Do you remember a bizarre interactive art game released for PS3 called Linger in Shadows? If not, let me refresh your memory. It’s that weird game (if you can call it that) which featured a cat, tentacle robots, and a flying Basset Hound. I can’t recall if I actually played it, but it’s certainly something I’ve never forgotten. Sadly, It wasn’t well-received due to its obscure nature, but one thing was clear: Plastic, the little Polish studio who developed it, have a bold and inventive imagination. Following this, they experimented with motion controls and released another interactive art game called Datura on the PS3, which was perhaps a bit more conventional, but also received mixed reviews. However, for Bound, their third title, Plastic stepped beyond their usual forte to craft something that’s artistic but also unmistakably a game.
In Bound, you take on the role of a pregnant woman who has arrived at a deserted beach for reasons unknown to the player. The nameless woman waves goodbye to her husband as she steps out of the car and slowly makes her way towards the water, feet sinking into the sand with each gloriously animated step. Admittedly, the character faces aren’t much to look at, but the engine is smooth as butter, the colours are vivid, and that sand animation–oh boy! Eventually, you’ll find a place to sit before opening a diary that’s filled with hand-drawn pictures. It’s implied that this is her diary, and, within it, memories from her childhood. As the player, you then have the ability to interact with these pages in any order of your choosing to enter another world within her imagination that is fuelled by powerful metaphor and imagery.
The Otherworld is designed in a twisted and alien fashion that’s uniquely defined by its vivid colours and many shapes. It’s a place where reality is in a constant state of flux, gravity and physics operate by different rules, and where it only appears to be solid while being interacted with. Players will take control of a princess character who has been tasked by her mother to save the kingdom from an invading monster, and that’s all the context you will need to get going. The protagonist of the Otherworld story is characterised by her alien-like helmet and general movement that is said to be inspired by modern dance. Although, it’s clear she’s just an avatar for the pregnant woman. Immediately you’ll notice the princess dances wherever she goes, which might sound a bit weird, but it’s so graceful it compliments the visuals.
Visually speaking, Bound is a fantastic accomplishment, and I think it deserves consideration for that reason alone as it’s a real sensory experience. It’s highly dynamic too, and changes based on the order you choose to take—both in its appearance and the pathways available. This is subtly implemented, much like the music, which is also excellent. We already knew Plastic were capable of creating captivating art, though, and this is no exception. The gameplay itself, however, is another story. On one hand, it’s functional and well-animated, but on the other, it feels clunky when you need to do something precise and also doesn’t adhere to a clear set of rules when you’re confronted with danger. It’s not bad or broken, just mildly awkward; although this is a problem when you consider it was made for speed running.
My first instinct was to compare Bound with Journey because of the audio/visual focus and it being designed around a metaphor. However, that was not the case after I finished my first playthrough (two hours, for reference). While there is room for exploration, it all started to feel routine after a few stages, and I also felt extremely at odds with the speed running. Not just because the controls are mildly awkward, but because the underlining story is supposed to have a strong emotional resonance, so shoe-horning such a gamey mechanic into this type of experience felt wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what they were aiming for as I was able to relate with the main theme on a personal level. But in saying that, the ending scenario also didn’t manage to stir anything deep within me, I simply empathised with it.
Much like all of Plastic Studio’s previous work, Bound is yet another fantastic expression of art. It’s also a stunning and unique audio/visual experience that deserves to be experienced on those merits alone. However, the fact remains that the underlining game is just okay. When you first enter the wildly imaginative Otherworld, it is easy to lose yourself in how bizarre and incredible it looks, and the inspiration taken from modern dance is captivating, to say the least. I also appreciate what they were trying to do with the narrative—it’s a compelling idea, and the ability to replay and interpret the story in different ways is interesting—but it also had very little emotional impact on me. In all, Bound is short, the gameplay isn’t overly refined or diverse, and the implementation of speed running feels out of place, but I still enjoyed my time with it. With a VR release just on the horizon, though, that is where I think this game could realise its potential.