Xbox Live Arcade Title
Over the years the graphical prowess of games has continued to climb, yielding further and further technical advancements that allow games to look even more realistically brown, grey and dull. The desire for more “realistic” games has had a huge influence on this. And so, it’s not that often that I can say a game is truly beautiful to look at, but I’m going to say it about Bastion, the latest action-RPG to hit Xbox Live Arcade.
Usually I would begin a review at the story, or the gameplay, but for Bastion I’ll begin at the graphics and the sound, because that’s what sets this game apart: it creates a unique, gorgeous world to act as a backdrop for your adventures and shannanigins. As you move across the landscape the very ground itself rises from the depths and positions itself to create the gameworld. This unique idea, while having some effect on gameplay, primarily serves as a visual device, and one that I never grew bored of. While it’s never really explained in full as to why this occurs, I didn’t really care as I ventured across the landspace, watching it all rise to meet my feet. But that’s nothing compared to the art-style and colors that Bastion brings to its world: brights colors greet you at every turn and are balanced out by some dark, menacing and moody levels as well. There’s a feeling that the entire game is a stain-glass window in motion. In all honesty my words can’t really describe how it all looks, but that’s why we have pictures.
Like the graphics themselves the music in Bastion is hard to describe, but compliments the unique look of the game perfectly. Many of the tunes have an almost Western styled them to them with gentle a acoustic guitar weaving its melody through the gameplay, but the game has no problem raising the tempo with some nice, solid beats that still retain that unique flair. There’s also several striking numbers in their with some beautiful vocal work. But the star of the show, the audio feature that steals the metaphorical spotlight from the music is the narrator who comments on your actions, tells your tale and immerses you in a story. He’s with you on your entire journey (you do get to meet him in person) and tells the story behind Bastion, as well as narrating what you’re doing and filling in the little details. He has an almost hypnotic quality to his voice that ensures you never tire of his monologue. But he never repeats himself either: every action you take or event that happens gives him something new to talk about, and the result is the feeling that you really are part of the story. I kind of wish I had someone narrating my life like that, but it wouldn’t be very interesting.
Speaking of the story (I got there in the end), Bastion delivers an interesting premise and an compelling tale of tragedy, but always feels as though there is more to it all than it is willing to tell you, and that more could have been made of it. The central character is The Kid who wakes up to find the world has been ripped apart by the Calamity, a mysterious event that later gets explained, and must journey to the Bastion, a place of refuge. As you may have guessed it’s not long before he meets another survivor and embarks on a quest to rebuild his lost world, collecting Cores to power up the Bastion which will serve as a home. Ultimately, Bastion delivers a very interesting tale, and as you progress through the six to seven hours of campaign you’ll learn more about the Calamity and what caused it, all climaxing in a tough decision that must be made. I was hooked by the story’s premise, but was left feeling that Bastion could have delivered more: the game constantly hints at other events that don’t really get fleshed out and I always felt as though there was more of a story to be told. Perhaps they’re planning on filling it out with another game? The characters, though charming in their own way, never really took on a life of their own and had me caring about them. Regardless, the story proved to be interesting enough to keep me guessing and to keep me playing.
So, when viewed next to the distinct graphical style and impressive audio experience, it’s shame that Bastions gameplay isn’t as unique. Don’t take that the wrong way; the gameplay that powers Bastion is fun, but doesn’t hit the highs of the games presentation. At its core, Bastion is far more action that RPG: the vast majority of your time will be spent smacking various things in the face with one of the games ten weapons, each of which can be upgraded and tailored to your own personal preferences. The mixture of toys to play with are quite varied: you get a bow, hammer, guns and more. Each of these weapons feel radically different to wield, each suiting a different style of play altogether. Combine that selection of creature pummeling goodies with various special skills and you’ve got a nice amount of choice in how you approach your fights, and I always found myself experimenting with different weapon selections to find the most effective combination that I could. Get into the nitty gritty fights themselves and things are satisfying, but definately familiar: fights eventually come down to blocking/evading an opponents attack and then striking yourself. Repeat until the evil thing is a gooey puddle on the ground, unless it already was a gooey thing on the ground. Your trusty shield can block pretty much everything, and those with that cherished skill of timing can pull off damaging counter attacks by blocking at just the right moment. But to keep things interesting there is a fair variety of evil things to hack and slash your way through on your path to ultimate salvation, or somesuch. You’ll meet venom spitting plants, giant Windbags, birds ( not the good kind) and spike firing things, all with the intense desire to splatter you across the landscape like some disturbing piece of modern art. Ok, so you will actually met a few other survivors and people on your journey, but the vast majority is spent in the company of said evil things. And while Bastion has that addictive, unidentifiable quality so many other action-RPGs possess that just keeps you playing, I was starting to tire of it near the end of the games six to seven hour campaign.
There are certainly other things to sink your teeth into: the Bastion, your home base, can be upgraded as you progress with new buildings allowing you to upgrade your weapons, gain access to new brews that give you an extra edge or a shop to buy new special skills and other items. It’s hard not to take a certain amount of pride in slowly rebuilding the Bastion to its former glory.
However, if you’re one of those people that demand vast amounts of stats and an incredibly complicated levelling up system then you’ll probably want to steer clear of Bastion. While there is a XP and levelling up system implemented into the game, it’s really a very basic affair: gaining a level nets you some extra health and access to a couple of new items/skills, but that’s it.
But here’s the deal winner: New Game +. Yup, once you complete the game you can blast back through it with all your upgrades and character stats intact, and the narrator will even comment on the fact that you’re back.
Bastions gameplay is familiar and fun, but the star is the unique and wonderful world that is presented as you play. From the ground rising up to meet your next step to the fantastically atmospheric soundtrack, this is a game you should definately experience.
+ Bright, beautiful visuals.
+ Some amazing music.
+ The narrator adds a fairytale-escue quality.
– Can get repetitive.
– The story feels like it could have been more.
Unlike many games this isn’t just technically great, it has a great art-style as well.
Gentle acoustic guitar work sets the tone perfectly, but it’s not lacking in urgent, heavier beats.
While I certainly enjoyed it, I was still left with the feeling that there was more there, and I never really clicked with the characters.
Fairly familair mechanics are at work beneath Bastions beauty, but it’s still good fun.
Around six to seven hours will see the singleplayer over. Perhaps longer should you wish to master ever proving ground. And then you can go back through with New Game+
Summary: A compelling and fun action-RPG that delivers a unique and beautiful world to kill things in. Between the visuals, narration and pitch-perfect music you’ll find yourself immersed in the game and the world it presents to you in no time.