In a year so chock full of Triple-A titles that my wallet is still reeling from November, my Game of the Year for 2011 is a little downloadable title from Supergiant Games.
For those who don’t know, Bastion is an isometric action game starring you as The Kid. You wake up to find that a huge disaster has destroyed much of your city and the world you loved. Following the city’s emergency plan you make your way to the eponymous Bastion; A safe haven where survivors can gather and rebuild.
One of the things I loved about Bastion was how it bucked the trend of over tutorialising that’s frustrated me many a time in the past few years. There’s a good selection of weapons but the game doesn’t pause combat when you get a new one to show you how to use it, it follows the great design idea of letting you use it in a controlled, fairly risk-free situation so you can learn it yourself and throwing you to the dogs to let you test your newly learned skills.
Along with this cause comes great pacing. Anyone who knows about proper pacing is aware that after a peak of excitement should come a lull, a quiet period to come down from the rush and appreciate the cool stuff that just happened. Bastion nails this perfectly. Each level starts off simple, building the action, increasing the number and variation of the enemies, with a good chunk of the levels introducing a new weapon for the player to use, coming to a crescendo with a tough boss or an integral story moment. Finally, the player is returned to The Bastion where they can get ready for the next level, swap or upgrade their weapons, apply difficulty moderating tonics or talk to the few people who’ve made it there safely.
This pacing is further kept up through Bastion’s great storytelling. The action never stops for a lengthy codec call or cutscene, instead the game is narrated by a character named Ruks. But it’s not a bunch of canned, reused dialogue that repeats every time you kill an enemy with the hammer or swap weapons, it’s all highly dynamic, reacting to things you do, and how you do them. Run past a group of enemies you don’t feel like dealing with? The narrator might make a comment on how The Kid doesn’t have time to deal with these scumbags. Switch to a specific weapon combination? The narrator might mention how that specific combo was a favourite of the old city’s army. It’s incredibly effective at telling a detailed narrative without interrupting gameplay a single bit, and probably my favourite aspect of Bastion.
The combat is pretty quick, feeling kind of like an isometric God of War but with more variety. You can have two weapons at any time with anything ranging from a hammer to a bow to a flamethrower to a shotgun to a mortar. They all handle pretty differently and the play styles that develop based on the combos you choose supply much of the depth. There’s also a simple upgrade system that has you finding materials in the levels and bringing them back to The Bastion for use in the forge.
What makes Bastion my Game of the Year, above all else, is its cohesion, and it seems to be something increasingly found only in small indie games such as this. Everything in this game feels like it was meant to fit together. Never does the music clash with the mood or the art style not fit a scenario. Everything simply fits like a glove. Bastion’s ability to put all its various aspects together into one incredibly tight package is how it was able to produce so many smiles out of me during my playtime, more than anything else I played this year.