It would be easy to dismiss Bastion as another action RPG, but I have yet to have so much fun with a game that desperately wants to be an RPG and manages to be a lot more.
Bastion was developed by Supergiant Games, a game studio formed mostly by people who worked on Command and Conquer games and Red Alert 3. They wanted to try something else, but I don’t think anyone could have guessed their project would be radically different.
It took them two years of development and they founded the work from their own money. It was first launched on Xbox Live Arcade, then on PC, Mac OS and even Google Chrome. I wouldn’t have put my money on it for a Linux platform port.
The latest Humble Indie Bundle brought some very interesting games to the Linux platform: Bastion, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Limbo, Psychonauts, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Braid, Super Meat Boy, and Lone Survivor (all of them will have a review for Linux on Softpedia).
I knew of Bastion when the latest Humble Indie Bundle initiative was proposed, but I did not have the time to play it. I was surprised by its high production value and by its amazing concept, and I’m wondering why it hasn’t been done this a long time ago.
The developers of Bastion provide just a .sh file (a GUI installer). We have installed the game in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS without any problems. Just open a terminal and enter the following commands, one by one (the name of the file might vary if it's updated):
sudo chmod a+x Bastion-HIB-2012-06-20.sh
Follow the instructions of the installer and don't forget to give it root permission when it asks for it.
The main character is called “The Kid.” He wakes up in a world destroyed by some sort of calamity that has broken off the city of Caledonia. When I say broken off, I mean in the literal sense. The action takes place on pieces of land that are either forming under his feet or are being destroyed behind him.
He will encounter some other survivors in the game that are central to the plot. In any case, The Kid starts gathering shards in the hope of restoring the city, but things are not as simple as they appear. The game dabbles with the concept of inevitability. The players will have to make an important choice, but it’s hinted that no matter what you choose, what’s been done can’t be undone.
Probably one of the most attractive features of Bastion is the narrative style. The narrator is part of the game and responds to scripted events, such as the death of the player or his proficiency with a weapon. The interaction between the narrator and the action on the screen makes the game resemble a story that is just being written as we play it.
The Kid can wield several weapons during the game, but only two at a time, one for close quarter combat and the other one for ranged attacks. There are quite a few to be discovered over time, but Bastion features a weapon upgrade mechanic ensuring that items found at the beginning of the game will not become obsolete.
The objective of the game is to get through the levels, collect shards from enemies and destroyed environments and gather the shard at the end of each level. These shards can be used to build various buildings within Bastion, a neutral zone that the player accesses between levels. In Bastion he can upgrade his weapons, buy potions (for special moves and life), and rebuild some of the lost structures.
The enemies are varied and some of them are quite tough, especially the bosses at the end of each level, or most levels. Some players will prefer guerilla type gameplay, others a more head-on approach, but most enemies can be just beaten with patience.
As much as I love the world constructed by the developers of this game, the moving mechanics is flawed for a PC experience. Players can choose between three control schemes: one with the WASD keys, which are used for moving the character and the mouse for attacking, one with the mouse for moving and the keyboard for shooting, and third one is based on a gamepad controller.
I'm almost certain that a gamepad is highly recommended for this game, so I used a Logitech Dual Action but it didn’t activate in the options. I suspect it only recognizes the Xbox 360 controller.
The mouse control is not recommended as some of the commands are overlapping. For example, moving with the mouse is also the command for the shield, so instead of running, I’m walking really slowly with the shield held high.
The only reasonable control scheme left is with the old and proven WASD keys, which would be fine under normal circumstances. Bastion is constructed on a grid-like foundation so The Kid only moves in right, left, up, down, and diagonals. This type of controls lacks the fineness and elegance of the mouse, or the gamepad.
The art style of Bastion is unique and it's a joy to play it. It’s colorful and elegant, smooth and intriguing. It sets the mood for the adventure and it fits amazingly with the gameplay.
The other great addition to Bastion is the narrator, which in my opinion is one of the best I’ve ever heard. It doesn’t use a scruffy voice and the fact that it’s scripted makes it a great innovation.
To loosely quote every villain from Scooby Doo, if it weren’t for the damned controls, it would have been a lot better. I really wanted to love it and I know I could have enjoyed it a lot more, but the controls were a bummer. Bastion is fun and witty, but we have to look at it as a stepping stone for something better in the future.