Bastion is an isometric action RPG. It had been a long while since I’d played anything like this so I thought I would give it a shot. I’m going to be honest with you, at first glance I kinda just raised an eyebrow and moved on, but was harassed by a colleague to pick it up and play it, and I am glad I did; it is now my go-to game when discussing story narrative and is one of my top 5 games of all time.
Developed by Supergiant Games and originally released in 2011 on XBLA, Bastion since went on to enjoy critical acclaim – and rightly so; I cannot emphasize enough just how good this game is. The studio themselves also earn a token of respect for being super nice people. This game is only available via digital download, which is not an issue to folks like you and me, but if say, you’re out serving in Iraq somewhere without a solid internet connection and want this game, there’s not a lot you could do. Supergiant, in response to a letter asking if it were possible to get a physical copy of the game posted a copy out to the soldiers, asking only that they pay for the game when they got back, if they liked it. As a small indie studio struggling for cash, that is a very big gesture on their part, and feel it deserves a nod, if nothing else.
I completed this entire game in one 11 hour sitting, and walked away to look up what a bastion is. To quote Wikipedia, “a bastion is an angular structure projecting outward from the curtain wall of an artillery fortification”, which tells most people nothing. I made a cup of tea and I sat back down to play it to 100% completion. There have only been two games I have ever played with such fervor. One is Thomas Was Alone. The other is Bastion. Before I say anything else, this is a damn good game, and is well worth your cold, hard cash.
The graphical style is pretty old school for the most part: even if you are not used to playing isometric games like this from back in the old days, it is very easy to pick up if you have a controller. Playing Bastion on the PC can be a clumsy experience using keyboard controls but with a controller, the game is transformed. Moving around the play area is as easy as it sounds, and the top-down isometric style makes attacking in the right direction a piece of cake. You cannot move the camera because you do not need to move the camera – not once did it ever cross my mind that I should even try. Your character is skilled enough that you can execute the most satisfying of attacks with very little effort, and these attacks only get better as you collect and upgrade your weapons. Unfortunately for some, there is a very real danger to dodge-rolling around a post-apocalyptic floating platform, and that is falling to your death. This, incidentally is how I fell in love with Bastion. I picked up the controller and started rolling around the battlefield, beating enemies with my best friend (my hammer), occasionally shooting my gun and dodge-rolling the incoming attacks when I accidentally rolled off the edge, only to be greeted by a narrated description of my failure: “And then The Kid fell to his death.”
The game picked me up and dropped me from the sky, dealing a half centimeter of damage to my health bar in payment for the respawn and then I was back, greeted with the narration: “Naw, I’m just foolin’.”.
Make this mistake a second time and the narrator will respond with another comment – while repetition does occur, it’s rare; thankfully, the delivery is of such quality that it’s never irksome. I picked up the flame thrower and systematically destroyed the scenery looking for cash for upgrades, and the narrator turns around and says “Burning things became an addiction for him…”. This game narrates what you play, as you play, and it is such an incredible hook that you just want to try everything, all at once. If nothing else, the narration is simply moreish, and for me it was the best thing about the game.
The first line of the narration is when you push the button to out of bed. “The Kid woke up.”. The narrator then spends the game describing your story to one of the other survivors of The Calamity, the event which wiped out the vast majority of the people in the game, as they sit around The Bastion. The Bastion is the central hub of the game, where you find your mission map, and people to talk to about the situation you find yourself in. Those of you who like seeing everything should keep your eyes open for items you can collect and show people, as while The Narrator may be nonplussed by a bag of spice, he is overjoyed when you give him a gramophone, and sets it down for you to listen to music as you upgrade your new home. From there, you go out looking for survivors and more ways to upgrade what is left of your world. Since the lack of a decent story line in games is one of my biggest issues with the games industry at the moment, this was a truly refreshing addition to my library. I played it to completion it in 2 days, and I only wish it lasted longer, if nothing else for the witty remarks you get for killing 3 enemies at once, or for blowing up a dozen enemies with one mortar. I won’t give you any more quotes, as they will make you genuinely laugh out loud as you hear them for yourself.
There is one last thing I want you to know, going into this game: the soundtrack is the best that I have ever heard. Darren Korb and Supergiant have put together a fantastic folk-rock soundtrack that is still one of the most played albums on my iPod to date. I even made the first song in the game my ringtone; that’s how good it is.
I wholeheartedly recommend this game to anybody who wants something to play. If you’re even remotely intrigued (and you should be), give it a try. You’ll love it.