With the new generation of consoles still finding their feet in terms of a broad spectrum of gaming, the opportunity is very much in place for some lesser known titles to nip in and steal some thunder while it’s all a bit quiet. Bound by Flame has the chance to be a defining moment in the next-gen RPG genre as one of the first on the new platforms, but it just doesn’t do anything well enough to make a name for itself.
First impressions often mean a lot to gamers, and that’s not good news for Bound by Flame. As you’d expect from an RPG the first step is setting up your character, but the creation screen only gives a limited set of customisation options (with even less choice if you choose a female character) before asking for your name, something which is duly discarded for the default Vulcan name which is then used throughout the game. Still, that’s not a huge issue as long as there’s plenty of other stuff to make up for it. After all, this is a new generation of gaming. Not that you’d know it from the opening stages of close-up dialogue, with characters carrying no emotion on their faces at all. Even when one guy gets super angry and starts shouting, his face barely registers a change, with just his mouth moving. It’s the same throughout the game – no sadness, no remorse, no anger, just partly frozen faces. While it’s unrealistic to expect full, detailed faces on a larger game you’d expect some fury to show through.
It puts a dent in what could have been an interesting story with Vulcan being a member of the Freeborn Blades, a mercenary group under attack from a bunch of deadwalkers. After fending off a small invasion of the nasties, he ends up soaking up the mind of a demon who partly takes over his thoughts, giving a to-and-fro internal struggle through the game. It’s the only way that your decisions actually make a big difference in the game, making you pick between certain attributes or abilities depending on whose mind you give more time to. It’s an interesting way to mix things up, but sadly not all of your choices are so important.
The build up to Bound by Flame’s release was centred around two things: the combat, and the decision trees in place. We’ll cover the combat in a moment, but in terms of the conversations taking the game in different directions it’s a mixed bag. You shouldn’t expect something in the region of Mass Effect (although you have to wonder if that was the goal) as the long term plot outcomes of the game don’t really change that much based on your decisions, but it does give a few short-term differences to things. Enough to play through more than once? Maybe. It depends on our patience.
The combat though offers a ray of light in amongst the gloom of clumsy design and underwhelming decisions. You can switch between two different stances, which partly come down to using big weapons or smaller, quicker ones. There are rewards for careful fighting too, as blocking an attack at just the right time slows everything down for a brief moment, inviting you to counter-attack. Combine this with some magic abilities (fire-based, strangely enough) and there’s enough to try out throughout the game to keep you fairly entertained. It’s far from easy to kill the various bad things you find around the place though, with most enemies absorbing blows like they’re plated with titanium, all the while dealing out blows which take half of your health each time. At times it feels unfair, especially when your adventure companions are all so stupid.
There are several occasions when you’ll have someone else to fight alongside you, and you have a few options in terms of how they fight. You can get them to stay back and be more defensive, taking longer shots at the enemies with a longer range weapon, or send them onwards to take the fight to the bad guys. Either way it’s more than likely they’ll end up flat on their back, half dead and waiting far too long before getting up and trying to be helpful again. They’re most useful as a distraction, getting rid of a few nasties for a moment or two while you deal with something a bit more immediate, helpful when the game chooses to throw a pack of them at you with very little chance of making it out alive. It turns a potentially decent combat system into a slog, and that’s not what the title needed at all.
The game itself lasts about 12 hours or so, but this could go up or down depending on how much of the non-essential missions you decide to do. In that time you’ll be able to experiment with your skill tree to unlock new abilities and suchlike, as well as the simplistic crafting system, which basically means you can’t have certain items until you’ve found enouhgh of the ingredients hanging around. You can buy things from the shop, but it’s incredibly expensive and it’s very rare you’ll find enough cash in your pocket to buy anything worthwhile.
Essentially though it’s still a PS4 RPG, and fans of the genre who have been waiting for something to scratch the itch might still fancy a go to see if it grabs their attention. The combat is done well despite it getting a little overwhelming at times and there’s a reasonable amount to do, but it doesn’t live up to the better RPGs on previous consoles and that in itself is a big disappointment. I was hoping for something spectacular, something which lit up the new generation of gaming and made everyone sit up and take notice. As it is Bound by Flame is just a reasonable RPG that could really have been at home several years ago.
Reviewed on PS4