Game of the Week: Bastion

The pen is mightier.

It's a curious contradiction about game reviewers that we tend to wish games would move backwards just as much as we yearn for them to move forwards; they don't make 'em like they used to, they don't make 'em like they could do. They just make 'em like they do. Boring.

Well, this week, we get both our wishes. Our inner retrograde, our slobbering arcade id, the half of our brains that despises convenience and sophistication and adult ambition - that part of us gets to pull the trigger on Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, and blow up the alien invasion of progress in the name of glorious, pointless fun. EDF! EDF! EDF!

Successful stupidity is not an art without nuance, however, and we were worried that the unheralded new developer Vicious Cycle might lose something the original EDF studio Sandlot had - its ineffable lack of polish, perhaps, or its impeccable unsophistication. The last thing we want is for EDF to get ideas above its station.

Christian set our minds at rest in the Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon review. "I think you're going to love Insect Armageddon, then, but you may love it very fiercely for a fairly short space of time - a fact that Namco Bandai all but acknowledges with the price point. This is a smart discount blaster to dive into for a few hours every few months, and to have nearby whenever you get bored of more complex entertainments that come with characters and plot twists and levels that aren't all largely interchangeable."

Lucky Dan got to please both halves of his brain with the outstanding new downloadable add-on for Fallout: New Vegas, called Old World Blues. This cracking episode shows us the way forward and back: forward to how DLC mini-expansions should be done, and back to the surreal and satirical comic heart of the original Fallout universe.

"More than any other modern Fallout episode, this one revels in the sci-fi and 1950s fantasia. It's a tongue-in-cheek romp, part Buck Rogers, part Mystery Science Theater 3000," Dan wrote in our Old World Blues review. "You never once interact with another living being during Old World Blues, yet it has more personality and wit than any of the previous DLC offerings... It all adds up to the strongest expansion in the relaunched series, across both Fallout 3 and New Vegas."

Old World Blues foregrounds one of developer Obisidian's greatest strengths, which also happens to be its connection to Fallout's Interplay roots: writing. And that's a strength it shares with our Game of the Week.

Bastion

The ancient and entirely un-technological art of writing is, in 2011, one of the most potent modernising forces in gaming. Consider Portal 2's sharp comedy or L.A. Noire's brooding portrait of a city in crisis: they both felt new, and were both constructed out of words as much as anything else. After a decade of fruitless smothering at the hands of Hollywood script doctors, are games finally finding - or should that be rediscovering - their voice?

Bastion for XBLA launch trailer

Bastion, this week's excellent Xbox Live Arcade debut from Supergiant Games, certainly has a voice. It's an old man's voice, hoarse, hard-boiled and rueful, commenting on the action as it unfolds in this gorgeous action adventure set in a ruined city in the clouds.

That voice rises from the throat of actor Logan Cunningham (who looks nothing like you'd expect). But it also flows from the pen of former GameSpot editor Greg Kasavin, whose taut soundbites - just as finely crafted in the text descriptions of items as in the laconic narration - transform this artful but quite simple hack-and-slash game into something truly special.

By turns melancholy and playful, Kasavin writes "poetry into your motion", as Tom put it in our Bastion review. "As you venture through the steampunk fantasy platforms of stricken Caelondia, the old man's commentary and the way your pathway through the clouds rises up beneath you quickly become incidental details that add depth and texture to your activities, and neither is without poignancy or symbolism."

There's a tension between this lyrical side of Bastion - also expressed in its exquisite art and music, and some clever level design - and its combat, which is frantic, furious and a touch unrefined. But the tension is effortlessly soothed away by that voice.

Like Limbo and Braid before it, Bastion shows that combining new presentational ideas with age-old mechanics can be supremely effective. Maybe the fact they appeal to futurist egos and nostalgic ids alike is the reason critics love these games so much. If you ask me, they can make 'em like this all they want.

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