Review: Bastion (PC)

The First Few Rows WILL Get Wet from Drool

Every once in a while, we stumble upon a game that reminds us of why we love this activity so much, that dares to try new things, executes them with such flawless perfection that we can’t help but feel giddy all over at the sheer pleasure these works of art provide us. It doesn’t happen too often, most games being at best mild evolutionary steps forward of the medium and their genre, but when it does, we will go to bed thinking about the game, wake up with it still in our minds, go through the work day in a daze just waiting to get back to the old computer to get in just a few more hours. I hadn’t come across such a game thus far this year, and more than halfway through 2011 I was beginning to think Skyrim was the only thing I was really going to enjoy (please, please, please be awesome). That is, until I played Bastion.

The debut offering of indie developer Supergiant Games, Bastion is in the simplest terms a game evocative of a smooth and badass western. You wouldn’t think so looking at screenshots, or by the colorful and imaginative art style, but this is in a sense a classic western story of a lone warrior taking on forces greater than himself.

The Narrator

Let me start with the game’s most interesting, and perhaps innovative, feature: the narrator. His voice will be one of the first things you hear waking up on a small floating island in the middle of a chaotic abyss. As your character, or “The Kid” as the narrator calls him, begins to move around, his actions, his accomplishments, his thoughts and emotions are all explained by a smooth voice akin to the sexiest and most hard-boiled old cowboy you could imagine. It’s a satisfying mixture of Sam Elliot and Wayne Newton, with a dash of Tom Waits producing the kind of warm yet hardened grandfatherly tone that just lets you know there is still good in the world.

It may seem like I’m focusing on this a bit much, but the role of the narrator is key to the game in almost every aspect. In a game with voiceovers throughout the bulk of the content, his makes up 99% of every spoken word. He describes the items in your inventory, he tells you what the other characters are saying, and, as stated, he explains your every thought and action as you play.

This is perhaps one of the more flawlessly executed examples of weaving a story into the gameplay, seamlessly adding a depth to the game that used to be squarely the domain of literature, a knowing descriptor illuminating thoughts and emotions that most games and movies must leave to the imagination of the viewer. If everything else about the game were mediocre, Bastion‘s approach to storytelling would still raise it above most other titles released thus far this year. Fortunately for all of us, the game has so much more to offer.

The Game

The game itself is a relatively simple action/RPG, with an isometric point of view, and straight-forward combat mechanics that feel smooth and natural. It can be played with either keyboard or a game controller, and has a healthy dose of upgrades, weapons, character add-ons, and customization keeping things exciting and engaging from beginning to end.

I won’t go into the story, as it is best told by my new man-love-interest, the narrator, but suffice to say it deals with the issues of war, depicting neither good nor evil in the conflict, instead showing their humanity, their raw fear driving emotions and decisions. Decisions that lead to a calamity on par with a nuclear holocaust. Best of all, it shows how these decisions affect the lives of everyday people.

As The Kid searches through the floating debris of his destroyed hometown, he passes the bodies of the people he knew during his life: friends, acquaintances, enemies. Each one is named by the narrator, letting the player know that these were people. They had lives, loves, troubles, and aspirations of their own, all snuffed out by one massive bad decision made by a shadowy leadership who didn’t know how to reach out and make peace with the other side. Such honesty in times of turmoil and mass death is almost unheard of in gaming, a subject perhaps deemed too heavy or non-beneficial to the ultimate goal of providing cheap thrills and fun for the gamer. After each name, he states in a simple and sober tone, “They didn’t make it.”

Eye Candy

Gameplay and story aside, Bastion also offers up a visual and audial quality rarely found in games by such a small development team. Before getting to the art style, let me say that this is the first game for which I bought the soundtrack. Meaning after about 2-3 hours of playing, I went and spent additional money to buy the full soundtrack, and then went on to listen to it over and over on repeat the whole day. The music created by Darren Korb is what he calls “acoustic frontier trip-hop”, a lovely mixture of classic western soundtracks, with elements of fast-paced middle eastern sounds, brought into the present day with techno/industrial overlays. It’s the kind of music that makes you feel like an action hero, with every hammer swing (John Henry?) and shotgun blast assuring you of your own bad-assery. As essential as the narrator is to the game, so too is the music which demands to be turned up loud enough to rattle the windows.

The art style is a complex mixture of anime and classical Japanese paintings, tones and textures reminiscent of a living watercolor with elements of steampunk aesthetics and south-western architecture. In a sweeping sense, it draws upon more stylistic influences than I can name here, and though it wears its influences proudly on its sleeves, it also develops and combines them with each other, an alchemist turning various base elements into pure gold. The animation is smooth, the levels building themselves before your very eyes with each step, propelling pathways, corridors, jungles and villages in front of you, forcing the player to constantly stop and just take in the jaw-dropping beauty of it all.

Final Verdict

In case I haven’t yet made it abundantly clear, I can’t recommend this game enough. It is a breathtaking work of art accessible to just about any kind of gamer. It has an elegant and simple in-game system that lets the player define the difficulty in a variety of ways rarely seen in most videogames. The story is very well written and presented in such an original and imaginative way as to draw the most jaded player into the game world. The art style, perhaps a bit busy, is nevertheless easily qualifyable as “art” in the classic sense, with a musical soundtrack featuring a level of excellence rare even amongst most AAA titles.

Don’t miss out on this game. It’s available both on PC and the Xbox 360, and at the low price of $15 is an absolute steal!

Check out the site here!

2 Responses to “Review: Bastion (PC)”
  1. DPenn says:

    About an hour into this and liking it a lot. It has the feel of a team hitting on all cylinders and producing a cohesive vision in which all the parts — visuals, gameplay, sound, story — fit together beautifully.

    My only problem is that I’m playing with keyboard and mouse on the PC and getting some serious left-arm pain when the action ramps up. I may be old, or I may need a gamepad.

  2. Max says:

    Beautiful review, Armand. I’m enjoying Bastion very much myself. Over a few sessions I haven’t been able to put the controller down, at the same time wanting to savor it all.

    The narrator is probably my favourite touch, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

  • Copyright © 2010-2011 Bits 'n' Bytes Gaming
  • All rights reserved. Reproduction of content permitted only with Editor-in-Chief's consent.
%d bloggers like this: