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Bastion (Xbox 360) artwork

Bastion (Xbox 360) review

"As you run around each gorgeous environment, admiring the dense foliage or the imposing brambles or the stone walls or whatever else, the path ahead of you fills in abruptly. Tiles fly up from beneath the screen, as if drawn to you like magnets. It’s an interesting dynamic to see in action, distracting at first before soon becoming intuitive. Pathways prevent you from wandering too far off the beaten path—because you really can’t—and they give the world its own identity. To an extent, it feels like you’re truly living through an apocalypse."

The precious few who survived the event that marked the end of the world as we know it immediately began to refer to those horrible few seconds as “The Calamity.” Huge portions of the ground fell into a void, leaving wastelands in the sky that were populated almost exclusively by monsters and by ashen statues of people who once lived and breathed but now are only memories. One statue was once a bartender, another a charm school instructor. Others were lovers, friends and enemies. They all deserved better than what they got.

Bastion, the first release in this year’s “Summer of Arcade” promotion on Xbox Live and the game that tells the unusual tale of a civilization’s end, has some mighty big shoes to fill. It follows such fare as Shadow Complex, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and even Limbo, all brilliant titles that went a long way toward redefining what consumers expect from downloadable games. Impressively, Bastion earns a place on that list. It earns it by cleverly mixing everything you’d expect from a typical action title with solid presentation, oodles of personality and a few unique ideas that make even familiar gameplay conventions feel fresh somehow.

Bastion (XLA) asset

The game derives its name from its most important location: a floating island in the sky called the Bastion. That island serves a special purpose that is not fully revealed until the end of the game. Mostly you will identify it as your home base, a haven where you can purchase gear, upgrade weapons, chat with the team of survivors that you eventually meet and plan your next move. You can stay in the Bastion only briefly, though. Then you must dive to the planet’s surface and find the cores and shards that will allow you to improve your high-altitude home.

Those excursions define your experience with the game. Bastion is most simply described as an old school action title, along the lines of Solstice or Equinox. Its perspective is isometric, as in those classics, but here you’re not limited steps along tiles. You can run, dodge and dash in any direction you like. You’ll have to move all over the place, in fact, if you want to survive for long while dealing with the 15 or 20 species of enemies that you’ll encounter during your quest to restore the Bastion.

You play as “the kid,” a white-haired warrior who is never given a proper name. As the game commences, you wake up from an apparent slumber and start running along a hallway. As you do, a gruff narrator provides an overview of the situation. “He doesn’t stop to wonder why,” the narrator says as you trot along one of the sprawling corridors. That’s the point where of course you do stop, just to see if the narration reflects the sudden change in direction… but it doesn’t. As you spend the five or six hours that it’ll probably take you to make a single trip through the game, the commentary seldom lets up for more than a few seconds at a time. The narrator mentions the fact when you’re running out of potions, or when an enemy gives you a particularly tough time. He makes jokes when you fall off the edge of the world and he gives you back story during any brief lulls in the action. So no, he may not catch every subtle nuance, but the narrator does a good job of providing compelling commentary that for the most part doesn’t break unless you specifically set out to trick it. It doesn’t hurt that he sounds a lot like a mix between Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.

Bastion (XLA) asset

Speaking of falling off the edge of the world, though, it’s worth noting that you’ll probably do that rather frequently at first. As you run around each gorgeous environment, admiring the dense foliage or the imposing brambles or the stone walls or whatever else, the path ahead of you fills in abruptly. Tiles fly up from beneath the screen, as if drawn to you like magnets. It’s an interesting dynamic to see in action, distracting at first before soon becoming intuitive. Pathways prevent you from wandering too far off the beaten path--because you really can’t--and they give the world its own identity. To an extent, it feels like you’re truly living through an apocalypse. You can even lure enemies to the edge and then push them to the death (or have the same happen to you), so the game provides a happy example of a situation where plot, environment and gameplay all merge to provide something special.

Play it for a while, though, and you’ll soon realize that Bastion would work almost as well without those elements because at its core, the game is simple and efficient. Extraneous content is stripped away almost entirely. Though you can go on the hunt for a few special items, you’ll find most of them by accident as you wander the various swamps, forests and ruins. It’s nice not to have to spend 15 minutes wandering in circles and wondering if there’s something you overlooked. And though you can spend time tracking down components or the loot that will allow you to purchase them, none of that ever has to detract from the core experience. Which is to say: you come, you kick butt, you leave.

Over time, you start to feel a bit like a tornado tearing through a town. Although you start with only a pathetic hammer and a slow-firing pistol, you eventually gain bows and mallets, flamethrowers and rocket launchers. Much of the environment can be demolished as you obliterate those enemies that are foolish enough to give you grief, and by the end of the game things can get pretty hectic. Yet there’s always time to adapt to any new skills you learn. Difficulty ramps up gradually, never in sloppy fits and spurts. After a while, you settle into an addictive groove where you’re rolling through each area, guzzling potions and dodging attacks and smacking the snot out of anything that moves. You’re not constantly being interrupted by whiny NPCs because the narrator tells you everything you need to know and (besides that) just about anything that moves is something you need to kill with fire, bullets or swords. That simplicity is welcome.

Bastion (XLA) asset

Perhaps the biggest issue afflicting Bastion is its length, but it doesn’t feel quite reasonable to come down too hard on the game for that because even when you finish the game and the credits roll, it’s possible to play a New Game + mode with all of your weapons and upgrades in place… and with many more upgrades and challenges available down the road. Besides that, there are difficult arenas known as “proving grounds” where you can force yourself to master the subtleties of each of your weapons. There are in-game challenges, as well, that nicely complement the Achievements you can earn to more directly impact your Gamerscore.

Obviously, different people have different priorities when they find themselves with Microsoft points to spare. If you ever amass a pile of points and you’re someone who likes straight-forward titles that are stylish and engaging, know that Bastion is one of the first options you should consider. Gamers have survived a number of virtual apocalypses throughout the years, but perhaps never one more unique than this one.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 26, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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If you enjoyed this Bastion review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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JoeTheDestroyer posted July 27, 2011:

Excellent review, Jason. I just finished this game like 15 minutes ago and was totally pleased with it. One thing: third to the last paragraph, did you mean "whiny" NPCs instead of "winy"?
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jerec posted July 27, 2011:

The game looks interesting. This review has convinced me to download the demo.

Also Joe, very tactful. The rest of us would be like "Venter you made a MISTAKE!"
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honestgamer posted July 27, 2011:

I type too fast. Sometimes I miss a letter and don't notice it. That's clearly what happened here, since I definitely know how to spell "whiny." Thanks for the catch!
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zippdementia posted May 01, 2012:

Venter you made a MIS- oh.
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zippdementia posted May 02, 2012:

Hey, Venter, damn good review! I downloaded the game based on your recommendation. Couldn't pass up the $6.00 deal! Jeez! I'll let you know what I think. But thanks, regardless! I know I'm going to at least enjoy revisiting a classic genre with a whole new feel, like you point out.
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zippdementia posted May 02, 2012:

Oh, one question for ya, Venter.... how long is the game, exactly? Trying to see if I want to fit it all into one of these upcoming weekend nights.
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honestgamer posted May 02, 2012:

Going through it all in one long evening of gaming would be doable but maybe not a lot of fun. It's an ideal game for 2 or 3 nights, a few hours of play apiece.
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zippdementia posted May 02, 2012:

Thanks for the advice; I'll be happy to stretch it out!

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