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Review: Bastion

Games like Bastion are important for our industry. While the likes of Battlefield 3, Modern  Warfare 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will be obvious game of the year contenders for 2011, it’s games like Bastion which in many ways define the creative progression of the medium, so it’s important to pay attention when they come around.

Developed by Supergiant Games and published by Warner Bros., Bastion is an action role-playing game that essentially takes a highly developed formula and runs in its own direction with it. It presents us with a beautifully detailed and interesting world and injects it with robust yet surprisingly novel game design, ultimately delivering something which is not only a joy to behold, but also quite difficult to put down.

Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PC | Xbox 360
Website: supergiantgames.com

Players take on the role of The Kid as he wakes up one morning to find the world he lives in is literally crumbling around him. Seeking answers and safety he travels to the bastion – a floating island which remains unscathed from the mysterious calamity. The problem is that the bastion is not quite fully built and equipped, and The Kid must travel the ruined world looking for important pieces required to finish its construction.

I spent my first 20 minutes in Bastion just soaking in the stunning art direction and marvelling at the excellently delivered and paced narrative. However, games are meant to be played, not watched, and fortunately Bastion does not drop the ball when it comes to engaging you in the experience. The core gameplay, while simple, is addictive, challenging and satisfying. Combat requires a combination of dexterity and tactics, and the various combinations of enemies, abilities and weapon types make sure that things don’t ever get stale.

The Kid can equip two weapons at a time, and you can outfit him with one unique combat ability. This may sound a bit simplistic when you consider that many RPGs allow you to use various abilities back-to-back, but it works because Bastion‘s action sequences are generally delivered in fairly short bursts, and you can re-outfit The Kid after each sequence.

Adding welcome depth to the game is weapon customization. Throughout your travels you will acquire special parts which can be tacked on to different weapons in different ways, allowing you to upgrade and customize specific tools of destruction.  For example, you can increase your battle hammer’s damage output, making it well suited to taking out larger opponents, or increase your sword’s attack speed making it better suited to hacking through waves of smaller foes.

Each time you discover a new weapon, a new challenge stage is unlocked. Unrelated to the story, these challenge stages present you with various goals and depending on how well you perform you earn special items which can be used to further upgrade your weapons.

Weapon customization is not the only form of character development. As The Kid battles his way through the ruined world he will acquire experience points, and each time he levels up he is granted an additional tonic slot. Tonics grant The Kid special abilities, and can be acquired in a number of ways, including from the tonic shop which you must build in the bastion.

Supergiant games has managed to hit all the right notes with Bastion. The unique and beautifully hand painted world is brought to life alongside the charismatic voice of the game’s narrator who provides context and personality, and the gameplay is engaging and compelling.

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