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Hands-On: Bastion

Our exclusive multipart reveal of Bastion concludes (for now) with some gameplay footage and a bit about how it actually works.


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At this point, you may have seen the screenshots and trailer for Bastion. But it's hard to get a sense for what the game actually is through any of those methods. Some of the comments we've been seeing in our past coverage compare it directly to the Diablo series. Sure, makes sense. After all, the game is billed as an "action-RPG," it's set at an isometric angle, and, well, those guitar chords that open the trailer certainly send a pretty specific message.

Others compare the game's art style and colorful presentation to games from Vanillaware, like Odin Sphere or Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Some came away from the trailer sensing that some world-building would be involved, like some kind of new-fangled ActRaiser. A couple of you thought the narrator in the trailer might be Ron Perlman doing his Fallout narrator voice. None of these are quite right, but initial impressions, at least, place Bastion in some pretty good company.

We were able to play a brief piece of of Supergiant's new project, which is the same version that will be on display at the Penny Arcade Expo this weekend in Seattle. Before we go much further, maybe you should take a look at the first few minutes of this prototype version.
  
  
The way the narration reacts to what you do, as you do it is the first big stand-out thing about Bastion. The way it keeps up with you as you're finding new things almost feels like magic... or play-by-play commentary from a sports game applied to a game where you're swinging a giant hammer at guys made out of gas. These early portions in the video feel pretty chatty, but since you're being introduced to a bunch of new things right at the start, it seems to make sense. Also, the narrator is a great introduction to the tone of Bastion. He's not talking about ghosts and slimes. He's talking about "gas fellas" and "scumbags." You aren't just picking up "rock" or "gem" upgrades. You're finding "somethin' heavy" and "somethin' shiny." Bastion strikes that very deliberate tone right out of the gate, and it leaves you wanting more of that style at the end of the demo. The narrator is why we've decided to run some raw gameplay footage--talking over the whole thing in a Quick Look would sort of defeat the purpose.

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The Kid, Bastion's lead character, has more mobility than you might expect from an action-RPG. By default, he's got a roll move that you can use to either escape incoming attacks or roll into objects to bust them up. And once you're armed--you'll quickly find a hammer, a repeater, a bow, and a large shield in the version being shown at PAX--you can cancel out of those rolls directly into an attack. Standing still lets you execute stronger attacks than you can if you're on the move, and well-timed presses of the shield button let you bat projectiles back where they came from, which is a handy way to take down turrets. While you'll start with those few weapons--or, at least you will at the moment, since we're talking about a game that's probably around a year off--the guys at Supergiant told us that you'll encounter a lot of different weapons, many of which make the game's time period hard to nail down. There's nothing especially modern about a hammer or a bow and arrow... but how the heck did a carbine get into this world? You'll be able to swap your weapons out for others at designated areas, and different weapons enable different special attacks. You can also equip different evasive maneuvers, such as one that replaces your roll with a rolling leap.

As you probably noticed in the video, The Kid seems to be heading in the direction of the Bastion, a designated spot for the people of his once-whole city to head for in case of emergency. Once you get there, you'll be able to rebuild it, adding buildings that allow you to swap out or upgrade weapons, or another that lets you enable various beverages that confer specific bonuses, such as the ability to carry more health potions. The early part of the game shown makes it sound like the basic loop would be to go out into an area, collect objects, then bring them back to your base of operations, where you'll attempt to reverse whatever it was that caused your world to get blasted apart into sections of flying rock in the first place. The developers didn't want to elaborate on their plans for the later parts in the game, but as you might expect, it sounds like there's more to it than simple collection. On top of that, there are plans in the works for an asymmetrical co-op feature. I asked, but wasn't getting anywhere when trying to get more details. It sounds like there's a lot more to Bastion still to be revealed.

And the plan is for us to be there to reveal it. We'll have the team from Supergiant Games on our Big Live Live Show: Live on September 9, including Greg Kasavin, who joins Bastion's development team today as Creative Director on the project. We're also planning a regular series that will let you guys ask questions and check in to see what the heck it's like to be a small team chasing your indie game development dreams. I should also state here, up front, before we get going, that due to the way we've decided to create ongoing programming based on Bastion and its developers--one of whom was a close coworker of ours for a lot of years--we're opting to not review Bastion when it's released. I suspect that, by the time it's finished, we'll all be a little too close to it to render an untainted verdict, so it's best to just state that now, so everyone's clear. Cool? We'll have more on September 9, and we hope you enjoy seeing what we've got planned for the months ahead.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+