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Bound By Flame - Review
Bound By Flame wants so badly to be Dragon Age: Origins. It also wants to kind of be Dark Souls, as well as The Witcher. It utterly fails at being any of these.
RPGs that bridge the gap between console generations are rarely a pretty sight. This isn't so much a criticism as much as it is an unfortunate fact: RPGs require a hell of a lot of time and effort to pull off. There's the world building, the character development, quest designs, dialogue. It makes for a huge task that's made infinitely more problematic when the hardware you're developing for is in the process of changing.
Bound By Flame avoids all of this difficulty by simply being terrible. From its opening cinematic you know something is wrong. At the start you're given the choice of naming your protagonist, the default name is Vulcan, but understandably you're keen to change that, because it sounds ridiculous. After tweaking your characters name and appearance you start playing only to realise that every character calls him Vulcan, in spoken dialogue, rendering the whole naming thing pointless.
It'd help if the developers could remember to get Vulcan's name right though. During the loading screens, help text repeatedly changed the spelling to "Volcan" or "Vulcon" before switching the spelling back, as if even the developers couldn't decide on which rubbish name to give their protagonist.
These are only minor stains on the tapestry of bad that is Bound By Flames however. As the game starts, you're given the usual high-fantasy story that's pretty much remained unchanged since Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings. In this game's case it involves the undead rising up, thanks to some Ice Lords, there's apparently some wars going on, and you're a mercenary being hired by a group of wizards.
It's all ho-hum and predictable but what really sticks in the craw is the atrocious dialogue. It's not necessarily the voice acting, which ranges from acceptable to below average, but the constant need to shove in swear words where they simply don't belong. It's as if a child wrote the script and wanted to make the whole thing sound more edge and cool; which translates into throwing F-bombs into every other sentence. There's also the problem that Vulcan/Volcan/Vulcon is a wisecracking unlikable arsehole, who's completely devoid of personality but also manages to be so smug and arrogant that you want nothing more than to punch him in the face. He sounds less like a grizzled sword for hire and more like a petulant teenager.
With the script being a complete and utter failure, this leaves the game's combat system. It's clear that developer Spiders has been playing plenty of From Software's Dark Souls because, in a very, very, loose sense there's a lot of similarities. The problem with Bound By Flame though is that it takes the general feel of Dark Souls fighting and then ruins it completely thanks to terrible controls, and a poorly thought-out level up system.
For a start locking on is a nightmare. Hitting the lock-on button regularly had me targeting an enemy at the other end of the screen rather than the half-dead gribbly that was about to eat my face off. Then there's the problem that fights simply devolve into dull, mindless button mashing, which is bad enough, but made even worse by the fact that even the most basic of enemies have a mountain of health.
Vulcan starts the game with two different class types: Warrior and Rogue, with a third, Pyromancer, being added once you've finished the tutorial level. In general the Warrior skills make you more of a tank, whilst the Rogue skills give you a faster damage output and stealth abilities. Pyromancer rounds this out by giving you access to magic skills. It's predictable, sure, but would have been perfectly serviceable had the skills not been so utterly boring.
Many upgrades in Bound By Flame are either dull or not properly explained. Some simply give you a bland percentage bonus to a certain skill, such as +2% to your health regeneration. Others upgrade your ability to stun or interrupt enemy attacks but you're unlikely to see any improvement in your overall fighting ability despite what the stats screen might tell you.
What makes all of this worse however is how the inept fighting mechanics render the skill system useless. It's not uncommon for enemies to take several minutes to defeat; as their gargantuan health bars simply allow them to grind you down in a war of attrition. Similarly, enemy hits trigger a short stun animation on Vulcan, which is understandable, and punishes you for poor attacks. What makes it a problem however is when several enemies attack at once, it's not uncommon for the attacks to time themselves in such a way that you remain stun-locked until you die.
I could go on listing problems: the terrible camera for instance, which frequently has the urge to delve into the nearby foliage whenever you're in a fight with an enemy, ensuring the only thing you're capable of seeing is a series of badly rendered twigs and leaves. Then there's your computer-controlled allies, which will appear, staring glassy-eyed into the distance, whilst Vulcan is attacked during a cut-scene.
Or take the awful lip-syncing, which frequently has the character's lips stop moving several sentences before they've finished speaking. It got so bad at some points that I started wondering whether the lip-syncing had been designed for the French version of the game (the developers, Spiders, are situated in France), but I can honestly say I have no idea what was intended with the game's animations, it's just horrible to look at.
Occasionally, you'll see glimpses of some faint potential, such as the equipment upgrade system. Using resources you've collected, you can upgrade your armour and weapons with different bonuses, which also adds visual changes too. It's a neat addition, and one of the few decent things to be found in Bound By Flame. Credit also has to be given to Olivier Derivière, who crafts a pretty impressive musical score for the game, with plenty of interesting influences that go beyond the typical western European style of most fantasy titles.
Unfortunately, these minor points don't save the rest of the game from being a frustrating bore to play through. I didn't manage to finish Bound By Flame, so if the game miraculously improves in its final few hours then feel free to criticise. Of the ten or so hours I did play through, the game never improved, and after one final frustrating stun-locked death I switched off the console and walked away. I have no intention of ever returning to this game. Avoid.
Bound By Flame was released on May 9th for PC, PS3, PS4 and Xbox 360.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
© 2014 LudoLogic