Star-Fired Beef

What I Played: Bastion

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One of the unofficial resolutions I made for this year was to make a dent in my vastly overcrowded Steam library. Through seasonal sales and offers like the Humble Bundle I have built up more games than I can possibly get through this year, even if I dedicated every spare minute to doing so.

So to get me off to a flying start I finished off Bastion. In December I started it, playing through one or two levels in a session, and after I returned home from staying with my family over the holidays I returned to that pace. The world map, where you navigate to each level, is fairly large, and so I thought I was not that far through when I picked it up again. However, it turns out that the map fills up pretty quickly and I was probably just over halfway. This led to a rather abrupt ending for me, which I’ll get into shortly.

The Not-Great

Okay, so before I start this I have to confess that Bastion is a fantastic game overall, and these are only minor annoyances. It really is a discussion of the not-great parts, rather than the bad parts.

The most glaring one for me was the control style. Or rather, the keyboard controls (WASD) with an isometric map. It felt clunky in many cases, and in the more chaotic sequences – boss fights, mad dashes along crumbling paths – really made things a lot more difficult than they needed to be. Apparently Bastion was originally designed for and released on console, so that explains the wonky controls for PC. It would have been great with dual analog sticks. It is certainly not unplayable, but given the polish of the rest of the game it stands out as the major downside.

Another thing that disappointed me was the timing of some of Rucks’ narration in the later parts of the game. Early on, when you are under less pressure, you can still listen and absorb the lore he imparts while fighting mobs. But in the last few levels especially, when the story is building to a climax, I found myself having to focus so much on staying alive that I missed large chunks of narration. I would have liked more of the narration to happen in the less-intense areas.

Finally, I was a bit surprised by the ending (sad as it was). Not the ending itself, but how soon it arrived. I mentioned earlier how I thought I was not that far into the game when I went back to my family. That was based on the number of potions unlocked at the distillery (which is dependant on your level), the number of weapons I’d unlocked, and the coverage of the world map I’d opened up. Later on I felt I was getting mixed messages, as I’d found all the weapons, upgraded the buildings, and had heaps of currency with which to buy stuff, yet was not even halfway through leveling. I’d been conditioned throughout the years that you are always – always! – at or almost at max level when you hit the end of a game. This made the realisation that this was, in fact, the end of the story a bit of a shock. It turns out that there is a New Game Plus mode that unlocks after you finish it on normal…I am not a fan of that sort of thing. I may write about that another time.

The Great

Pretty much everything else was simply great. This is a fantastic game and that assessment covers all areas: story, graphics, smoothness, mechanics, music and sound, setting, and just the overall feel of it. There were a couple of absolute standouts for me though.

The presentation of the story through narration is just brilliant (despite my disappointment in the later stages). The voice actor was perfect, and the whole post-apocalyptic Western vibe really contrasted well with the pseudo-fantasy of the setting to start with (you don’t move into the more high-tech areas or weapons until later, so by then there is less of a contrast). The fact that you only get drip-fed information/backstory/lore was a constant, delightful hunger that I think makes you appreciate it all the more.

The music was another aspect that evoked the Western vibe. I enjoyed the music all the way through, but it wasn’t until the final level and the end credits that the music really awed me enough to go looking for it outside the game. I am lucky enough to have the OST and I think I am now succumbing to the whirlpool of VGM. Farewell, it was nice knowing you all….oh wait! I can drag you down with me! Muahahahaaaa….

The game is damn pretty, as you can see from the trailer at the top of the post. But beyond that, the enemies you encounter are really unique, nothing like the standard foes that most games throw at you. It was really refreshing to encounter something different, something that makes you wonder exactly what it can do, what you need to do to fight it, rather than automatically knowing from the experience of countless other games.

I really enjoyed this game, although I won’t be going through the content again in New Game Plus mode or for the challenges or leaderboards. I highly recommend it!

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