Bastion by SuperGiant Games: Hands-on Impressions

By Jeff Mattas, Dec 09, 2010 11:00am PST Indie developer SuperGiant Games has been hard at work getting its new action-adventure game Bastion ready for a 2011 release, and recently shared a brief playable section of the game with us. Naturally, it's time for some impressions.

As the screenshots above clearly illustrate, the world of Bastion is beautiful and colorful. The anime-inspired art-style is immediately eye-catching, and there's something quite compelling about how the game has you exploring a path that's assembling itself before your very eyes.

The bit of Bastion that I played was about a 20-minute chunk of what ostensibly functioned as a tutorial. The game's protagonist, referred to throughout as "The Kid," wakes up to find that the world has been shattered. As he rises, a path forms in front of him. He presses forward, acquiring a giant hammer, shield, repeater, and bow, and engages in some combat, exploration, and collecting loot.

Moment to moment gameplay is solid (albeit familiar) hack-and-slash, though due to the Kid's tools of choice, is more aptly described as "shoot-and-smash." There were a variety of enemy types present even in the short snippet I played, and many pieces of special loot could be collected to upgrade the Kid's arsenal of weapons in different ways. It'll be interesting to see how the combat evolves over time, because while there was a bit of variety that required the use of both ranged and melee attacks, the combat I experienced was easy enough that I didn't really feel compelled to use the shield that I had obtained. That said, it was just the game's opening moments.

Another neat presentational aspect that really adds a lot to Bastion is its use of dynamic narration to further the story. Instead of presenting the player with bricks of expository text or lengthy dialogue sequences to page through, the game cleverly uses narrative voice-over to provide contextual color commentary about the on-screen action. It may not sound like much on paper, but just based on the little I played, SuperGiant seems to have devised an incredibly clever, organic, and unique way to provide relevant back-story and details to the player in an action-oriented game without removing them from the fight. If SuperGiant manages to carry-over the near-perfect narrative pace present in the demo to the full experience, it could stand out as a very special achievement in videogame storytelling.

After using my hammer, repeater, and bow to carve a path through enemies, and running through a "chase" level where the path collapsed behind me, I arrived at the Bastion. The game's title is also the name of an in-game hub area of sorts where you can build shops and buy upgrades and embark on your quests to find world-restoring crystals from several different regions. But shortly after arriving at this hub, the demo (and therefore, my journey) ended. I would have happily played more, if I could have.

There are a few questions about Bastion that remain to be answered. The combat I experienced was fast and fun, but will need to evolve in both variety and challenge to satisfy in a much lengthier experience. Similarly, the dynamic narrator in the demo I played was great, but how well it will carry throughout the full game remains to be seen. Despite those concerns, it's difficult to feel anything less than positive optimism for SuperGiant's Bastion. The interface and menus in the build I played were also 360-specific. It's due out in 2011 for unconfirmed platforms, though it's worth mentioning that I played the demo on a PC using a wired Xbox 360 controller, and SuperGiant mentioned that they're hoping to release Bastion on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

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