastion does what I want nearly every game to attempt – it's a story-driven experience, with narration that responds to the player's actions. In that respect, it's brilliant. Without the clever narrative structure, Bastion would simply be a manga-styled action game with role-playing elements. Polished, to be sure, but straightforward. Bastion reveals the underlying story of the Calamity bit by bit, often in quips tangential to the action. Far more exciting, though, is the way the narration responds to the players actions. The narrator acknowledges whatever you do, whether that is choosing a particular set of weapons, drinking a potion, smashing things up a bit, or making a profound, world-changing decision.

My main problem isn't with the writing. It's the way the writing and the narration interact. The rhythm and the choice of idiom in the writing summon forth the feel of pulp westerns, dime-store novels and dubbed spaghetti serials. The dialog is written in a way that could only be passably delivered by the likes of Sam Elliot. Logan Cunningham, the narrator, is talented, but doesn't work for me with this particular style. Then there's my personal prejudice, which is that I don't think the Old Western-style narration jibes with the big-headed, spikey-haired, cutesy Japanese manga-style art. The game is lovingly illustrated, but I found the art, steampunk technology and old western narration to be jarring, as if writers and artists were all working on different games. The music, however, is splendid, and does its best to tie everything together.

When it comes to the actual play, Supergiant games has put together a short, polished, action/role-playing game. The player rambles across a series of levels that assemble themselves as the level progresses, dodging or blocking enemy attacks and dealing devastation with diverse weaponry. The only significant problem I had was with the levels that hid the player behind brush. Not allowing me to see my avatar isn't an acceptable way of changing the difficulty of an area. It just annoys me. The actual hack-and-slash play isn't particularly innovative, but it does nicely leave the important decisions in the hands of the player.

Bastion is only as hard as you make it. The base difficulty isn't particularly challenging, and there are plenty of health potions and second chances. Invoking certain shrines can make monsters substantially more difficult, also bumping up the rewards commensurately. As the player gains experience, potions can be imbibed at the distillery that provide passive bonuses, and there is a broad, customizable weapon selection that can be tailored to fit personal preferences. As straightforward as the game is, Bastion lets you play the way you want to play, and that is tremendously commendable.

I liked Bastion enough. I just wanted to like it a lot more. Bastion does a wonderful job of enabling player choice, and allows the interactive story to drive play just the way it should. I just didn't think the style Bastion pursued entirely worked. It's not even the narrator's fault. Neither he nor Bastion's protagonist have Sam Elliot's moustache.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 29, 2011 7:58 PM.

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