Bastion is infuriatingly charming. It oozes charm, like some sickeningly chirpy gaming pustule. You’re “The Kid”, and you awake to find your world has, quite literally, fallen apart; but you’re one hell of a kid, and together with a gloomy narrator, you fight your way to the Bastion – the only power that can force your crumbling reality back together, and reverse the disaster that was the Calamity.
And what a reality it is. The world has been shattered, ripped to insignificant shreds, but as soon as you set foot outside your house, a fragment rises up to meet your feet, and then another, and another, forming a wondrous, twisted path to your destination. Every pixel of Bastion is hand-painted, bright and lively, and the PC’s high-definition textures make wandering an absolute pleasure. From the barren wastes of your home’s once prosperous industrial districts, to the flowering, abundant jungles, each and every map is a glory to behold, alight with bright colour and fantastic detail. As shattered and broken as the world is, it’s a wonder to behold, and that makes every step of your adventure absolutely worth taking.
While you’ll wander that world alone, one character is never too far away: the Narrator, an ever-present, soothing old man, who’ll constantly detail your travels as you struggle to save the world of Bastion. Like some bizarre mix between your favourite grandparent and Clint Eastwood, the narrator brings the world around you to life, his southern drawl injecting some much-needed drama and humour into an otherwise straightforward hack’n’slasher. He’ll detail everything, even down to the ridiculous – after first exiting your home, if you decide to hang back awhile and rumage through the omnipresent gaming destructible crates, he’ll happily annouce “and then the kid just raged for awhile”. It’s a fantastic addition to the game’s otherwise rather vanilla mechanics, and provides what would be an otherwise pretty, yet passable action game, with some real soul.
At heart, the actual combat mechanics of Bastion are just that – passable. From an isometric, 3D view, you wander through surprisingly vast maps, crushing foe after foe, and rinsing and repeating. There is surprising depth if you’re willing to look for it – a well-timed block can lead to a powerful counter and, at higher difficulty, dodging and weaving is essential – but at heart, Bastion wants to appeal to as vast an audience as possible, and that’s reflected in the gameplay. If you wander through Bastion’s wondrous world just pummeling enemies without putting too much thought into it, it shouldn’t be too hard.
You will be doing rather a lot of pummeling, because that is the only way you’re going to return the Bastion to life. The Bastion is a floating, moving fortress, created for the worst catastrophe of all – but it’s not quite ready. Once you’ve finished powering the Bastion, it won’t just save the world, it’ll rewind it, bring you back to the world before the Calamity, fixing all and forging it anew – but for now, you’ll have to wander through the past city districts, accumulating power cores, and from time to time, stumbling on another survivor. The oft-used mechanic here also serves another purpose: the more power you feed into the Bastion, the more useful it will become, like the grand 3D menu Fable 3 never quite succeeded in pulling of. Power up the arsenal and you’ll be able to swap weapons, or create the forge to upgrade them. Some mechanics are supremely excellent – the distillery, for instance, lets you select different performance enhancing beverages to take with you on your travels, adding some more progression to the game, while the Temple will let you empower your opponents in exchange for more experience, letting you subtly alter the difficulty of the game as you progress.
It’s a great mechanic, but just like all the rest of Bastion, it’s little more than a lure to drag you into the real meat of the game: the story. The simplistic beginning quickly give way to a tale of racism, betrayal, magic and mystery, all beautifully narrated in that soothing southern drawl…it’s wonderful, and I can’t really say much more for Bastion. The entire experience is an expertly crafted, wonderful drawn creation, that lures you in to it’s surprising depths, and you’ll come back asking for more (thankfully, once you’ve finished the game once, you can always start again with New Game +). The soundtrack is enthralling, the story captivating, the game astonishing, and the price point just perfect. Indie game of the year? I rather think so.
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