Bastion XBLA Preview E3 2011

Over the past few years, there have been some truly stunning releases from indie developers. This is not to say that these games lack in gameplay quality, but some of the things that developers have managed to achieve with modern technology is incredible. A new game set to release this summer for Microsoft’s Summer Of Arcade promotion, named Bastion, is sure to turn some heads – showing that games can be art.

Bastion drops players into the the shoes of a young man in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event called the Calamity. His whole world has quite literally been torn apart, so he resolves to head for a place called Bastion – where there stands a chance that everything can be fixed. This is the basic premise of the title and instantly introduced the player to one of the most interesting game design choices in recent years: A reactive narrator.

As the player gets out of bed and begins to walk down the first path in-game, an ominous voice-over begins by detailing the player’s movements, pace and actions. All through the game, the disembodied voice follows the player – talking about everything they do.

In one instance, I found myself using the dodge move to traverse the world more quickly, but ended up rolling off the edge of the world into oblivion. The voice then chimed in saying something to the effect of, “The kid quickly learned just how dangerous it could be to carelessly rush through the world, rolling into the darkness.”

While it may seem as if it’s a simple addition to the game, this new method of storytelling made for a truly surreal gaming experience. The narrator’s gruff voice, akin to that of an aged cowboy, really stands out in harsh contrast to the cartoony world that the kid is traveling through. With over 3,000 lines of dialogue comprising the narration, the experience of having someone talking about your adventures is something that can only be experienced to truly comprehend. It offers a feeling of connection to the character and game world that very few games are able to replicate.

Bastion Preview E3 2011

The graphical style of the game is comprised of beautifully hand-painted 2D artwork by Jen Zee. Alongside the gruff narrator, the graphics brilliantly set the mood and tone of the game as it shifts from the darkness of the protagonist’s confusion and loss to the bright and colorful fields he travels through – ebbing and flowing between high and low points.

While it bears a style all its own, some gamers may be reminded of games such as Braid, Limbo and Machinarium. This is not because the games share similar graphical styles, but instead because they stand as perfect examples of video games which manage to cross the threshold into that of brilliant pieces of art. Some may disagree with the “games as art” argument, but regardless, there is no denying that Bastion and the above-mentioned games are truly beautiful.

One of the most incredible aspects of Bastion‘s presentation is the way in which the world seems to rebuild itself around the protagonist as he walks through the world on his quest. Blocks of rock and grass, fruit stands and wooden docks all fly up into existence right in front of the player’s eyes – further adding to the surreal feeling of walking through an unknown world as a mysterious voice marks your actions.

In terms of Bastion’s gameplay, players travel through a linear world as the game’s nameless protagonist, fighting their way through hordes of evil creatures. While very action-oriented, there are also light RPG elements. Starting out, the player quickly finds a hammer, a gun and a shield. As the character moves through the game, new weapons are acquired such as the bow – which also made an appearance in the demo.

Only two weapons, along with the shield, can be equipped at a time – so the player is forced to decide which playstyle they are interested in. Whether it’s balanced between range and melee or specializing in one of the two, there are enough weapons to satisfy any choice the player decides upon. Then, by making use of three special shops, the player is able to further customize themselves in order to better fit with how they want to play the game.

Bastion Preview E3 2011

These are the Distillery, Arsenal and Forge which allow you to equip spirits which provide passive benefits, decide which two weapons to equip, and upgrade the weapons that you are in possession of respectively. While they may not have the depth of some RPGs on the market, it is the perfect amount of customization for a game like Bastion. Instead of taking you out of the game for too long, it takes no time at all to jump back into the heat of the action.

As mentioned above, Bastion is an action game through and through. Doing away with puzzles, it presents an epic journey, focusing on one type of gameplay and benefiting because of it. Rather than bogging itself down by trying to excel at too many things, Bastion sticks to the skill-based action gameplay which makes it so fun. Dodging creatures and striking them with melee and ranged weapons is as smooth as ever and anyone that has ever played an action game with an isometric view will instantly feel at home.

Since enemies won’t go down easily, the dodging is especially important if you want to make it all the way through the journey – this is what developer Supergiant Games wants to emphasize. Pure skill reigns supreme over stats in Bastion – with levels providing the player with new abilities. It is this mechanic that forces the player to rely on their actual skills rather than leaning on buffed stats.

With the combination of beautiful, hand-painted visuals, a dynamic narrator that perfectly fits the game’s style, and tight, smooth gameplay, Bastion may not be the most well-known game, but is definitely shaping up to be one of the most exciting, and polished, releases of the summer.

Are you excited to hear how the dynamic narration will affect your experience in the game? How do you feel about the hand-painted visual style?

Bastion is set to release during Microsoft’s Summer Of Arcade in August on Xbox Live Arcade and PC.

Check out all of our other E3 2011 coverage.