Bastion E3 2011 Hands-On Preview -- A Novel Take on an Old GenreBy Jeffrey Matulef - Posted Jun 14, 2011
It's ironic that Supergiant Games is comprised of a scant seven people, though based on its upcoming XBLA title Bastion, you'd never know it. At once beautiful and mysterious, yet comforting and familiar, Bastion is a novel take on an old genre.
Bastion begins with protagonist "the kid" on his way to the titular bastion because that's, "where everyone goes in case of trouble" according to the narrator. The game features "reactive narration" where the kid's adventure is being told by the narrator in tandem to your actions. For example, in one scene a bridge started collapsing behind me, so I started rolling like crazy to make it to solid ground. As soon as I started this, the raspy baritone narrator said, "Kid starts rolling like crazy."
It's a bit like Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time where, upon getting a game over, the storyteller corrects himself and picks up from before he stumbled, just as the player is taken back to the previous checkpoint. It may sound redundant to explain what you're doing already, but due to solid writing and quality voice-acting it adds an extra layer of intrigue to the plot as you wonder who this narrator is and what his role is in all this.
As far as how it plays, it's a fairly typical isometric action adventure, but a well constructed one. The kid has long range and melee weapons, a shield for blocking (and deflecting projectiles), and a rolling evade maneuver. Just from the demo, I was able to grasp a good amount of variety from the weapons. A pistol shoots several weak shots in quick succession, a bow and arrow takes time to charge but deals significant damage, and a shotgun is powerful, but holds little ammo and has a kickback effect. Combat seems deep, and it'll be interesting to see how it progresses throughout the game. My only qualm with the controls is that you walk unusually slow.
Aesthetically, the game is beautiful, with hand-painted animation bringing the world to life. It's lush oversized vegetation and colorful anime-esque art style make it feel like Lewis Carroll by way of Boktai. As you progress through this shattered world, pieces of the ground appear before you, giving the sense that the world only exists as you come into contact with it. It's a neat effect to synchronize the gameplay with the narration with the level design. The only problem I had with this is that sometimes it wouldn't be clear where to go because the walkway I'd need wouldn't appear until I stood in the right place next to it.
As the tutorial ends, the kid discovers the bastion, but it's abandoned, save for an old man. He's told to collect shards to restore the place, which seems to be the main goal of the game. One clever idea is that each time you bring a shard back, you're able to create a new shop in the bastion. I was given the choice of building a distillery or arsenal. When I asked creative director, Greg Kasavin, if you'd be able to build every structure in the game eventually, he answered that you could, but the order in which you build them is up to you.
Just as the kid is bringing his world back to its former glory, Bastion seeks to do the same with its old-school sensibilities mixed with modern graphics and experimental narrative. Thankfully, we won't have to wait long to see how Bastion shapes up as it's due this August on XBLA.