It’s hard to talk about Bound without sounding a little bit like you’ve lost the plot, especially when some of the game’s themes can’t be talked about because of ‘spoilers’ and the game as a whole can only really be discussed properly if this secret theme is known. What I can say is that for the majority of Bound you play as a ballerina. That is actually the least strange thing about Bound, a PS4 exclusive that feels 30 per cent Mirror’s Edge Time Trial Levels and 70 per cent independent arthouse film.
When you are running around as a ballerina, which is about 90 per cent of the game, Bound is a blocky yet visually arresting 3D platform adventure game. It feels a bit like if modern Tomb Raider had been created by with a Suprematism, Concretism, and Neoplasticism brush (Google them, I did), and had all the combat removed. That doesn’t make much sense, I’m sorry. It’s just pretty tricky to explain what Bound is.
When you’re a ballerina, a monster is threatening to destroy the world – not the world we live in, an abstract world. Naturally your mother asks you to help stop the monster. While this isn’t a normal chore, like cleaning your room or doing the dishes, you haven’t got much choice so you dance around the numerous stages with aplomb, moving with the grace of a classically trained ballerina – which is no coincidence, seeing as all the movements were mo-capped by a real dancer. I say dance, but really it’s kind of an artistic walk/run, which out of context would likely look like an ill judged Monty Python sketch. In context it’s just sometimes a bit odd and occasionally awkward.
You can make your character dance, but this is proper ballet/olympic gymnast floor routine type stuff, not stood on the top of a bus in The Division acting like a prick. It’s used as a mechanic to overcome certain obstacles the game throws at you. You can also jump, glide up and down ribbon, do a kind of cartwheel dodge, and speed along spiraling narrow paths like Bowser on Rainbow Road in a theatre production by the Royal Ballet Company. I expect most of these have proper ballet names. I don’t know what they are.
The whole thing looks incredible, the blocky world in perpetual, pulsating motion and bathed in glorious sunlight. An evocative orchestral score goes hand in hand with the game’s aesthetic, creating one of the more impressive visual and aural experiences on the PS4. Like Abzu, Journey, and other games of that ilk, Bound isn’t a game that will test you. The gameplay is simple and failing is never more than a minor blip on the way to the story’s conclusion. Bound is about discovering the tale being told and interpreting it. Not that I can talk about what that is, but I can see it hitting some people harder than others.
Having said that, bizarrely, a speed running menu is unlocked after your first play through. Here you can compete with others to whiz through the chapters as quickly as possible, with numerous areas offering different routes and making use of advanced traversal techniques essential. For me the gameplay isn’t nuanced enough to make this a major plus point, which explains why I was surprised to see the mode unlock.
What’s more appealing, given the incredible scenes on view, is the excellent photo mode. You can tweak loads of settings, add filters, throw on some logo graphics, and move the camera pretty much anywhere you want. The game isn’t especially long, clocking in at around four hours or so, but there are reasons to play through again, on top of the speed running and picture taking.
There’s more to be said about Bound, on forums and social media. For me I felt the game didn’t quite hit home like it intended to, its emotional punch registering but falling slightly flat and feeling a little ham-fisted despite obvious good intentions. It’s the kind of experience that is likely to resonate very differently across the user base, so if you fancy a game that is a unique experience, don’t let this critique put you off entirely. The 10 per cent of the game that isn’t spent as a ballerina, which I haven’t talked about, certainly makes Bound a game that will get people talking.