Published on January 30th, 2013 | by Gary Kirwan
Cheapskate Gamer: Bastion
“The guy gazes at the television screen like it’s staring right back at him. Scratches himself casually. Same old, same old. Clamouring out of the sofa’s warm embrace, groaning like a great beast of legend he saunters to the fridge. Gazes at the shelves with no specific purpose. Closes the fridge again and returns to his perch empty-handed. With a deep sigh he reaches for the remote. Some things never change.” Bastion is a game with a narrator, and it is magnificent. My life runs narration free and, as the above excerpt demonstrates, it’s better off that way.
My love affair with Supergiant Games’ Bastion was something of a whirlwind romance. It swept me off my feet and we spent a few days enjoying each other’s company before going our separate ways. Occasionally reuniting for a fleeting embrace before parting once more. But overall I like to think we’ll both treasure the good times we had and leave it at that. I’m not sure what drew me to it originally. Probably Jen Zee’s beautiful artwork. Or was it the melow, dulcet tones of narrator Logan Cunningham? Sure, I want him to read me bed-time stories, but not in a weird way. If there’s any way for that not to be strange, that’s the way I meant it. Let’s just say if ever Morgan Freeman decides to stop talking about penguins, this guy will be there to take up the reigns. It could also have been the gorgeous soundtrack by Darren Korb, described as “acoustic frontier trip hop”, which grabbed me by the lapels (I like to wear a jacket when gaming) and refused to let go. The game is instantly captivating, consistently surprising and magical in its execution.
Playing the part of “The Kid” in a post apocalyptic world turn asunder by “The Calamity”, we traverse the floating wreckage of what was once civilization. Our journey brings us to the titular Bastion, a safe haven intended as a refuge in times of need, where we’re tasked with unlocking its mysteries while uniting any wayward survivors we happen upon. Along the way we take on all manner of creatures in a typical Action RPG style, hacking and slashing (and occasionally shooting and skewering) scores of beasts with a selection of weapons and tools accrued and unlocked over the course of the game.
The isometric viewpoint is worn comfortably and takes every opportunity to demonstrate the artistic qualities of the design. Levels assemble themselves from floating debris just as you step off a ledge and enemies swoop from behind a distant chunk of somebody’s former home, now destined to float through the ether. Boss encounters are unique and memorable and the dynamic narration adds a depth and richness to encounters by filling in the history of your foe as you dodge, block and finally deliver a mortal flourish – to the point where victory occasionally becomes a bittersweet experience.
Each weapon and tool handles differently, gaining various passive and active abilities as you advance to accompany your choice of two foe-bashing utensils. The system is ostensibly simple but has depths and possibilities you’ll only uncover as enemies become more varied and powerful. There is a definite favour for ranged weapons within the system however as, later on especially, the damage and range of the guns and bows heavily outweigh the risks of melee combat.
The story is at times light and joyful, at others dark and menacing. I can’t say it was the tale that kept me enthralled though, so much as the journey. Graphics are a beautiful watercolour awash with small details and the narration, certainly a gimmick but undoubtedly a game-defining feature, is both witty and quirky and straddles the line between comedy effect and story-telling tool masterfully.
“Proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning. Ain’t so simple with this one.”
You can pick up the title pretty much anywhere you so choose for less than £12/€15, so there’s no excuse to do so. In the meantime I’m off to find more artwork to set as my wallpaper. For my living room, not my monitor.