Trip the light choreographic
Platform: PS4 Pro (PSVR)
So, I picked up a PSVR coming into the 2019 holiday season. I came across a bundle with the headset and camera, along with a lot of the choice games I wanted to try. Skyrim VR, Astro Bot, Resident Evil VII etc. However, I found myself searching the PS Store out of curiosity. What was the average game price ratio to expect for a VR experience? What was available to buy on this platform? Most intriguingly, what did I already own?
As a long-standing member of PS Plus, who always downloads what’s coming to me (I mean Iv paid for it right?) I had unknowingly built up a collection of VR games and experiences just waiting to be downloaded.
One of which was Bound.
Wait, what’s that?
Bound piqued my interest from the quick glimpse first shown at PSX 2015. With its striking visual art-style living somewhere between painterly and geometric. Its score which suggested classical strings and organs. And its protagonist displaying the core game mechanic, dancing.
During an indie show-reel, the above gave Bound this sense of ‘stop and look at me’ that kept it sitting somewhere in the back of my mind.
This game was available on PSplus quite some time ago, and I had meant to fire it up some wet Sunday morning, but to the backlog it went.
That is until, as mentioned, scrolling through the PS Store’s PSVR section I see it listed and think to myself, this is a VR game?
As it turns out it wasn’t initially.
You see, the developer Plastic released a patch two months post-release which added VR as an optional way to enjoy the full experience, which is commendable, not just in theory but also in application.
I have very mixed feeling on reflection of this as a game, but as a VR experience, this is very recommendable.
You play out the inner thoughts of a woman, pregnant, revisiting her family home after a long absence. This woman you play as has an immediately apparent sense of loneliness. A sense of self-reflection, portrayed through semi cell-shaded graphics as she gazes across the sea-side horizon, a short walk from a wood-panelled home.
She opens her journal, where a scribbled drawing has been scrawled on the leftmost page. The kind of drawing you do when your mind is elsewhere, the kind you doodle while thinking of something that brings you great emotion and sees this emotion reflected back at you in the lines.
This reveals itself to be an analogue for our main game mechanics.
Soon the world around you slips away, and you find yourself entering a geometric recreation, a memory of a troubled child. A snapshot of time, where you’re invited to walk and look around to reveal what may be happening in the scene without explicitly explaining anything. A door will open to the light, and as you pass through you are transported to a world of pure abstraction, where you are finally introduced to the Dancer.
These dancer sections are where you will be spending most of your game playing time. You’re quickly introduced to a maternal figure who requests you to go on a journey. A journey to discover what evil has spread across this kingdom
Dance to hide the pain…
Each level you are presented with a linear sandbox to explore, egging you gently along from a throne room in which you are addressed by your regal Mother, to an inevitable endpoint.
You do this not by walking, but (you guessed it) by dancing.
Pressing various buttons will have your dancer leaping, pirouetting & prancing in admittedly impressive animations as you guide her with the left stick. The only exception to this being small segments where you may need to scale vertically using trapeze scarfs, or riding a slide of sorts from point A to point B in as stylish a manner as you choose.
Occasionally there are times where an environmental hazard will begin to disrupt you and you need to dance to progress, however, this simply leads to you holding the dance button of choice and pointing the stick forward which quickly becomes non-engaging.
Often you will be presented with simple platforming, but again this is almost too simple to warrant any real thought. Mario this ain't.
Getting to the endpoint will generally trigger a swooping animation to show off the beauty of the bespoke art style, with the dancer performing acts of physical beauty as the subtle background soundscape begins to swell, before ejecting you out of this world and into another memory from a child’s perspective memory of the Pregnant lady we were introduced to at the beginning.
You see that paragraph above. That’s the entirety of what interacting with this game consists of. Now do keep in mind this is an art game so the concept is really what your buying, but from a gameplay perspective, it is sorely lacking.
Bound has a strange identity crisis. In one hand it wishes to be a walking simulator where the implied stories are the actual leads, whilst on the other, it is set up in such a way to present you with platform levels missing entirely of engagement. All being said, I'd have probably been happier if it were just the latter.
Then why the hell did I praise this game early on?..
Well partially because I didn’t buy it. If I had have paid the full retail price for this on release, which I nearly did, I would have been sorely disappointed. However, I didn’t.
I got to experience this game for free, and additionally, I got to experience the better version.
Bound truly comes to life in VR.
Its art style seems to lend itself to the medium in a way I have not yet seen. You see the PSVR has an issue I find, where you strap the admittedly comfortable piece of Kubrick’esque VR equipment to your face expecting to be whisked away to another world, only to realise you're now looking at a far blurrier, granier version of what was on your TV.
To get the 2 screen VR experience running well on an under powered console a lot of compromises generally need to be made, and understandably so.
Bound, however, manages to circumvent this issue with grace. Every line looked sharp, every colour vivid. Being an on-looker into this world was incredible, and genuinely took my breathe away on more than one occasion.
Additionally, Bound tells a quite harrowing story. One that is doled out to you in bits and pieces as you progress. Having you often filling in the blanks yourself, or sometimes even imposing your own feelings and trauma’s onto the character who we met in the beginning. And that type of storytelling, although certainly done better elsewhere, is to be commended.
And on that note its time to take a bow and leave the stage…
In conclusion, I enjoyed my time with Bound.
Its gameplay premise, though shallow as a pothole, is an interesting one. Its story heartfelt and engaging, with a VR experience that I would urge you to experience if you have the means to do so.
However, my recommendation really lives and dies on those means. To me, this is only a PSVR game and should not be played any other way as it was the sole feature that kept me engaged throughout my 3 to 4 hours.
I hope to see more from this studio, as this was surely a risk, and let's face it, good or bad we need more risks.
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All images taken from the Bound presskit: https://www.igdb.com/games/bound/presskit
PSX Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M8tLA_sMwI