Jul 26, 2011

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Bastion Review

Since Microsoft began their annual Summer of Arcade, Xbox 360 gamers have been treated to some excellent downloadable titles.  Previous years have begun with games like Splosion Man and Geometry Wars 2, that garnered great praise and excitement for the upcoming lineup.  To kick things off this year we’re given the RPG Bastion from the new developer Supergiant Games.  The first title released from the studio, this single-player affair has already earned awards like Game Critics’ Choice at E3 and was an IGF finalist this year.  With such high expectations, though, can Supergiant deliver?

Bastion is the tale of a boy surviving the disaster known only as “The Calamity.”  Not much is known about what’s going on, but the kid has been instructed to go to the Bastion in case of an emergency.  As he makes his way through the ruins, he picks up some weapons and sees the many creatures the world has to offer.  When he finally makes it to his destination, unfortunately there seems to be only one other survivor that made it.  The survivor informs him that he must collect six cores to rebuild the Bastion.  In order to do so, he must venture out from the city of Caelondia into the wild unknown.  To make matters worse, most of the creatures have become hostile and attack on sight.  To survive and create some semblance of life, though, the kid is willing to take the risks and sets off guided only by the voice of the other survivor.

From the moment Bastion starts up, you can tell it’s going to be a memorable experience.  As soon as your kid gets up, you hear the narrator react to your movements.  Further steps reveal that the world actually rises up and forms as you explore it.  These two features were pegged as the selling points, but that isn’t fair to the overall experience.  Incredibly fun gameplay comes along as well, channeling Nintendo’s Zelda in an isometric viewpoint.  Each enemy you encounter is beautifully detailed, as is the world they inhabit.  As you explore and bring life to the Bastion, you learn more about its history, gain knowledge on found possessions, and even find baby versions of some enemies you can raise yourselves.  Add to this a narrative that is equally mysterious and compelling, and you’re given one of the most complete experiences on the marketplace to date.

The gameplay is strictly classic Zelda in a nutshell.  Players have the real-time combat nearly identical to Zelda, with an arsenal slightly modified from Link’s.  The kid can carry two weapons, with your choice of around a dozen different ranged and melee items.  Besides the two weapons marked to the X and B buttons, players can block and parry attacks either using the L trigger or right stick.  Each of the weapons can be modified and upgraded, choosing from ten different effects.  Some effects increase speed and power, while others modify attack range and even firing rate.  Players are also armed with a special power that is either a souped up version of one of their weapons, or some type of miscellaneous effect (such as summoning a creature to your aid).  Regardless of your loadout, the game supplies you with new weapons at a decent rate, often causing you to want to test out new combinations.  What may have worked for some enemies might not work for others, and this variety definitely adds to the challenge and replay value.

Bastion is a lengthy adventure that must be played twice to get the full experience.  Near the end of the game there are a few choices that affect the outcome of your journey, along with the world you’re trying to salvage.  Without giving anything away, it is highly recommended that upon completion of the campaign, a new game plus should be started instantly.  Aside from getting a few more achievements, you can max your character stats (impossible on the first playthrough) and truly challenge yourself with shrines activated.  Each shrine holds a god, that when activated, increases the difficulty in one way or another.  Some gods cause enemies to drop live explosives upon defeat, while others grant them the ability to reflect attacks.  Players can activate one or all eight depending on your preference, but with greater risk, comes greater rewards.  Along with more experience, the only way to raise your rank on the leaderboards is with all of the gods activated.  It can get frustrating, but the way gamers are allowed to tweak their difficulty is genius in my opinion.

As much as I enjoyed the game, it isn’t without its flaws.  The narration is superb in my opinion, but may be irritating to others.  The narrator literally comments on everything, and while it gives the illusion that he’s reacting to your actions, it quickly becomes apparent how scripted it is.  This is especially evident when playing on harder difficulties, where deaths become more frequent and you’re forced to hear the same lines over and over.  Also, in some areas the foreground and background are hard to differentiate between, and players can easily fall through the cracks, forcing a piece of their life to drain.  While not so irritating during most fights, it can become frustrating during some speed challenges.  Even with some added difficulty spikes in later stages, the overall experience isn’t diminished by these flaws, however.  The fact that I can overlook the above problems is a testament to how thoroughly I enjoyed the game.

Bastion is easily one of my favorite experiences in the arcade this year.  It sets a good pace not only with items unlocked, but on secrets revealed.  The gameplay is solid, and the worlds are lush and beautifully detailed.  Supergiant games has definitely hit a home run with their first outing, and I look forward to whatever they’re working on next.  While many gamers will be scared off at the $15 price tag, you’re really getting your money’s worth here.  While the story isn’t the longest I’ve seen in RPGs (roughly 5-6 hrs) it definitely was one of the most memorable.  This was a great way to start the 2011 Summer of Arcade, and hopefully the rest of the games can deliver as well.

Bastion
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 07/20/11
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: WB Games
ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10+)
MSRP: 1200MSP ($15)


9.5
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About James Damian

Hating The Walking Dead Survival Instinct. Enjoying my 3DS though! Follow me at @JamesManGuyPrsn