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Bastion

Published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for Windows, Xbox Live Arcade, Google Chrome

To me, the hallmark of a good work of fiction is the feeling of emptiness I feel when I complete it. Being severed from a well-constructed fantasy should induce a moment of existential panic in even the most stoic of men. By that metric, Bastion, a video game from Supergiant Games currently on offer for a mere $15, has one of the best stories I’ve encountered in at least a year.

In this third-person action-RPG, you play as The Kid, a silent protagonist on a mission to assemble the Bastion, a sort of Noah’s Ark / doomsday failsafe, in the wake of an unexplained apocalyptic event. Along the way, you obtain new weapons and combat skills, meet other survivors, unlock various upgrades and perks, and uncover more information about the events preceding the game as well as back story on yourself, the others you meet, and the world you inhabit.

It’s hard to think of a dimension in which Bastion fails to deliver. The storyline, already excellent, is delivered by a gravelly-voiced old man, who also serves as an in-game, dynamic narrator of your play through each level. The soundtrack is amazing — in the era before Napster and Bittorrent, it would have been the sort of thing that might justify the entirety of Bastion’s $15 cost. The gameplay is top notch — it is a well-done blend of twitchy button pressing, timing, and good decision making. The game’s array of enemies and weapons are both diverse and distinct, making it important to pick the right tools and play techniques for each level.

Where Bastion has weaknesses, the weaknesses are slight, or come with caveats. For example, the game’s difficulty can be disappointing — once you have the hang of the controls, it is possible to breeze through most levels, stopping only to down health potions as you ignore the bulk of an area’s enemies. This fault is mitigated in two ways: The first is that breezing through levels is enjoyable — it means an uninterrupted stream of narration from Mr. Velvet-Throat. The second is that the game offers the player the option of making the game harder by giving the finger to one or more of the game’s pantheon of gods — each god thus disrespected grants some advantage to The Kid’s opponents, and with the full pantheon pissed off, the game becomes a serious challenge, particularly if poor choices were made with regards to upgrades and perks.

Also in the column of “slightly disappointing” is the game’s visual style. It is often hard to distinguish between the game’s walkable and un-walkable ground, or its destructible and non-destructible objects. In the heat of the game’s twitchy combat, it is easy to fall off the edge of a map, and even easier when you cant immediately tell what constitutes the edge. At the same time, while the game’s visuals might not be very conducive to the game play, they are well done…the sort of thing you might get if you asked for a cross between oil painting and cell shading.

Lastly, the game is short; it would not be hard to complete the whole thing in a solid afternoon. But the game’s shortness also insures that it is perpetually fresh — each level introduces a new weapon that alters the dynamic of combat or a new enemy that requires a novel strategy to defeat.

Again, these are minor inconveniences in a work that, otherwise, represents a flawless fusion of superior storytelling, excellent voice acting and music, and satisfying gameplay. At $15, Bastion is an easy recommendation for gamers of all types.