Tale for the ages - Bastion's story starts off as fairly standard RPG fare: a lonely hero is tasked with finding items and survivors in an attempt to undo the damage dealt by an apocalyptic event. The use of a narrator, however, serves to develop the characters and events of the game as well as foreshadow every victory, loss and betrayal that players will experience over the course of the adventure. It is also genuinely affecting in its final stages. I don't think I've ever previously played an Action RPG with a memorable story, let alone one that had me in tears towards the end. This is a beautiful game in more ways than one.
The handmade tale - Bastion is a visual treat with hand-painted backgrounds and an assortment of enemies that are all animated expertly. With an isometric perspective and melee-centric combat, the game is initially reminiscent of hack-and-slash games from previous hardware generations. After a few hours though, players will have access to an arsenal of ranged and melee weapons, as well as "secret skills" that add a layer of depth not usually found in an XBLA title. It may feel a little familiar to begin with, but in the end, Bastion is in a league of its own in terms of play and presentation.
Every Bastion screenshot is worth a thousand words (992 to go)
Tell me how the world ends - While I have touched on this previously, the use of a narrator is a master stroke. The way Rucks comments on every event adds a level of suspense and intrigue that I've not felt since the original Bioshock. The commentary also evoked the odd smile when I was chastised for being careless in battle. Every idiosyncrasy is subject to Rucks' observations and Bastion is all the better for it.
Fight for freedom - Bastion's weapon and skill customization system is the most friendly that I've encountered in the genre. When you upgrade a weapon, you select from one of two buffs. If you find that the weapon isn't performing as intended, you can switch to the other perk at no cost. You can also choose to equip any combination of weapons that you've acquired; melee or ranged only, if you please. The freedom to switch your loadout - to the point where each weapon functions differently - is a refreshing change from the hack-and-slash norm.
New Game Plus - It worked for Crysis 2, and it works for Bastion. I love being able to carry over weapons, upgrades and abilities for a second playthrough as it serves to cut out the repetition and still make for a rewarding experience. I'm half-way through my second crack at the campaign and am hoping to earn all two hundred available Achievement Points.
Spoiler Alert! - While I did love the running commentary, there were a few times that it did serve to spoil the odd plot twist. That being said, a lot of the developments were somewhat predictable.
Psst! It's hiding in the long grass.
Broadside of the barn - As much as I loved experimenting with each of the ranged weapons - and the melee weapons with ranged capabilities - most were just a little too fiddly for my liking. Often my aim would stray just to the side of my intended target, no matter what adjustments I made to the sticks. The Proving Ground challenge with the War Machete is one the most painfully-frustrating time attack challenges I've had the "pleasure" of playing through.
Justify my thug - Most of the Proving Ground challenges are more frustrating than they are fun. Almost all of them are time attack activities which are subject to the imprecise aiming controls described above. Further to that, most of them aren't worth attempting unless you've upgraded the weapon that is the focus of the challenge at least three times (out of a possible five).
No games until you've finished your chores!
Easy Rider -Despite the depth in options for approaching combat, Bastion can be powered through without much opposition. Throw in the right mix of upgrades and secret skills and some levels present little in the way of challenge. It should be noted that after a certain point, you can actually make the game harder by activating idols in the Shrine.
Bastion is one of the best XBLA titles available and a perfect start to Microsoft's "Summer/Winter (depending on where you live) of Arcade." With beautiful graphics, a moving, well-told story, and a refreshing level of freedom in terms of combat, Bastion is well worth 1200 Microsoft Points. Highly recommended, and be sure to have some tissues at the ready towards the end.