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Bastion

When I said Human Revolution will probably be my favorite game of 2011, Nick Lester Bell recommended the game Bastion to me.

So first, let me say thank you, Nick.

How, exactly, does one describe Bastion? That seems like a challenge in and of itself. I suppose “stylized” would be a good word to start off with. Everything about this game is very stylized and unique. Beautiful art style, brilliant soundtrack, top-notch voice acting, gorgeous set pieces.

The soundtrack in particular is something I’d love to talk about, although it’d feel slightly out of place to talk about it here since this is a gaming blog and not a music blog, and Mumbles already talked about it anyway. But still, this soundtrack is probably the best I’ve ever heard in a video game. Terminal March in particular really stood out for me, though I’m sure part of that is because of its vaguely Middle-Eastern influence and my Persian heritage.

But style is not this game’s only forte. Not by a long shot.

One problem I’ve had with several big indie games like Braid and LIMBO is that it seems like their designers were too obsessed with keeping their stories ambiguous and “open to interpretation.” The result is that the respective plots of these games are all but impenetrable. They want to make sure people will discuss them on forums, so they make it virtually impossible to know what’s going on without getting on forums.

Don’t get me wrong — I love both of those games. But both of their approaches to storytelling really bothered me.

Bastion doesn’t have that problem. Its method of storytelling is completely unique, and it also completely works. Throughout the adventure you’re followed by an in-game narration that gradually explains the backstory of the world around you.

I have to admit I was skeptical about this when I first heard about it; after all, isn’t the golden rule of storytelling “Show, don’t tell?” But I’m perfectly happy to have to eat my own words in this case. The narration works perfectly to the game’s favor. It tells you enough without telling you too much. It leaves certain things to the imagination, and it gives you the pieces of the puzzle and leaves it up to you to piece them together.

It also gives you a great deal of flavor text about the lore of the world, and I have to wonder how much more I would have liked that if I was a lore buff. You know lore buffs — they’re the people who read all the codex entries in Mass Effect, all the e-mails in Deus Ex, all the tales of Andraste in Dragon Age. They’re the ones who want to know all about the setting they’re exploring. I’m not one of those people, but I still got a kick out of the story. If you’re a lore buff, you’ll love this game.

Now, I’ve heard people say that the gameplay in Bastion is mediocre and the real strong point is in its story. I have to disagree. Not about the story, mind you — the storytelling was absolutely brilliant. But I also loved the combat.

The fighting in this game really works. It’s very refined, and it demands a level of skill from the player. What I love about it is that it allows and encourages varying play styles. You acquire a great deal of weapons throughout your journey, and every single weapon is unique and offers a different approach to combat. The musket packs a punch, but it’s also very inaccurate and has a fairly long reload. The machete is extremely fast, but you have to be right up against the enemy to land a successful hit. The bow is accurate and pierces enemies, but it takes a long time to pull the bowstring all the way back, and the arrow moves slowly once it’s launched.

I’m an adrenaline junkie; you all know that by now. I love moving about at high speeds and delivering quick hits. I found myself becoming quite fond of the dueling pistols and war machete. Those aren’t the best weapons, but they fit me perfectly. If you play, you’ll probably find a different loadout that suits your style.

So, all in all, Bastion is a fantastic game. It’s unique, it’s fun, it’s engaging, it’s compelling, and I’m not too big to admit that I found the finale very touching. But with all that said I still liked Human Revolution more. Let me explain why.

Bastion is, at its heart, a game about murdering tons of dudes. Yes, there’s a great deal of backstory underneath it, and the game has interesting characters and powerful storytelling, but what are you, the player, actually doing the whole time? You’re going through levels and killing everything that moves. That’s it. It’s a game about killing tons and tons of monsters.

Deus Ex is a game about killing, sneaking, hacking, persuading, and debating philosophy. Better yet, it rarely forces any of those different aspects upon you — you get to choose yourself which ones you want to do. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that what I value most in games is what I’m doing as a player. I want to feel like I’m a part of the experience. Gameplay first, everything else second. And what I love about the two Deus Ex games I’ve played (actually, I mean the only two Deus Ex games that exist, and anybody who wants to correct me on that should be slapped) is that all the player choice is given during gameplay. It makes the game feel far more intelligent, fleshed out and meaningful to me.

So it remains in my heart as the best game series to ever exist. That doesn’t mean it is, by any objective standards, but it just chimes really well with me.

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5 responses

  1. You’re welcome. I am glad you gave Bastion a chance, and that you enjoyed it.

    And to prove your point, I AM a lore buff and I loved that aspect. The three “dream” sequences were great examples of this: wave-based arena, with an interesting and engaging backstory laid over top.

    September 6, 2011 at 1:17 PM

  2. While I like this review for the most part, it’s a little unclear what that last paragraph about Deus Ex is doing in this Bastion review.

    September 6, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    • JPH

      I wanted to explain why I liked it more, but yeah, it probably is a bit out-of-place.

      Meh. Whatever.

      September 6, 2011 at 6:47 PM

  3. Falcon

    All the codex entries in ME- check

    Tales of Andraste, after I found all of them that is- check (in fact having many missing entries bugged me to no end)

    All emails- check

    Fact is I will often do things quite contrary to my objectives, assigned morality, or best interests to collect such lore.

    No chest, pocket or NPC is safe if there is lore to be had.

    I might have a problem…

    September 6, 2011 at 9:25 PM

  4. kanodin

    “Fact is I will often do things quite contrary to my objectives, assigned morality, or best interests to collect such lore.”

    Yep, spent the majority of my Deus Ex playthrough avoiding guards and only taking them down when absolutely necessary, but if they are walking around in a room full of emails then they have lost consciousness privileges, even if there are 6 of them and a turret.

    Really liked Bastion as well, but don’t got a lot to add.

    September 7, 2011 at 7:54 AM

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