Developer: SIE Santa Monic Studio/Plastic Studios
Publisher: SIE Santa Monica Studio
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
(Review code provided by publisher)
Videogames as art; it’s a concept that’s been the source of a great deal of contention for many years. Some argue that, yes, of course videogames can be art, while some, most notably the late film critic Roger Ebert, argue that they can not and will never be considered art. But how do we define art? A quick check for a definition gives us:
the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
That surely covers videogames, right? Personally I’d argue that videogames should be considered as a whole to be an art form, just as music and film are considered art; it just happens to be that some films are more Black Swan, while others are more, well, Commando.
It is in that same way that we can look at videogames; sure, we have our Call of Duty’s, our Halo’s and Grand Theft Auto’s, those blockbuster pieces that cater to the blockbuster crowd. But nestled alongside them, we get games like This War of Mine, Papo and Yo, Brothers and, most pertinently, the PlayStation exclusives Flower, Journey and The Unfinished Swan, games designed explicitly to be visually and emotionally affecting. Recently Sony added the stunning Abzu to that list – Ben checked that out for us and you can find his review here. They’re following that up with Bound, a game co-developed by Plastic Studio with The Unfinished Swan’s Santa Monica Studio. Can they strike it lucky twice?
The short answer is, sadly, no, however Bound is not a complete failure. The main thrust of game story revolves around a princess in a strange world tasked by her mother to evict a vicious monster that is threatening to tear apart the very fabric of their kingdom. As is expected by this type of game, there is a more grounded “meta-story” encapsulating this, but it’s in the princesses land that you will spend most of your time. And what a land it is – built of constantly shifting geometry and whooshing particles, the princess dances her way over shimmering platforms and around bottomless abysses. Yes, you read that right – dances. The movements of the main character were performance captured from modern dancer Maria Udod and it creates a startling effect, as your character pirouettes, tumbles and twirls through the game. Movement is generally through walking or running, leaping from platform to platform and pulling the right trigger with other buttons to make the princess dance. This is handy to release yourself from the environmental threats that you come across in the game which will slow you down, often making you miss jumps and fall to your death. The audio is similarly atmospheric, mixing subtle electronics with more violent audio effects as the world shifts around you. It’s not the easiest experience to describe in words, so check out the video we shot in the embed below to see it in action.
It is quite stunning to behold and, while the visuals are largely fairly simplistic, the number of particles flying around the screen is a testament to the power of next gen console gaming. Sadly, though, the game is largely all show and little substance. Plastic Studios have developed Bound with a focus on speed running, something which becomes apparent upon completing the game and unlocking the speed run mode. Unfortunately this makes an initial play through somewhat muddled. Shortcuts seem pointless, there are no secret areas or hidden collectables to speak of and you feel more like you’re being guided on a path rather than having to do any of the kinds of puzzle solving you would find in, say, Papo and Yo or Brothers. The “enemies” you encounter are also all designed to simply slow you down rather than provide a challenge in any way.
The meta story, which I won’t spoil, is somewhat cliche’d for this type of game. In the wake of its predecessors, it seems like we’ve heard this one before and I managed to predict the ending long before I reached it. Which, to be honest, wasn’t that long. I don’t expect these kinds of “experience” games to be particularly long, however I found the length of Bound to be shorter than normal. I managed to finish the six main stages in an afternoon and, while some gamers may feel that they want to make the most of the speed run mode and crack the leaderboards, I felt very little desire to return to what I ultimately found to be a rather shallow experience.
It’s a real shame, as Bound is undeniably a stunner of a game to behold, but I would have expected a more compelling experience for the price point.
High quality production values with some stunning graphics and audio conceal a sadly shallow experience with a predictable and cliche’d story. Worth experiencing but don’t expect to be revisiting it after your first playthrough unless you crave some speedrun action.