Reviews PlayStation

Bound By Flame review: Fiery Failure

 *no spoilers*


The hardest part of a game shouldn't be finding reasons to like it; yet, Bound by Flame's most epic quest is to navigate the shadowy hallways of its design, conquer the undead shambling remnants of good mechanics, and emerge victorious clutching a nugget of time well spent. But that is not so much a difficult quest, as it is impossible. Not only does everything reek of cliché, but it wallows in juvenile plotting, inhuman characterisation, ugly - really ugly - graphics, and idiot bugs.

You play Vulcan - or "Volcan" according to one loading screen - a member of the Freeborn Blades mercenary group. The Blades are tasked with protecting wizard people who are summoning a thing to combat the evil thingy that something, something destroy the world. The magical ritual - which, as always consists of old people waving their hands around and muttering - goes wrong. What a surprise. Vulcan gets possessed by a Shakespearian-tongued flame demon, who grants Vulcan fire abilities and a nattering companion. As the game progresses, the demon attempts to sway you toward his perspective, mutating your character's appearance if you give in - and making you more demonically powered in the process.

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I gave in, as did most people, because it made the game more interesting. Or rather just interesting.

This game badly wants to be a Bioware game, but ends up being the equivalent of a small child in adult clothing. Boring characters, boring combat, boring story. The difference is that Bioware creates fascinating worlds, fleshed out characters, intriguing and well-told stories; Bound By Flame gives you medium-sized, hallway-veined environments, Muppet-mouthed characters, and uninteresting narratives.

For starters, consider the visuals: If you had to create these characters from Minecraft, it would take me at least a few seconds to distinguish them from what Bound by Flame itself presents. There's no love or care, no sense that passion and drive for quality are present; instead, what's obvious is the developer's need to sell the game during the dry period of next-gen titles.

However, I'm uncertain a delay would've saved this game. Its very nature is worth dismissing; its existence is insulting to your time and wallet. Gaming is an expensive pastime, so gamers must be careful with their budgets. I feel nothing but hate that there are people who purchased, at full price, a title dripping with such thick layers of mediocrity.

Combat is a single-button mashing affair. At the beginning of the game, you will die a lot. Enemies have huge health bars, while you easily take damage. Your companions are useless, serving as meat-made distractions; your crafting toward upgrades is useless, and, indeed, I found an entire style of combat pointless. The combat is geared toward one-on-one combat, so when there are multiple enemies, you're probably toast. Combat is a challenge, but once you find a rhythm - particularly with the two-bladed style and mixing in the Demon's powers - you're usually fine. The final boss is notoriously awful, as others confirmed with me (not just my poor gaming skills, in other words).

The game tries to encourage on-the-fly combat change: the traditional big-blade warrior and the short-blade, fast ranger-type. It's easy and intuitive to switch between the styles but I found no reason to use the incredibly slow Warrior. The thick layer of mediocrity seems to make Vulcan move his sword at a snail's pace.

Bound By Flame works in the results of your choices, an essential element of modern role-playing games (RPGs). One has to give props to Spiders for at least eroding childish binary morality, which video games think is how adults interrogate their moral decisions. Instead, as always, we have shades of grey: For example, the flame demon isn't evil, but self-sustaining and willing to do anything to save the world. Your companions too have their own motivations that, to some extent, are worth interrogating - but I couldn't stand the baby-sounding dialogue trees. This is where Bound By Flame moves from being a child in adult clothes to being one that heard a Tarantino movie and uses expletives excessively in every sentence. It's adult, see, cos it has the swears. All the swears.

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Usually I'd go into detail about my experience, but it's so unforgettable, so mediocre, so boring, I'd only be extending the banality into your innocent minds.

The world doesn't exist. I'm not kidding: there is no world. There's a poorly rendered horizon, almost no draw distance and stuffy corridors and corridors. There are small stages linked together by poorly-spelled loading screens. Hooray.

Oh sure, the creature designs are bloody interesting. I would love to own the concept art book for that specifically - but that's about the only praiseworthy aspect of this game. But, enemies are also weirdly handled.

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For example, throughout the game, you heard about The Seven Ice Lords who are at the heart of the evil evilness doing evil all over the land (cue dramatic music). Now, you figure, OK: Considering I'm the world's saviour, I'll probably be facing each one of these guys since I'm fire, they're ice. Each one needs to be taken down, individually, requiring different tactics, long missions preparing and so on. It'll be a Kill Bill styled.

But nope: Here's only one of those idiotically, ice-theme-named Lords: here's a montage thingy, here's an off-screen accomplishment. Roll credits. Despite being told in the first act that the Ice Lords could turn on one another due to not actually supporting each other, nothing more is done with this. Perhaps you could've forged an alliance with one (and I mean a meaningful one, a statement I can't elaborate on without getting into spoiler territory); perhaps you could've become one yourself, challenging the demon. But no. That's ignored. It's over with in a very short time - thank goodness - compared to other RPG's. It's somewhere between 12 and 18 hours.

But that's hours of a game that is a mess. A pitiful, waste of time that should not even exist - there's clear talent somewhere in this that would've been better positioned in projects that had better presentation, meaningful goals, qualified writers, caring voice performers. Instead, some system required otherwise talented people to cripple their abilities to fit into some rotten shell of a game, dripping out its content like poison onto systems willing to accept it because there was nothing else available. Bound By Flame was the dirty water in the long desert - but we've reached an oasis. Like Dying Light, gamers want the first game of a genre on new systems to be a step forward, not one demonstrating the straight-jacket of corporate time-keeping shattering the bones of creativity.

I hate hating on games. I hate the culture of snark and cynicism we've fostered, the 3,000 clones of Zero Punctuation, the passion for hating games (even before they're released), the joy in mocking others and measuring our worth according to black boxes. Gaming isn't necessarily about joy, but fulfillment. Indeed, playing games is only one part - sometimes not even the biggest - of gaming. Discussion, debate, passion, excitement: these fill the spaces of gaming more than games themselves. Hatred is easy, but also often boring. Unless it's geared toward betterment, all we've done is vomited on another person's hard work - however awful that work is. We're not talking about serial killers, here; we're talking about developers who obviously love games making something awful. Almost no one wants to make an awful game (except the genius folks behind Goat Simulator).

But when they do, we should point out why it's awful, without relishing in mockery. That's difficult. And I don't know many critics who have that skill (I doubt myself in this, too). I say this because I don't want you to enjoy my hatred; take pleasure in my picking apart this game. No one should. I did not and I had to sit for hours with this product. Don't mock the devs at Spiders. Bound By Flame is a bad game and I only hope we all learn from this and continue on a path that makes games meaningful and important and of better quality.

(Reviewed on PS4)

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