That’s the name of a new technology being used in video games at the moment. It’s a technology that promises to revolutionise storytelling through this medium and Bastion is the latest video game to use it, and the one that uses it best. Okay, so Logan is actually a voice actor with the sort of world-weary, grizzled old man voice you’d associate with only the very best westerns – the sort that appeal to everyone, even those who don’t like westerns. The thing is, in Bastion, Logan is the main storytelling element, using that awesome voice to add gravitas and meaning to any situation as he narrates the story. Where so many games these days are relying on super-shiny HD graphics and motion captured actors (even going so far as to capture their facial expressions on 32 cameras at once for realistic expressions) Bastion relies on that single voice and a few other little tricks to blow the rest of them out of the water.
At heart, Bastion seems to be an isometrically viewed action RPG. You wander through environments and beat the hell out of new enemies until you reach a treasure, grab the treasure, fight a boss creature and escape as the level collapses around you. It sounds simple and is a decent 6/10 game on its own with a robust combat mechanic keeping things varied and fun, if not jaw droppingly original. Where Bastion differentiates itself is in the fact that the entire game is narrated. Now Supergiant Games could have simply had the game narrated during cutscenes or significant parts of the game, but with a voice like Logan’s they quite rightly decided to use it as often as possible. The game is filled with invisible cues that set off a new piece of narration. Fall off the side of a level to your death and the narrator will mention that before claiming he was joking just as you respawn in a level. Equip a new weapon set and you’ll hear what the narrator expects you to be doing with that set (a pike and shotgun are great for keeping foes at bay) while running out of health potions gives the rather sinister information that the enemies know you’re out of them now. The enemy behaviour doesn’t really change but you will feel like it has done as they flock around you. The narration really is Bastion’s strong point and players will likely spend more time with the game trying out new things in order to provoke a response from the narrator. The script used for the narrator is clearly inspired by Logan’s grizzled voice and adds even more to the feel of the steampunk-noir-western (yeah) world. Where you’ll fight regular RPG blob monsters the narrator calls them Scumbags, using the slang of the old world and immediately filling you in on their position in that world.
Similar tricks are used throughout Bastion, with as much detail being added to the world and kept out of the menus as possible. As you progress through the game you’ll be able to build new places in the Bastion, each with their own use and adding to the feel of the world. The level up system has you able to go to a Distillery and drink a new tonic whenever a new level has been gained, for various effects. Each tonic has a little history thrown in by the narrator, and can be re-equipped whenever you visit the distillery. The Shrine allows you to pray to the idols of the gods, each one giving bonuses to your experience and money gains, but making the game harder in some way (perfect for the New Game Plus mode). The gods can also be revoked by the player to go back to normal. The Memorial is a selection of challenges of varying difficulty for the player to complete. Each gives more money as well as a description of the sketch left on the memorial by our esteemed narrator. Throughout the story we’ll be finding mementos of the old world and can take them to the narrator and other characters to find out more detail on them and the old world as well as build a good feel for the interactions of these characters. Then there are the reflection items, each one something that means something to one of the survivors of the Calamity – a pipe, a cooking pot and a bedroll. Activating each of these in the Bastion drops the player into an arena called Who Knows Where, to fight varied creatures for extra experience and money. This isn’t the only reason you’ll be visiting Who Knows Where though as between each round the narrator fills in the back story of one of the characters in the game. These are affectionately told stories and so much more moving than they may appear at first.
In fact, Who Knows Where is a metaphor for the entirity of Bastion. At heart it may seem to be be an isometrically viewed action RPG, but that’s just how it plays. The real heart of Bastion lies in the wonderful story and the way it is told. While you’re playing you can almost feel yourself huddled with strangers against the impending darkness, so involving is the story. You will be moved by it, and not in the clichéd ways that other video games use to evoke emotion. This is the subtle feeling of another person’s loss that is so hard to evoke in any form of media. At one point while playing this I found a single tear rolling down my cheek, and I couldn’t tell you why I was crying or when it had started. This is the magic of Bastion. It’s a masterclass in storytelling and manages to make you feel so subtly that you’re not entirely sure what you’re feeling while playing, you’ll just come away different than you were when you started the game.
I’m going to very hesitantly say that Bastion is the best game so far of this console generation, which is ironic and wonderful when you consider all the effort other studios are putting into getting their hundred man teams to create uber-realistic graphics. If not the very best, it’s right up there in the top five easily. The single flaw I can think of with this game is that many people will dismiss it offhand as it’s an arcade title, while others who try it will overhype it due to their love. Go into Bastion with an open mind, free of things like this review, and you’ll find it’s so much more than just the fun little game it appear to be. It’s a lovingly crafted, passionately told story of loss and redemption.