Reviewed on Xbox 360, coming to PC 16 August
Something bad happened to the world. It’s fallen apart, ragged detritus scudding on the turbulence of catastrophe, its windswept edges prowled by monsters escaped from the broken closets of the nights before. Maybe it’s a clever metaphor for love or the economy or last weekend, but more immediately, it means you’ve got serious business to take care of. Like, maybe finding a huge thing of extra-strength superglue.
Basically, Bastion is a pretty simple action RPG – with a bit of one, a bit of the other, and a result that’s so much bigger than the sum of its parts, it’s busted the paradigm all over the carpet.
The game has you travelling through a series of locations to collect a bunch of magical crystals that, so the story goes, will help to rebuild the Bastion, a sort of meeting hub / fortress / strip mall for those people who managed to survive the Calamity. Which turns out to be just you, the Kid, and this old guy, Rucks. For the moment, anyway.
Over time, you’ll be able to add new structures to the Bastion, including a smithy for weapon upgrades, some kind of alchemical brewery packed with passive bonus-enhancing superjuices that you can swap out and about, and a shop, among others.
The combat is an uncomplicated but very elegant affair, combining melee-mashing and ranged strikes alongside shield blocking and timed counter-offensives, with an evasive roll chucked in for good measure. Throughout the game, you’ll be picking up new killin’ stuff for your arsenal, including duelling pistols, a rocket launcher, and a vintage flamethrower straight out of a steampunk mail order catalogue (you’ll get it when you see it).
Each weapon also has its own challenge arena on the world map, which you can visit at any time to complete tasks and win prizes. Similarly, three additional areas are added to the game at certain narrative points, featuring waves of increasingly difficult opposition and cash prizes (well, the bits of whatever it is that now pass for currency in the post-apocalypse), where you can take your weapon loadouts for a whirl.
Which does conveniently bring me around to my one and only gripe about this game, and it’s that changing your weapon loadout is a hassle.
When you pick up a new weapon in the game, it automatically replaces the primary weapon in your loadout, and you can’t get that one back unless there’s a weapon locker nearby. And there hardly ever is, so you’re stuck with it until the end of the stage.
Interestingly enough, Bastion also builds in a bit of a challenge by limiting the number of respawns in a stage. At the start, you have just one, and dying a second time restarts the whole stage, although you’ll have to option to include a second with a passive bonus later in the game.
While it never becomes especially difficult and the stages are short enough that starting over isn’t a controller-hurling cataclysm, the limited respawns do give you some incentive to play carefully.
It’s the astonishing presentation that really sells this game, though, and in between the exquisitely realised 2D isometric graphics and what might well be the greatest soundtrack in the history of soundtracks, Bastion is simply like nothing else in its generation. It’s glorious old school nostalgia wrapped up in high definition ribbons, and sealed with a kiss. The end of the world has never gone down in so much style.
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