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Exploring The Beauty of Bound

Taking a trip to the ballet.

Most games have a defining feature, a singular characteristic you can use when describing them to someone who’s never experienced it before. If I was talking about Sonic, I’d be telling you about the speed of the game, while Mirror’s Edge would have me raving about the game’s free running.

For Bound that quality is movement. I’ve never seen a game that features the same fluidity of movement as Bound. Everything about the way your character moves is built around dance, ballet in particular, and it makes her journey through the world look absolutely gorgeous in motion.

Ballet’s influence on the game’s movement is clear throughout. Instead of running you bound your way through the world, arcing through the air as you do, and pirouettes are a common sight. In fact there’s a wide variety of balletic and acrobatic moves that become staples of the game’s movement, all blending together seamlessly as you transition between them. Even little things, like edging your way along a narrow ledge, are done with a level of grace rarely seen in games.

Interestingly, developers Plastic Studios have achieved this fluidity by bringing a choreographer and ballerina into a motion capture studio and working closely with them to get exactly the movements they wanted. While motion capture has become a commonplace element in the creation of many games now, this is still one of the more unusual uses of the technology that I can recall in a gaming context.

Plastic have also done a fabulous job with the game’s visuals as well, drawing their influences heavily from a variety of schools of modern art. The actual geometry of the level design, at least in the levels I saw, wasn’t anything all that remarkable, but by wrapping it up in their chosen art style the game is left with a unique look.

The presentation of the world is almost like Minecraft in style, with everything being constructed of individual blocks, textured in vivid, solid colours. However, instead of Minecraft’s lo-fi looks, Bound very much sits at the other end of the scale, with everything looking incredibly crisp and having a beautiful sheen to it.

What’s interesting about the visual style is that Plastic have managed to construct a world entirely out of simple geometric shapes with crisp, solid lines, yet retained some of the fluidity of the game’s character movement by setting these shapes in constant motion. The blocks ripple as you move through the world, your path being constructed in front of you as you push onwards, with oceans of undulating blocks visible in the distance.

Blocks also peel away if a wall is blocking the camera, furthering the feeling of fluidity that pervades every element of the game’s design. Plastic really have managed to create one of the most distinctive looking games I’ve seen in years, sitting alongside titles like Firewatch as a game that feels like a living, breathing work of art.

The comparison to Firewatch is perhaps apt for other reasons, with Plastic describing the title as “not a game”, but instead an experience that focuses on its narrative and telling a “mature story”. However, by styling the game as a platformer Plastic are steering well clear of the general complaints of “walking simulator” that Firewatch and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture suffered from.

As with many 3D platformers, you’ll be expected to make your way along narrow ledges with your back to a wall, to cross balance beams, and to hit switches that allow you to continue your progress. There’s even elements like wall jumping and some minor puzzle solving, but Plastic seem clear that the aforementioned narrative is their focus.

In what I played of the demo that was available, the core elements of that narrative seem to be that you’re a ballerina princess who’s been tasked by the queen with protecting the kingdom from attack by a huge monster. That feeds back into the game’s visual presentation, as it represents the trail of destruction left by this monster.

While that’s relatively simple for now, it’s clearly going to expand into something more meaningful as you move further into the game. It seems likely that your relationship with your mother will play into this, as will the monster. However, by making the princess the game’s heroine, Bound immediately subverts the damsel in distress trope, as does the idea of placing a ballerina, typically seen as somewhat fragile, as the protagonist.

Regardless of what direction the game’s narrative ultimately takes, it’s clear that Plastic are going for something unique in Bound. It wears its modern art inspirations on its sleeve, and its use of a ballerina as the main character is not only incredibly different in terms of narrative, but also serves to create some of the most interesting and distinctive movement I’ve seen in a game. For those reasons alone Bound looks set to be one of the highlights on PS4 this year.

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2 Comments
  1. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    Certainly unique and interesting, and one to keep an eye on.

    Comment posted on 01/03/2016 at 15:20.
    • Kris Lipscombe
      Team TSA: Writer
      Since: Mar 2009

      Really worth looking out for

      Comment posted on 02/03/2016 at 10:51.
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