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This week, Zero Punctuation does another XBLA double review with Bastion and From Dust.

Transcript Edit

I always feel around this time of year that playing nothing but AAA mainstream games is like eating McDonalds for every meal of the day, and my mental equivalent of my intestinal tract is about ready to slither up my throat, pop out my mouth, and go look for food on its own. So enough with these iron sight examination simulators, I'm going where the worlds are bleak and the heads are large for my third XBLA double bill.

And with characteristic convenience, the kus-blah has recently chundered up two games that both approach the theme of world building from vastly different directions. Perhaps this speaks to some larger trend within society today, a prevailing desire on the part of indie developers to recreate the entire world into one where you can charge more than fifteen bucks for your game design degree coursework.

Well, now I am reading too much into things, so let's start with Sebastian - sorry, The Bastion. Sebastian is a 2D, isometric, hacky-slashy but also long-rangy fighty clustery mobby thing. You play a dude - perhaps named Sebastian - who wakes up one morning to find that the ten or fifteen square feet of floor on which he went to sleep the previous night is now floating apparently unsupported in thin air. Soon we learn that an omninously named Calamity has blown up most of the world, the kind of blown up that grants the debris the ability to fly and makes more debris materialize under your feet when you walk off it. Man, that doesn't sound like a calamity at all; that sounds pretty fucking rad! Okay, it killed the vast majority of the population, but still, it's paradise for an anthrophobic aeronautics engineer.

Your task is to assist in the construction of a floating stronghold from which a new society could be formed by going to missions and murdering everything that moves, as well as quite a few things that don't move, too. The environments are absolutely littered with clashing terrain, enemies, and destructible furniture, and together with the isometric viewpoint - which is to confusing perspective what the Thames was to cholera - it all looks a bit of a mess - which is, funnily enough, something else people say about the Thames.

Combat is quite efficient, mind, creating the right warm jolt of self-satisfaction that comes from correcting dodging, countering, or snorting coke, but there are probably too many weapons and the usual problem with an upgrade system: that you become fucking Thor by the end it, who annihilates every possible challenge with a single shift of his tightened buttocks.

But where Bastion shines is in the story. People ask me, "Yahtzee, you say you like story and gameplay to blend seamlessly, but can you give an example without mentioning Silent Hill 2 or Half-Life like you always bloody do?" All right, then, now there's The Bastion as well. Without interrupting gameplay - much - the story is told by an ongoing and disturbingly sexy narration by someone who appears to have replaced his lungs with two chocolate profiteroles. From a starting position of knowing something between bugger and all, we gradually piece together the storied history of the world before it got reduced to corn flakes, all while remaining focused on a core group of interesting characters so the story retains emotional weight, and events are driven by the actions of the protagonist. It's everything a game story should be.

That said, if you are going to have two endings based on the last decision we make in the game, for fuck's sake put a save point before it, because I've now got the entire last mission of the game stuck in my head like it's "Oh, What a Night" by The Four Seasons.

Anyway, let's leave you trying to remember how that song goes and move on to this week's second game, From Dust, a new game from Eric Chahi! And those of you who weren't testicle spelunkers in the early '90s may remember him as the developer behind the groundbreaking and atmospheric Another World (that's Out of This World if your country is dumb), but let's stop upsetting the children with references to the pre-Lady Gaga world.

From Dust is sort of a mythic creation story about a tribe of primitive people overcoming their crippling shyness to colonize a series of lands. And just to show how far Eric's come in twenty years, the main character is not a ginger dork in a t-shirt but a magic, glowing snake with the power to move terrain around on a terrifying scale. You have to help the little masked men found a set number of villages and fend off environmental hazards like floods and lava, because magical glowing snakes lack the communication skills to suggest their masters build a village somewhere other than an active volcano mouth, you stupid, gibbering tits.

At first glance, From Dust strongly evokes both Populous and Black & White, as if it was developed by some parallel version of Peter Molyneux who didn't start taking looney pills around the early 2000s. Your standard workaday skills are the ability to pick up earth/lava/water from one place and drop it in another, and it must be said the physics of it all would make a Minecraft enthusiast's brain burst out through his eye sockets. Water bobs and flows and foams, dirt piles and settles, lava oozes along and sizzles as it plows through the home of a family of three, the stupid screaming blisters. Can't you even pick up lava? I can!

As nightmarish as the programming job probably was, the gameplay itself is deliberately simplified, which is a good and bad thing. There's no dull micromanaging, but when you're not just telling your dudes to move to the next village they could give a banana-scented shit for your clever plans. One really misses the ability to make specific men stand on specific spots when the elements are closing in. But it's hard to feel guilty about losing anyone when they didn't think to sprint away from the red glowing jam, nor when they stand in place and scream for help because their path is blocked by a one-foot rise.

That's always the problem with the gameplay mechanics in this kind of procedural generation stuff: there tends to be fine line between what it'll accept and what it'll throw back in your face like a bowl of mashed apple. The game refuses to let your build your village in a recently drained area if so much as a spoonful of moisture remains anywhere within a fifty-foot radius. But once it is built, you can practically build a waterslide park and no one seems to care, as long as you don't wash all the laundry away.

On the whole, though, I had fun with From Dust, and if you get through to the very end you unlock a sandbox map that lets you build whatever, but after finishing my inevitable spewing lava penis I realized the game really did need some challenge to make it interesting. And giving me the power to summon a tsunami but not telling me which button it is only really works once, game.

Of the two games herein discussed, I think I prefer Sebastian. He feels a bit richer and doesn't spend so much time rolling around in the dirt. But then again, we'll never find out if Sebastian gets better if you get bored and drop five hundred tons of molten stone on someone's conservatory.

AddendaEdit

Creator of all that the light touches: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

On reflection control over dirt is probably an even worse superpower than control over fish

What if God were one of us and he had a big shovel


ScreenshotsEdit

Bastion 1

Your task is to assist in the construction of a floating stronghold from which a new society could be formed. . .

Bastion 2

. . .by going to missions and murdering everything that moves

Bastion 3

My inevitable spewing lava penis

External LinksEdit

Bastion

From Dust

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey

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