Bound is the latest title from indie developer Plastic, a Polish studio who worked previously on PS3 exclusives Linger in Shadow and Datura. Combining mind-bending visuals and a movement style reminiscent of ballet and modern interpretive dance, Bound makes a valiant attempt of presenting an emotional tale that is open to interpretation. Unfortunately, the game fails to consistently strike the right chord with its story, and coupled with underwhelming and overly simplistic platforming, what starts out as an interesting concept ends up falling short of the mark.
It’s clear from the outset that Bound’s story is one of conflict, but the developers are adamant that this is an experience that you need to enter without preconceptions as to where it’s going. The narrative structure is inspired by famous Soviet film theorist Lev Kuleshov, who showed that an audience can derive very different meanings from a sequence of images depending on how they are juxtaposed in a sequence. In this way, interpretation of an identical scene can be altered depending on the order in which it is experienced and what directly proceeds it. In the spirit of this, the game has a non-linear structure, whereby a woman reminisces about her past through drawings in her diary. Each drawing represents an abstract memory, and can be experienced in any order, and this supposedly influences how the player views the characters within the story. I’ll admit that on my first playthrough I was more confused than anything else, and while I understood the general overarching situation being presented, I was dissatisfied with how it unfolded and could not bring myself to be emotionally invested. Despite the fact that the theme is one that speaks to my childhood in some aspects, I felt distant from the overly abstract way in which the narrative was presented. A second playthrough revealed some of the depth the developers were aiming for in their storytelling, but still felt like it lacked a cohesive emotional core.
…It’s clear from the outset that Bound’s story is one of conflict, but the developers are adamant that this is an experience that you need to enter without preconceptions as to where it’s going…
U wot m8?
MC Escher would be proud
When in doubt, dance
Slide like no one’s watching
Originally I gained the impression that Bound was primarily an experimental narrative-driven game, but as I played more the focus wavered, and the experience essentially boiled down to being an elementary platformer, and not a great one at that. The actual gameplay involves the most basic mechanics of the platforming genre with very little variation, and ultimately ends up feeling arbitrary and meaningless. Your main goal in each memory is to simply traverse from A to B along fairly obvious paths; jumping on platforms, pressing the very occasional switch and climbing ladders and ropes represent 90% of the actual ‘stuff’ you do. There’s also a certain level of imprecision to the movement as well, and more than once I was sent hurtling to my death from a misjudged jump. Not that death comes with much consequence, as you’ll simply respawn wherever you fell from.
While the actual gameplay is fairly mundane and bland, and not at all challenging or engaging really, it is saved somewhat by the extraordinary visuals and setting. Each memory sequence takes place in a world that looks to be the love child of MC Escher and Salvador Dali that was conceived when they were both high on acid. Dominated by constantly shifting geometric shapes with bold colours and smooth textures, there is a surreal and dreamy quality to each sequence, and these sublime visuals are by far the game’s greatest asset. The animation of your character’s movement shows a similar loving attention to detail, as everywhere she goes she dances with the grace of a tiny ballerina; it’s a clever contrast to the often menacing vibe that’s present throughout the sequences and connects nicely with the game’s themes. There’s a handful of hazards present in each level, and in all these instances your only defence is to dance to protect yourself. It’s an interesting idea, and visually striking when you are surrounded by malevolent shapes trying to attack you and you are there dancing your little heart out, but it ends up being fairly one-note and loses its impact by the end of the game.
Bound is a very short title, and will take less than two hours to complete. However, the developers have created the game with the idea of replayability in mind in the form of speedruns. With its fairly uncompelling and imprecise platforming this is unlikely to be an enticing prospect for many, but there are some interesting ideas which make
playing through the sequences in a different order worthwhile if you’re looking to post competitive times on the leaderboards. As mentioned, each level contains certain hazards, and in some cases the threat these pose can be nullified by playing the appropriate memory beforehand. This can have the effect of making a run faster or even opening up massive shortcuts and alternate routes. With each of the seven levels taking only ten or so minutes to complete it’s fairly painless to experiment with your runs, but I did find it hard to be overly engaged in this aspect given the uninteresting platforming mechanics. The speedrun clock also continues to run through unskippable cutscenes, which if you’ve already seen them a few times might end up grinding your gears a bit.
Don’t look down… if you can figure out where down is
Bound is a visually evocative game that aims for the lofty heights of games like Journey in presenting an emotionally charged experience to its audience. Ultimately this aspect fails to truly shine, largely because it becomes buried by its uninspired platforming mechanics. While it’s an interesting concept from a philosophical standpoint and occasionally manages to engage with its themes, the experience can’t recover from the blandness of its overall gameplay.