Review: Bound by Flame is clumsy and dull
Platform: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, PC
Bound by Flame is an action RPG from French developer Spiders and published by Focus Home Interactive. It is set in a fantasy world which feels a bit like the world of Dark Souls and a whole bunch like the world of Game of Thrones, right down to the threat of the mysterious "Ice Lords" from the North and an encroaching army of undead. You play a mercenary who is posessed by a demonic entity early in the game, and you'll fight hordes of enemies with either a heavy weapon, two quick daggers, your new demonic fire powers, or some combination of the three.
You can choose whether your character is male or female in Bound by Flame and enter a name for your choice...but don't expect to see anyone use that name, since you'll be referred to as "Vulcan" from the moment the game begins. Additionally, apparently whoever designed the loading screens didn't get the memo that your character might be a woman, since at least one screen informs you that "Thanks to his new powers, Vulcan no longer needs a torch."
It's a small mistake, sure, but it gives you an idea of the problems that plague the game as a whole. Spiders is a small development company, but this isn't a budget game..and it has far too many issues to make it worth the price.
Battling against boredom
You'll be doing a lot of fighting in Bound by Flame, so it's a real problem that the combat isn't very fun. You'll be holding the block button constantly, attacking right after your enemies take their swing, and strafing in a circle around them. And that, I'm sorry to say, just about covers it. Your strategic options are seriously limited, thanks to a health bar that feels far too short throughout the whole game and a reserve of magic energy that will keep you from using too many spells -- though even those, in practice, aren't worth very much.
I experimented with the traditional "big sword" style of play for a while, but found it slow and terribly boring. Switching to the Ranger style, which involves a lot more running around and quick attacks with two daggers, helped a bit...but it still didn't bring it into the realms of "good" or "fun." Since ranged combat is unreliable -- fireballs only hit their targets about half the time and cost a ton of mana, and crossbow bolts are in rare supply - you'll spend the bulk of your time in Bound by Flame following the same pattern of blocking or dodging and quickly attacking. Each combat style offers two attack types, a normal attack and an area attack that spreads the damage around a bit. Against a single enemy you really don't need to use anything but the normal attack, and against a group of enemies the best strategy is to try to engage the ones on the edges as if they were alone, using that same normal attack, since the area attack will almost always end up with you taking damage while your guard is down.
You have your choice of a few different companions to bring along with you, and thankfully these friends offer a small amount of sorely-needed variety. An archer or a witch can add some ranged damage, which is helpful, though my personal favorite was Sybil, since she could provide unlimited healing between fights -- something I found essential since I never had enough health potions. Unfortunately, a few strange design choices mean that these companions are just as flawed as the rest of the game.
There is no real consequence to allowing your companions to be knocked out -- they won't even sound annoyed when they stand up again afterwards, and will instead remark casually about the scenery around you -- so in practice the best tactic is often to circle around your enemies until they start attacking your meat-shield friend. If your companion falls and you don't want to fight without him or her, no worries -- just run away down the path, leave your enemies behind, and eventually your companion will come scampering after you, fully healed and ready to do it all over again. With Sybil's healing powers, this meant that the best way to handle a lot of the fights I encountered involved the extremely scummy-feeling practice of running in and killing an enemy while the rest of the group attacked Sybil, letting her get knocked out and then running away before I was too badly hurt, then waiting for her to find me and heal me...and then doing it all again. Playing the game like this wasn't fun, but it was effective. And since trying to play the game "properly" was boring and slow and resulted in a lot of frustrating deaths, there wasn't enough of an incentive to avoid it.
Swear words and clichés
There are some big issues with the script in Bound by Flame. I think the best way to illustrate what I mean is to just show you part of a typical cutscene:
Yeah, so...that's how the entire game is written. The dialogue is clumsy, the phrasing is odd, the main character goes to painful lengths to show "attitude," and swear words show up too often and in slightly strange places. The whole thing feels like it was written by an ambitious but not terribly creative twelve year old trying to sound mature or, probably closer to the truth, written in French and then translated to English in a hurry and on a budget.
The story even manages to screw up the central element of the plot: the whole idea of your main character being possessed by a demon. Ostensibly you're supposed to be weighing the power you get from the demonic force with your desire to remain pure and human, but the opportunities to make major decisions are few and far between, and the actual consequences are almost nonexistent, outside of cosmetic changes to your character.
As you can hear for yourself in the cutscene above, the voice acting does the game no favors. The voices throughout the game are uneven, and the acting for the female PC is painfully bad. There is very little connection between how the written dialogue suggests the lines should be delivered and how they actually sound, and you'll constantly encounter characters who sound mildly annoyed when they should be terrified or furious.
As bad as the voices in the game can be, the music and ambient sounds are actually very well done. The epic fantasy music does its best to lend a sense of drama to the tedious block-block-attack-block fights and the nature sounds bring environments to life even when the graphics fail to do so.
Something to look at
The most impressive parts of Bound by Flame are the creative visual design of some of your monstrous foes, which look twisted and evil and wouldn't be out of place in a Dark Souls title. I mean, just take a look at this:
That's pretty great, right?
I would have loved to see the monsters of Bound by Flame in crisp next-gen graphics, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. I played the game on a PS4, but didn't see much of anything that the PS3 couldn't do. The game's lighting engine was good and every once in a while an enemy, especially a boss, would impress visually -- but far too much of your time playing the game will take place in dull environments fighting against enemies that aren't as distinct as they should be, even on a PS4. In the end, the occasional moments of greatness are lost in the dull drudgery that makes up the majority of the game.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging Bound by Flame.
Combat – 5/10
Blocking, dodging, and attacking...and that's pretty much it. The game doesn't do anything better than what we saw in games like Soul Reaver back in the early 2000s.
Graphics – 6/10
Mostly fine, occasionally good, but nothing out of the ordinary for PS3 titles...even when playing on a PS4.
Script and Story– 4/10
A combination of tired tropes and what I can only assume is poor translation make what could have been an interesting story a childish mess.
Sound – 6/10
The music and ambient sound is great, but the voice acting is often laughable.
Overall score: 5.3
If you're desperate for a game in this genre, then find a way to play Dark Souls II.
GameCrate reviews represent the opinions of the GameCrate writer who wrote them, and not necessarily those of Newegg.