A likeable lead character goes a long way. Bound By Flame's hero is a weird asshole. "You don't look much like a good luck charm, you ugly fuck," she comments to the first boss. You want that creature to spit back: "Who *does* look like a good luck charm? Is that even a saying?" Later on, a mission is accepted with "I'm not helping you because you made puppy eyes at the captain". The entire script feels like it's been plucked randomly from a book of English idioms. At times, it borders on art.
Bound By Flame's combat forces thoughtfulness. Head-on bravado is punished by an inability to take on multiple foes effectively, and your arsenal is padded out by traps, magic and stealth. Magic is earned when a ritual goes skew-iff, sealing a demon in your body, and this demon provides some pleasantly grey moral choices. Because you're such a dick, the demon seems perfectly reasonable, and there are precious few good people in the world. Just don't expect momentous decisions to have that much of an effect in the world, as the illusion of impact is pretty thin.
Combat involves choosing between the Warrior stance, with more powerful attacks, and a shield-breaking kick. Well-timed parrying opens up a window for a boosted counter-attack. The Ranger stance gives you faster, weaker attacks, but also gives you the chance to enter stealth mode. In stealth, you can creep around in black and white and deliver bonus damage on your first strike. The whole blend of combat is remarkably similar to Spiders' previous game, Mars: War Logs - but stealth feels less effective. Enemies have such high HP, that that boosted damage hardly seems worth it.
There's a crafting system, too - and it's as senseless as the script. Basic ingredients can be crafted out of gold, then combined into rarer items. Ten gold becomes a raw metal, four raw metal becomes refined metal. Then, you can make steel with a combination of refined metal, leather and tainted blood. Because that's what steel is. Ask anyone!
You get stronger along three skill trees. One boosts your Warrior stance, boosting your ability to interrupt enemy attacks, and parry and counter from more angles and with greater ease. Another is for Rangers, with critical boosts and stealth helpers. The third is your demon-based fire attacks, which either boost the power, or reduce their impact on your severely limited mana pool. Running alongside the skill trees are feats, which you unlock with a combination of in-game actions and point-spending. This is all familiar, and fine - even if many of the skills feel like stat adjusts, rather than new powers.
Spiders has a combat system that's workable, and just occasionally rewarding. If you can enjoy the fact that none of it makes sense, and that your decisions have limited impact on the world or the story (beyond the odd armour bonus), then there's some pleasure to be had from this B-movie car-crash of a game.
Conclusion: There's a strange charm to Bound By Flame that helps paper over the performance issues. There's a well-acted but profoundly bewildering script, a baroque crafting system, and drawn-out boss battles. It's not great, but it's fairly... interesting.
- You feel like you're in an alien world
- There's an enemy shaped like a genital
- Will greatly boost your crap immunity
- It fair old chugs along, to be honest
- Script goes beyond so-bad-its-good
- Likeable characters number roughly zero