Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summer of Arcade: The Kid loaded up Bastion, and it was good (XBLA)

Bastion looks new and familiar all at once.

After much hype and fuss since I first heard of its development, SuperGiant Games’ Bastion finally saw release this week, as part 1 of Xbox’s Summer of Arcade season. If the trial version is anything to go by, this is a very impressive little title.
One startling realisation kept occurring to me the other evening as I watched Bastion in action: This game was developed by seven people. Just seven. It is an excellent case in point for the too-many-cooks maxim, and a boost of confidence to any independent studios out there, who might feel trepidatious that their small-time efforts might not pack a punch compared to the heavyweight franchises that are beginning to dominate the gaming market.

The game is visually beautiful. Screenshots can show you the lush vegetation and the anime art style, but you don’t get the full impression until you see it in motion. The use of an isometric perspective is one of a few ways in which the game embraces a new and old aesthetic. It may sound strange, but Bastion feels like a game you have played before, like a favourite from your youth. I never had a Super Nintendo as a youngster, but this games makes me I feel as if I did, and that it was my cherished game back then. I am unsure which avenue of black magic Supergiant Games have tapped into in order to produce such an effect, but I’m curious to find out if anyone else feels the same with it.

The titular bastion appears to be a hub-world of sorts.
Gameplay is exploration and combat-based. Combat is in real-time and, for what the trial shows you, relatively fast-paced and difficult enough to feel like a challenge that is always capable of being overcome. Towards the end of the demo version, you face perhaps five or six different kinds of enemy at once, and it feels like you’re just about going to scrape through. Some might find that panic-inducing, but I relish a game that encourages you to feel as if you can’t lay back and breeze through it.

The narration really piqued my interest, particularly having just come from the originally intriguing and then gradually terrible narration of Alan Wake (personal highlight – Suddenly, the killer sent me a text’). Bastion’s narration is dynamic, rather than prompted à la Wake. What this means is that there is an untold amount of recorded monologue to describe your actions and behaviours in the game, some of which you may never hear, others that you will only hear, for instance, on a second play-through. It is an exciting and motivating experience to have a game audibly react to and sometimes encourage or chastise your technique and approach to the game.

Of course it is early days yet, but Bastion has already received a few perfect scores, and high praise from the likes of Penny Arcade, among others. As I mentioned above, it is part of Xbox’s Summer of Arcade season, and you’d be crazy to miss it.

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