Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: May 9th
Quick question: How many of you know what a “mockbuster” is? In short, a mockbuster is a movie that tries to ape a big blockbuster theater release with a similar title and look, but far less budget and production values (and not always, but usually worse acting and dialogue) that tries to cash in on some of the success of whatever it’s a fairly obvious inferior imitation of.
Bound By Flame, in which you play a mercenary named Vulcan inhabited by a demon, is pretty much the video game version of a mockbuster. There might be a couple elements from other games, but it basically struck me as a constant reminder of Witcher 2. It has similar combat, crafting and coarse language.
The thing about a mockbuster is while it’s certainly inferior, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyable. So the question is, does Bound By Flame do a good enough imitation of the Witcher 2 to be enjoyable?
Your goal in Bound By Flame is to save the world from the Ice Lords. These are magicians who have gotten super powerful by draining the world and using it to raise armies of the dead. Why are they doing it? Because they are evil! (seriously, that’s my best guess as no clear motive is ever given). You are a member of a mercenary group who might finally give humanity (and Elves) a shot a defeating them when you become inhabited by a demon that gives you special powers.
The tradeoff is that that with more power from the demon, your appearance changes for the worse. But that’s all it really seems to do. Regardless of choices you make, you end up going to the same places on the same path and end up at the same destination. Some dialogue might change, but that’s about it.
Your party is made up of shallow one-note characters. Arguably the most interesting is Mathras, but only because he’s dead. That’s his whole act. You’ve got another guy who talks in third person. The stupidly “sexy evil” sorceress, and so on. You can build relationships with them, but I honestly had no urge to whatsoever.
And a big part of that is the dialogue and voice acting. It’s terrible. They try to make it “edgy” with lots of swearing, but it comes off as forced and silly most of the time. If I had to repeat a cut scene, I was pressing the “skip” button as fast as possible. Bound By Flame makes it very hard to get invested in the characters and the world and therefore care about the state of it.
The graphics aren’t completely terrible in Bound By Flame, but they aren’t much to write home about either. More on par with a game from the early days of the 360 & PS3, everything looks just a little rough around the edges. Characters will often glitch into backgrounds or animate oddly. The worst is that animation can be iffy during battle which can make timing your dodges & parries rather difficult (which I’ll talk more about when I get to the actual gameplay).
Ultimately the gameplay in Bound By Flame is it’s best asset and it almost comes together really well. The crafting is easy and understandable (and after the first act, resources are fairly easy to get). Your character can be built pretty much how you like between Warrior, Ranger & Pyromancer classes; and focusing on one build in particular doesn’t punish you severely later on, like some games tend to do if you don’t have a well-rounded build. You can equip a ton of different effects on your equipment that increase things like poison resistance, stopping power or even chances of setting enemies on fire (a personal fave). Unfortunately, you have no option of upgrading or customizing your various companions, which could’ve made for an even deeper experience.
The worst aspect of the gameplay in Bound By Flame is the poorly designed quest system. Because nothing matters. You get materials for a blacksmith, he says it’s not enough and he needs more. There was a quest to cure an apparently mortally wounded Elf prince. I skipped it and he was good as new anyways.
When the combat is working in Bound By Flame, it’s great. You’re dodging and countering, using crossbow bolts to fire from a distance, laying explosive traps for enemies to run into, it can be hard but intense and fun.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way. For one, dodging simply make you jump backwards no matter where you are. That can lead to you be cornered and slammed with several attacks at once when facing multiple enemies. Often there can also be times when there is just too much going on (usually when multiple spells are going on) and it’s hard to tell where attacks are even coming from. Companions aren’t extremely helpful (they can rarely take down enemies by themselves), but they are pretty good distractions while you need to get away and heal, restore magic or use a buff spell.
The worst aspect of the gameplay in Bound By Flame is the poorly designed quest system. Because nothing matters. You get materials for a blacksmith, he says it’s not enough and he needs more. There was a quest to cure an apparently mortally wounded Elf prince. I skipped it and he was good as new anyways. There a multiple instances where your main goal is to do stuff to strengthen a camp from a forthcoming attack and whether you do them or not doesn’t impact anything. And as I alluded to earlier, beyond your appearance, your choices in the main storyline don’t seem to make a difference either. Each act plays out pretty much the same regardless, giving no reason for a replay or even a reload.
There is something to work with in Bound By Flame. I really did enjoy the combat and customizing of my character. If there is a sequel, developer Spiders needs to build on that solid foundation and give us a better world and characters and they might actually have something special. As is, I can really only recommend Bound By Flame if you are very hard up for an action rpg and have played through virtually every other recent offering in the genre.