Bastion was a fantastic game with a memorable narrative and fast-paced combat. Transistor slows it down a bit with more strategic combat and a slightly less memorable story. The story is about love. The whole story never really makes sense, you’re just thrown in the middle of some battle between a woman named Red, a man named Grant, and a sect called the Camerada. I had no idea who this rebellious sect was, who Red was, or who Grant was. I guess that’s kind of the point. You’re in some sort of computer world and the Transistor is your weapon. A horde called the Process is trying to kill you.
The combat can be done in real time or you can stop time and plan out your moves. These moves eat away at a meter so you need to plan carefully. Each enemy has a different play style so you really need to adjust and learn each one. Your combat moves are completely customizable which is a nice touch. At Access Points you can load a main type of weapon onto each face button. There are two add-ons for each button and these will add characteristics to that weapon. Of course, you can make any weapon you have the main weapon. This is great because it allows for many combinations of weapon types. However, you have a limited amount of add-ons you can use until you upgrade your maxed out stats. I found a very frustrating feature to be your weapons are your health. Once you lose health a weapon will break until you get two access points again. If all four weapons break it’s game over.
I honestly felt the game never really came together in any way except maybe the art and audio. The music is fantastic and the game is wonderful to look at. There are some boss fights thrown in but they’re extremely tough and will frustrate most players. I also found the game to be way too short; coming in at about 5 hours. With that said the main focus is combat here. The game is intense and the added element of strategy and the combination of weapons is all up to you. There’s a small test area you access to hone your skills (kind of like Bastion) but in the end, this game isn’t something I’m going to remember a year from now. It’s a nice attempt at a spiritual successor but doesn’t really come close.
The game also lacks in replay value. It felt so frustrating that the last thing I wanted to do was play again. For serious masochist, there are limiters you can add to make the game even harder. Once you kill an enemy a cell will bust out. You get so many seconds before that enemy respawns unless you absorb the cell. A limiter can put a shield around this requiring you to break it before absorbing it to gain more XP. But remember, once you have used your time stopping the ability to plan out your combat you can’t fight in real time until it recharges. You can literally lose a whole health bar in that 5 seconds.
With that said, if you loved Bastion you’re not really missing much here except some eye and ear candy. The story makes no sense despite having a touching ending, and I never really connected with any characters. It’s a fun weekend play through not much more than that.
Downloadable games get opportunities to take risks that AAA titles can’t take. Downloadable also offer one-of-a-kind experiences for a small price, and this is the place to look for that kind of experience. Downloadable games are perfect to get small doses of great gameplay, but only one can come out on top. This year showed a ton of great games that didn’t even make it onto the list. It was a tough choice, but a decision has to be made.
Vampire Smile is a stylish game that’s both gory, dark, and bursting at the seams with unique art. The story is interesting, the combat is fluid, responsive, challenging, and deep. Smile featured tons of crazy bosses, great enemies to fight, and two whole story modes to go through. Sure it was punishing sometimes, but that’s what made it rewarding. It topped them all due to all of this combined despite many amazing downloadable games this year.
Graphics are great when it comes to textures, resolutions, and lighting but what about the art itself? Some games are living breathing pieces of art and are one of a kind. Sometimes a game may be inferior technically but surpass in style and better art. This year was more geared toward technical showcases, but there were a few artsy games that popped up.
Alice won over everything else because it is just oozing with art and substance from American McGee’s crazy mind. It brings out the darkness in Alice in Wonderland and every single speck on the screen has something unique about it. It has been a long time since something like this has come out where you want to hang every screenshot on your wall. Alice truly deserves this award hands down, but all I can say is you have to play it to understand why.
This was a tough call against Portal 2, but Skyrim came out on top thanks to composer Jeremy Soule’s amazing passion for the Elder Scrolls game. Every piece of music moves you and sucks you into the world like no other video game soundtrack can do. There are dozens of songs and each are masterfully composed and that is extremely hard to do. Every piece fits everything you do, see, hear, or interact with in Skyrim. The sweeping and dramatic theme song to the softer tones of exploring the world are perfect and nothing can match this kind of instrumental beauty.
One thing that Bastion does differently from most games is the strong and unique narrative. A man narrates the boy’s every step and action in Bastion and this is a very interesting way of telling a story. It’s like you’re playing an interactive storybook especially since it looks like one too. You are trying to re-build The Bastion which is a safe spot to run from The Calamity and throughout the story, you find out what this is and why this boy is trying to find these shards to build this thing. Rucks (the narrator) guides you through the story as it unfolds, so you don’t know anything until it actually happens like a storybook, but it’s happening while you’re doing it.
With the excellent narrative aside the combat is top notch and responsive. You can use a regular attack, special attack, block, and a projectile weapon. There are plenty of weapons and you can upgrade them to add different attributes and bonuses. As you progress through the game you unlock six different areas which include an arsenal to swap weapons, a forge to upgrade your weapons, a shop to buy upgrades and special powers, a shrine to make the game harder, and an “achievement” area where you can meet requirements for extra shards (in-game currency). The customization and upgrades are deep and will keep you busy for a long while thanks to the proving grounds which are unique challenges for each weapon. If you meet certain criteria you get prizes based on your performance. These are not easy by any means and a few were almost impossible to beat for me.
Combat is very responsive and challenging. The enemies are quick, smart, and vary from stationary, fast moving, slow moving, heavily armored etc. I should probably say that the balance is perfect and you slowly get introduced to tougher enemies as the game progresses. You really have to use a combo of everything to stay alive because you will gulp health tonics constantly if you don’t use block and dodge a lot so stay on your feet. The action gets hectic and you start realizing this game is for hardcore action fans and not the casual gaming crowd that the visuals might seem to cater to.
There are a lot of levels and the length varies from 5 minutes to 15, but one thing I can’t get over is the visuals. As you run through the levels the walkways appear under you and seem to float in the air. The levels vary so much and not a single one looks the same. The hand-drawn visuals are just gorgeous, plus you can’t forget about the amazing soundtrack that is something you stick on your MP3 player and listen to. This feels like a high budget game, but only an indie game can deliver something on this side of creativity and originality. Bastion is a unique game and nothing is quite like it in terms of narrative and visual deliverance. Every action fan should own this because it’s $15 well spent.