If anything has become clearer to me, it’s that the release of Bastion on the PlayStation 4 shows just how far independent video game development has come over the past few years. When it originally released back in 2011, Bastion was one of the few indie games that was able to make any headway on the Xbox Live Arcade, mostly in part due to its heavy promotion on the Summer of Arcade promotion. Nowadays, indie games have a much easier time getting a release on consoles, with Sony in particular embracing the independent game community with open arms.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that when it was announced that Bastion would be re-released, I was probably more enthused than your average gamer. You see, like Braid and Journey, Bastion is one of the (many) indie titles that took me by surprise, and subsequently, kept me coming back for years to come. Like a prepubescent teenager on the eve of a Call of Duty release, I stayed up all night for a shot to download it and (in a stunning display of my passion for gaming) proceeded to play through it in a single sitting. Bastion is also one of the titles that ignited my interest for writing about and reviewing video games, which came full circle when I had the opportunity to interview a member of the development team for a feature a couple of years back.
It’s fitting then that I finally have a chance to review Bastion, and even all these years later, it still stands as one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.
Awaking in the midst of an in-universe catastrophe (referred to as The Calamity), you take control of a silent man known only as The Kid. After a brief tutorial, where you learn the basics of combat and movement, you arrive at titular Bastion: a sanctuary of sorts designed as a meeting place in the event of a disaster. It’s there that you discover it’s completely devoid of life, save for an elderly gentleman who goes by the name Rucks. After learning that the land of Caelondia has been destroyed, you are tasked with rebuilding the Bastion, finding and rescuing other survivors, and of course, unravel the mystery as to what caused The Calamity in the first place.
It’s a fairly simple premise, though it’s brought to life by some fantastic writing and the excellent narration by Logan Cunningham. Unlike most games, developer Supergiant Games utilizes a form of dynamic narration, in which the game narrates minor (and sometimes inconsequential) actions. Falling off the level too many times might incite a small quip, or taking the time to destroy small environmental objects would have you hearing “The Kid just rages for a while.” It’s a very simple system, but it works wonderfully. Aside from the fact that the narrator (who is in fact Rucks) sounds like an old, familiar friend, the game feels that much more personal when your actions are being described out loud as you play, rather than crafting a rigid script with a “one size fits all” mentality.
Dialogue aside, Bastion also triumphs when it comes to transporting you into its world, which has been so meticulously crafted and designed. Despite a relatively simple story and a small cast of characters, the world of Caelondia and its surrounding territories feels alive, replete with its own culture, wildlife, cities and people. Most importantly though, it’s all conveyed and explained as you naturally progress through the world, rather than relegating the lore to massive walls of texts or lengthy and obtuse audio diaries. Every so often, the narrator will emerge from silence to educate you about a newfound weapon or a long lost tradition. It’s wonderfully paced, and as plot twists and revelations emerge towards the final hours, Bastion somehow manages to transform its rather pared-back story into one that I was all too emotionally invested in.
Adding to all of this is the amazingly beautiful artwork by Jen Zee, which serves as a strong reminder that artistic style can easily trump graphical fidelity. The 2D artwork is filled with a strong use of vibrant and bold colors and stands as a nice contrast to the harsh nature of most post-apocalyptic games, which tend to come off as drab and devastating. The game also looks as sharp as ever running on the PlayStation 4, thanks in part to a native 1080p resolution and a more saturated look.
Of course, I couldn’t go on without mentioning my favorite part of Bastion, which has to be Darren Korb’s excellent soundtrack. Touting itself as “acoustic frontier trip hop,” the music is evocative of a handful of genres and settings, including blues, electronic, and rock, and the few songs that include lyrics are hauntingly beautiful. It’s one of the few soundtracks I’ve continued to listen to after all these years, and I have no doubt that I’ll continue to do so in the years to come.
When it comes to the actual ‘running and gunning,’ Bastion’s systems are fairly straightforward, as they opt for customizability and variety rather than complex systems. At any given time, you can equip two primary weapons, with each one having a set of unlockable upgrades, which you can swap between without having to make a permanent choice. With a dozen weapons to collect, Bastion encourages experimentation more than anything, and unlike other action RPGs, weapons don’t become outdated and underpowered over time. Sticking with the first two unlockable weapons is just as viable as constantly switching up your loadout, and there is no clear advantage to using melee combat over firearms, and vice versa.
Weapons aside, there’s a system of passive buffs and abilities which come in the form of the in-game distillery, where you can equip different drinks, with more unlocking as you progress through the story and level up. Rather than choosing a set difficulty level at the onset of the game, there is an unlockable shrine which allows you to invoke different idols and gods. Doing so makes the game considerably more difficult, but nets you more currency and XP. Coupled with separate weapon challenges and a wave-based survival mode, there’s plenty of side attractions to keep you busy, including a new game plus mode which ties into the game’s multiple endings.
When the credits first rolled all those years ago, I simply sat in my chair, completely blown away at what I had just experienced. While it may have taken a few years to find its way onto the Sony platform, Bastion still stands as proof to what a small team of creative and passionate individuals can accomplish, and that video games as a medium have an infinite amount of potential. Hopefully, we can all stick around long enough to see what comes next.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
Bastion stood out as one of the best titles when it first released years ago, and it stands just as tall this time around.