"Kid wakes up." That's the line I can't forget from Penny Arcade Expo last week. Duke Nukem had some good one-liners, sure. But Bastion is the other game people couldn't stop buzzing about. To understand it, you needed to listen to it.
Bastion is a top-down action role-playing game that looks like just a pretty new fantasy game from indie development studio Super Giant Games. Decent, but not earth shattering, right? You play the game with an Xbox 360 controller, running a hero around on the surface of a floating land, hacking and dodging, using melee and range, while gaining and buying new items.
But the narration... yeah, this game is special because of the narration, which may seem like one of the most unexciting special features a game could have, but.. did I mention it is real-time narration, from a gravely voiced, hard-boiled narrator of unknown reliability?
You could understand the magnificent potential of Bastion at PAX only once, as I did, you put on a pair of headphones. Only then do you hear clearly the voice of an old man talking about "the kid" - you - and the things he is doing - the things you are doing.
The game begins, as so many classic RPGs do, with the hero asleep in bed. Only once you jostle a control stick and hop him out of bed does the narrator say, "Kid wakes up." When you hit an enemy or knock down a wall, sometimes the narrator says more about what "the kid" did, like maybe a bit about how the kid destroyed everything in sight. Greg Kasavin, creative director of Super Giant, former editor of GameSpot and producer of EA and Take Two games, encouraged me to try to break the game, to see how the narration would keep pace with my actions.
Once, in my brief time with the game, I found a petrified body of an old tavern owner. I hit him with a melee weapon and he crumbled to ash. The narrator talked about how the kid did that, and how the dead man had always wanted his ashes scattered.
At times, the narrator isn't incorporating your actions to the narrator; he's telling you what to do, but all in a detached storytelling kind of way. He doesn't say, "Press the X button." He says, "The kid knew he could pull the bow back good and strong for a full hit."
The effect of this narration is magical. It feels as if you are living a story into existence.
Take a look and a listen at the long video I shot of Bastion at PAX. I couldn't catch much of the narration amid the din of PAX. But near the end, you can hear some.
The game is slated for a 2011 release; platforms to be decided. Put this one on your watch list. It is already something special.