Reviewed: August 18, 2011
Released: August 16, 2011
It was just about this time last month when I was reviewing this great little game on the Xbox 360 called Bastion. Chances are you’ve already heard some buzz on this game or perhaps you’ve already read my 360 review. Regardless; the game has been winning awards and receiving high praise from just about everyone who has seen or played it and rightly so. Bastion is a burst of fresh air to liven up what is traditionally a very stale time of year when it comes to noteworthy game releases. Now that the game is finally available on the PC I was eager to see just how much different or better it could be.|
Bastion is a self-proclaimed action-RPG title, although I found as much role-playing as I would in a typical game of Call of Duty. The RPG moniker is getting a lot of abuse these days, being assigned to any game that offers any nuance of customization. Role-playing is about assuming a role and developing a character that you become emotionally attached to. Bastion is pure arcade action, and I would venture to say it is more like a one-player version of Gauntlet or any other isometric shooter.
Bastion begins with you, a white-haired youth known as the Kid, waking up after a great Calamity has destroyed the entire world. You find yourself on a floating land mass that slowly expands as you move around, with bits and pieces rising up and falling down to reconstruct the world around you in real-time. As you explore this colorful isometric world you will discover new items, locations, and even some survivors. You’ll also encounter hordes of evil creatures and a few old friends who didn’t survive the Calamity.
Bastion is a button-mashing combat game, and again I must reference Gauntlet. You can either hack and slash with melee weapons or keep your foes at bay with a ranged bow or throwing machete. You have a shield that can deflect incoming fire, sometimes right back at the enemy if you’re lucky, and of course all of these weapons can be modified and upgraded as you venture deeper into the world and collect the various power-up items.
There are 30 areas to explore, some story driven and others merely arena challenges where you try to defeat several waves of various enemies in decreasing amounts of time to earn various ranks and rewards. All of these worlds are accessed from a central hub area that you unlock a few minutes into the main game. This hub area is slowly restored as you find various artifacts and gems to feed the central monument. Once the land is restored, you are free to build various buildings such as a Forge or Distillery or a Temple. You can then visit these structures between missions to customize you character and even tweak the game.
The Armory allows you to equip two weapons and a special attack, with the latter being specific to one of the weapons or perhaps the shield. You can visit the Forge to upgrade your weapons with various items you’ll find while exploring the world. Once you purchase a specific level of customization you still have two options per level you can configure for that weapon before heading out. The Distillery allows you to equip various beverages (one per character level) that act as passive modifiers to the Kid, increasing his hit points or perhaps acting as a magnet for the numerous shards you’ll be collecting throughout the game. The Lost and Found lets you purchase things you might not have found in the world while the Temple lets you modify the difficulty (reward vs. risk) of the game by activating various idols. One nice feature is that if you die with idols turned on the game offers you the chance to turn them off when restarting just in case you made the game too difficult.
There are also a dozen or so Vigils that serve as the game’s own internal achievement system. These require you to kill so many enemies with a certain weapon or restore all the missing pieces of the world or some other ongoing quest. Most can be completed during a single pass of the game, but a few might require you to venture into the New Game Plus mode which unlocks when you finish the game. This mode adds new content and new ways to play.
Most of the game is fairly active with you moving around linear levels killing everything that moves as the world slowly reassembles around you. You’ll have moving targets, land targets, aerial targets, spawn generators, and even turrets and deadly plants that shoot at you not to mention frequent boss fights. There is a surprising amount of strategy involved in figuring out what works best against each type of enemy, and it gets even harder when they start mixing up the enemy types in the larger attacks. Skills learned in those arena battles will certain help you in the main game.
While the PC supports a mouse and keyboard and plays well enough while using them, it is easy to see that this was developed for the console with a controller in mind, and to that end Bastion plays infinitely better with a gamepad. There is direct support and once configured in the options screens, all your prompts will turn into traditional Xbox 360 symbols. Now you are playing a super-charged version of the 360 game.
Bastion is a visual masterpiece, both in its art style and the constant animation, as the world is being built around you, almost like cel-shaded LEGO’s. There is even a bit of vertigo with the tangible world suspended over these gorgeous painted horizons. This game would rock in stereoscopic 3D. The enemy creatures are original and delightful to watch with all their subtle animations. While technically playing at the same resolution at my Xbox 360, the PC version of Bastion looked far superior in almost every way, especially with 4x FSAA turned on. And with me sitting only two feet from my 27” monitor, I was able to see and appreciate all the intricate detail in the world and even the art and animation of the Kid and all those crazy creatures; something that was lost when playing ten feet from my HDTV. The menus and all the customization screens for the various buildings were eloquent and intuitive with great icons and visual design.
Of course the big draw to Bastion has to be the innovative narration that is created on the fly by your actions. First off, kudos to Logan Cunningham, the voice of the Stranger, who narrates this adventure in uncanny real-time without missing a beat. He manages to blend a smooth and sexy New Orleans jazz club vibe that could easily be mistaken for Keith David. I was knocking back extra energy drinks just to counteract his hypnotic tone, and it’s even more intimate on the PC for some reason; almost like having a bedtime story read to you. At first, the narration is directly tied to your actions. You stand up and the narrator says, “He gets up”. You run around smashing everything in sight and the narrators says, “…and then the kid rages for a while.”
But later in the game the narration is put to even more effective use by weaving in an engaging backstory as well as providing subtle hints as to what to do next. You might be lost and the narrator will say something like, “the Kid knows the only way back is where it all began”, leading you to the conclusion you need to return to the start of the level. He’ll also give you tips on the various monsters or just ask rhetorical questions that make you think. It truly is a masterful bit of technology that adds immensely to the narrated storybook theme of the game.
Bastion is one of the most original titles I’ve played in quite some time. From the charming graphics to the smooth vibes of the narrator perfectly blended with a magical soundtrack, and the 10-12 hours of action-packed exploration and combat, Bastion is like kicking back with your favorite interactive storybook. And with so many ways to customize the various parts of the game, as well as the clever difficulty vs. reward modifiers (idols) and the New Game Plus mode, you might find yourself playing Bastion for a long time to come. And you might want to consider purchasing the Bastion soundtrack so you can relive the memories even when you can’t play the game.