Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Placed in the wrong company

There are occasional gaps in the availability of disc based console titles. Not because my queue is empty, just because I play games faster than they can me shipped to me. Another, secondary, backlog is always there, thankfully, to prevent me from have to put effort into what I do in my free time: XBLA (and to a much less extent Sony Marketplace. When is Journey coming out, anyway?) If an arcade release grabs my attention I will buy it on the spot and play it through, if for no other reason than to play something at the same time everyone else is playing it. Other titles will sit on my hard drive for months at a time waiting for a sale. This fate befell Bastion, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and Renegade Ops, three games that deserve my time just as much as anything else I play but had the misfortune of arriving at just the wrong time.

Bastion was first on the list, so Bastion is what I have been playing for the last two days, and it is easily one of the best games I have played this year, regardless of genre or delivery method. It was initially left behind because I subconsciously placed in the same company as Braid, a game I found so pretentious that it took me nearly six months to give it the time of day, and then it was only with a walk through. Braid walked through a part with its collar up, drinking Zima's and talking about books no one has read and bands no one has heard of. It was a hipster game and to this day I think very little of it. I lumped Bastion in with that based only on how it looked and the off name of its developer and I was completely wrong to do so.

Everyone who cares about Bastion has already played it, so I am not going to go into the boring details of how it plays and what its few shortcomings are. Suffice to say that the last weapon found is so much better than all the previous ones that you feel dirty for having used them, and I can't imagine new game plus being anything but a bazooka fest. None of that matters, though, because Bastion hits emotional notes that my cold, cold gamer heart has not heard since Flower, another simple, downloadable title I fell in love with. The sparcity of the environments fits perfectly with how little you know of the story. The world is gone, save precarious paths and an old guy with a cool voice that talks about everything you do. The narrator tells you exactly what you need to know and nothing more, just as the ground rises to meet your feet when you are going in the right direction. Eventually there are a few more characters and your world grows, rebuilt by the sweat of your brow (side note: more freedom with the world building would have been excellent, see Dark Cloud 2 as an example).

At the end you are faced with two choices: reset the entire world to a time before the calamity that killed everyone and everything or escape from the city with the few companions you have saved. What sounds like a simple choice is made more difficult by the narrator; nothing sounds easy when said with his level of gravitas. He could ask me if I wanted fries with that and I would question why I was on this Earth in the first place. To decide I put my self in the protagonists shoes: was his life better now than it was before the calamity? Honestly, it was just as shitty, and his current heroics where known only to a few people. I chose the reset, giving up the fortune and glory for the lives of everyone who would never know to appreciate what I had done. I saved them, and even I wouldn't remember doing it.

This arcade game told a better story in two and half nights of play that any full priced game I have played yet this year. I should have played it sooner, but at least I played it, and if you haven't you need to fix this as soon as possible. Games like Bastion remind me why I play anything, and the distance between them just serves to remind how special they really are.

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