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Complete Review & Description

“The kid wakes up…”

I think more games should have a seemingly omniscient narrator commenting on your every action. There’s one in Bastion, a new Xbox Live Arcade action-RPG that, like Braid and Limbo before it, mixes a few fresh ideas with familiar gameplay, then polishes it up until it shines. Does it all work? Is it fun? Let’s all take a walk along a skybridge and find out…

First, the narrator: he’s got a cracked, old west-style voice, making sardonic quips to the player as they play through a story that is simultaneously being related to them in the past tense. It’s a very cool conceit, and one that — at its best — makes all your in-game actions that much more meaningful. Destroying hundreds of enemies might get boring, but when even repetitive actions get tied into a larger narrative in such a dynamic way, you can be a bit more forgiving.

The world of Bastion isn’t in good shape, as your helpful bodiless guide quickly points out. After the mysterious Calamity struck, the whole world has crumbled. Survivors are few and far between. The dead are now statues of ash. And then there’s you, the kid, who somehow finds himself putting it all back together.

It’s a simple story, and it’s all told via the framing narrative of the narrator. I always like it when people create plot-related constructs like this, and it’s done well here. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say that tensions between the player’s actions and the narrator’s take on things are explored nicely.

That’s one of Bastion’s tricks. The other is a beautiful, painterly world that reassembles itself as you walk around it. Progressing through a level sees pathways and scenery fly into place, all suspended over dizzying heights. The colours are particularly well done — saturated greens, reds, and blues make this world feel alive, even when it appears broken beyond repair.

But what’s the game like to actually play? When you strip back the higher layers, Bastion is a fairly standard action-RPG, in the vein of Diablo or Torchlight. But it feels focused and fresh, thanks to a tight combat system, a small but interesting set of tactics that can be employed, and a healthy collection of upgradable weapons and buffs.

You’ll still be spending a lot of time mashing buttons, of course — it’s practically a staple of the genre. Melee and ranged weapons of varying kinds are on offer, and each encourages a slightly different way of attacking enemies. I quickly settled on a bow and machete combination, but did deviate for a while when dual pistols became available. Some weapons are fast and weak, others slow and powerful. Some, like a blunderbuss, provide a short-yet-wide smattering of fire, while others are extremely targeted.

Ranged weapons allow you to charge them up; if you release the attack button at the appropriate time, you’ll fire a power shot. Pulling the right trigger unleashes a pre-selected special attack that you choose before embarking on a mission. Spirits are passive buffs that can be equipped to help keep you alive. Finding awesomely-named materials (“Something Shiny”, “Something Foul”) helps you upgrade weapons with new abilities. Unlocking and invoking various gods, in a fascinating twist, makes enemies more powerful in various ways — but upping the challenge here also nets you more experience points.

It seems like a lot to take in, but Bastion presents it all in a very clear way, introducing elements gradually. You’ll be very comfortable with the core gameplay when the main structure of the game is unveiled. Your base is the titular Bastion, a small floating island that must be expanded and upgraded by finding ‘cores’ throughout what’s left of the world. Through the judicious use of skybridges, you can travel from your hub to various locations. It’s a largely linear affair, but things do open up slightly as you progress.

I always get bored of the repetitive hacking and slashing of these kinds of games, and Bastion is no exception. However, the quality and tightness of the gameplay, the obvious care that’s gone into the design, the lovely artwork, and the narrator’s success in getting me hooked on the story, all combined to make up for any shortcomings.

Bastion is a fun and engrossing ride, and I highly recommend grabbing the demo to see if it’s your kind of thing. Allow the soothing (well, gravelly) voice of the narrator to wash over you, and go find out just what happened to this destroyed, understated, beautiful world.



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