By: Jeff Cater
Bound by Flame puts you in the strapped boots of a mercenary named Vulcan, who you’ll guide through a world of choice and strife. The game was developed by Spiders and published by Focus Home Interactive (the folks behind Of Orcs And Men) and marks their second jump into the next generation pool (Contrast)with the PlayStation 4; although the game is indeed available on last-gen consoles like PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Immediately upon starting it’s easy to feel that the game lacks a bit of polish in the control department. The face buttons will mostly be used for combat, but the input always feels mushy and sluggish, and you never feel like Vulcan is trying as hard as you are to survive. The movement is spot on though, so navigating the labyrinthine level design isn’t a terrible chore when not in combat.
Possibly one of the most glaring issues lies within using the left trigger to toggle the face buttons’ functionality; there is no light-up icon or any indication to let you know that your move set has indeed switched. Using the left shoulder button will slow down time and allow you to cast spells unassigned to buttons, re-map skills and issue orders to your follower. None of these actions could possibly be more cumbersome or counter-intuitive, however, and it never once felt natural or advantageous.
While the level design doesn’t quite supplement the visuals as much as they hamper, Bound by Flame looks absolutely beautiful in certain areas, while others are dull and almost exhausting to look at. One minute you’re trekking the cliff side and the next spending your night trying to find your way to town amongst the flat, undetailed textures of the ground.
There is an abundance of neat touches here and there; rays of sun will cascade through the tree canopy, small ponds hide vines that continue throughout levels, smoke will plume from fire places and so on. The characters’ armor and facial detail are all befitting of their pretty but constricted environments.
The visual style is wedged in between Dragon Age and Borderlands; there’s a solid medieval feel to everything, but the outlines of environmental features like wooden shutters and rocky paths feature a heavy, black, inky look that is pretty interesting to take in.
While the characters look good and are generally animated well, the lip syncing is horrendous, and it’s coupled with some of the laziest recitals of written dialogue I’ve heard in a game. Vulcan sounds like a mix between Nolan North and Chris Parnell, and the character’s light delivery never portrays the weight of any given situation.
Things do spice up a bit when you let the demon do the talking for you, as it turns the characters voice over to the demon inside him. The demon delivers his lines much, much better than 90 percent of the cast, so you’ll literally get more joy out of this title if you allow the demon to take over Vulcan as fast as you can.
Bound by Flame is a damn noble attempt to give us an action-RPG to be proud of. It tells the story of a man struggling (quite literally) with inner demons, and gives you choice in determining Vulcan’s mental state. Sometimes he will give an honest answer, other times he will just turn into a potty mouth in a fraction of a second. Spiders gave us many of the necessary tools to have fun, but set us up in the wrong workshop for those tools.
Each engagement with the enemy seems to take place in tight corridors and arenas that feel just a little bit larger than a dinner table, so most of your time will be spent blocking as dodging is impractical. The camera will actively fight you in certain areas as well by crashing through parts of the scenery and rendering most of the level a see-through blue purgatory. That damn camera also makes it very difficult to get absorbed into the combat as it is so far back from the character you’ll feel like a voyeur, never truly engaged in the on-screen happenings.
As mentioned above, the sluggish combat controls can be irritating and are about as active of an opponent as the various denizens of the land you will dispatch. Toggling attacks and issuing orders to your teammate is always a clumsy affair and will lead to many reloads of a save file.
Another thing about your AI team members — they’re quite stupid and likely NEVER last throughout a whole battle, instead getting wedged into corners and pounded into muck puddles. Add that to the fact that there is no way to revive team members in combat, except for running away.
The enemy also will run away to heal when you do, artificially inflating the difficulty and play time of the game. Ugh. Time to run back over there and block attacks for 15 minutes!
While Bound by Flame has a few cool features going for it such as a day/night cycle and a fun crafting mode, these two features aren’t enough to detract from problems at the very core of the game. With a few patches it’ll be a much better game than its current state, but it’s doubtful it will ever reach the vision of the developers.