Time for a fashionably late write-up about this year's best downloadable title so far. Bastion is a downloadable title from the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade and it most certainly deserves the attention it has been getting. At its base the game is an Action RPG that shows its depth through simplicity, but the art direction and sound design is where this game really shines.
You start the game out waking up in a ruin as "The Kid". Your world has been struck by "The Calamity". What exactly that entails isn't fully explored, but it has left your world in tatters. Keeping on the designated path you soon find your way to "The Bastion"; the last hope to reconstruct your world. The game will have you flying away to what little is left of your world to retrieve "cores" that upgrade The Bastion. For every core you retrieve you will be able to build a new building in the Bastion. The setup for the story is quite frankly not very original, but it is told in a rather unique way and if you get involved in the story beats there are one or two quite powerful moments. You are constantly accompanied by a narrator with one of the most captivating voices I have heard in a while. This allows the game to keep telling you it's story constantly through little tidbits, whether they be big story beats or small facts that help flesh out the world as a whole. It helps unify story and gameplay and is a refreshing break from the whole gameplay, cutscene, gameplay, cutscene formula. Many people will tell you that the narrator is "truly dynamic" and that he "comments your every action". This is not true. They have recorded a staggering amount of monologue for the narrator, and he will comment many offhand actions you make, but the illusion breaks if you backtrack alot. The smoke and mirror nature of the narrator's dynamic aspect becomes glaringly obvious at that point. Which should not be a surprise to anyone. All his monologue has to be scripted, unless Supergiant Games had managed to create a true AI. And I will not hold that against it for that very reason, but you should temper your expectations. People get a bit carried away in their descriptions in the heat of the moment.
The gameplay is simple, yet deep. The combat allows you two weapon slots and a single ability slot. You also have a dodge and a shield to block with. Also, the game includes one of my favorite things; animation cancelling. Almost every animation can be cancelled which makes for a functional and fast paced combat system. As for character customization; you level up, and for every level you unlock a new spirit slot. The spirit system is Bastion's equivalent to a perk system. You can equip a spirit at the distillery which will give bonus effecs. Some also have downsides to make up for their powerful bonuses. The game doesnt have difficulty settings per se, but you can go to a "Shrine" once you've either built it or found one. In there you can worship certain gods which will buff your enemies and in return give you more currency and xp. This game becomes beastly if you turn them all on, so if you feel up to the challenge there is a great and fluid difficulty system in the game, one of the best I have ever seen in fact.
All the previous aspects of the game are completely competent and well made, yet they wouldnt make this game stand out the way it does. This game has an amazing art and sound direction. Simply stunning. The game has a beautiful hand painted look to it and looks great even when moving as fast as this game does at times. One of the things that makes the look of this game so amazing is how the world is built around you as you move forward. The tiles fly up from the abyss to build the ground you stand on. This also integrates wonderfully with the nature of the game's story telling. The game slowly unfolds through the narrator's constant tidbits of information while the game world simultaneously builds itself before your very eyes. The OST is one of the most memorable soundtracks I have ever heard. I found myself listening to the soundtrack on its own for days after I stopped playing the game. There are a couple of songs with vocals that are especially evocative and beautiful.
This game is simply amazing and is easily one of the best downloadable games I have ever played. With such positive sentiments you might wonder why this review is a 4/5 and not a 5/5, well the problem I found is that the game is not quite as deep as it wants you to think. The art and sound direction combined with the way the story is told makes for an amazing game, yet to me the depth that they tried to infer with their vague storytelling and incomplete world seemed to fall through a little for me in the end. And at the end of the day when the only thing that REALLY stuck with me after the fact was the OST I can't bring myself to rate it as 5/5 as a game. I love the game from the bottom of my heart though and I recommend it to anyone who is remotely interested. Also, support Darren Korb and Supergiant Games for their amazing soundtrack if you liked it!