Over the past few years’ worth of games, books, movies, and television, I have spent a great deal of time in the post-apocalypse. These experiences tend to be bleak, soul-crushing tales of survival and hardship filled with hordes of zombies or rampaging, mutant biker gangs.
Released in 2011 by Supergiant Games, the game follows the story of “The Kid” as he travels to different worlds and collects materials as a way of building a safe haven in the wake of an apocalyptic event known as “The Calamity.”
While the premise of rebuilding in the face of loss or destruction should certainly sound familiar to anyone who has watched an episode of “The Walking Dead” or played Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us”, the tone and design this game employs encourages a dramatically new way of approaching this kind of story. Through re-imagining there is as an opportunity for play, creativity and exploration.
One of the best ways “Bastion” achieves this tone is the way in which it presents its world to the player. The look of the game is gorgeous, with beautiful hand-drawn environments and a vibrant color pallet that speaks more to the fantasy world of a Hayao Miyazaki movie than the barren wastelands of “Mad Max.” The style of narration also adds color and life to the environment, with a Sam Elliot-like narrator dynamically commenting on your actions along with the various structures and creatures you encounter as you move through each level.
Both of these elements work to make exploration and movement within the game incredibly inviting and enjoyable, especially when compared to the fear and intensity that comes with navigating the grim and exclusively hostile environments that are so prevalent within the genre.
The mechanics of the game also encourage pleasurable exploration and experimentation. The player is given a vast array of weapons and special abilities that can be swapped in and out with ease. This combined with the limitless ammunition not only allows you to approach any given level in a variety of ways but also encourages you to play or experiment with new character builds or weapon combinations by removing the burden of resource management that would otherwise deter you from doing so.
While all these mechanical features, tone of the narration and art style make for an overall enjoyable experience, they also act as a statement about the relationship between creation and destruction that is so essential to the post-apocalyptic story.
“Bastion” ultimately challenges us to understand death or decay not only as an end but also as a beginning, and a necessary process through which creativity, development and new life are made possible.