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For: Xbox One
From: Deep Silver
REVIEWED BY BEN ALLAN
Feeling a bit stuck in one place at the moment? Not to worry; here’s Windbound, which lets you travel overseas to exotic new locations without even leaving your lounge - and with no quarantine on arrival, to boot.
A rogue-like survival game, Windbound has players assume the role of Kara, a young woman of a pre-industrial seafaring culture who suffers a calamity at sea at the opening of the game and washes up on a small, barren island with little more than a knife to her name. How’s our shipwrecked heroine to survive? Looking around, she’ll find some tall grass to cut down. Harvest a few grasses, and she can make a grass rope. Combine that with some more grass, and she can lash together a grass canoe. And so it’s off to sea, the setting for much of the game.
Each of Windbound’s five stages plops Kara in a large, unmapped ocean area with islands scattered around it, different each time you play. Among the islands, she’ll find the resources she needs to stay alive, but also three mystical towers, remnants of an ancient civilisation of some kind. If she activates these three towers, she’ll open the portal to a mystical realm that drops a bit of visual storytelling, then makes her sail a stormy channel to the next ocean area.
Ah, but there’s a catch. Like most of us, Kara goes through life with slowly diminishing stamina levels, and so in between bouts of exploration you’ll be putting her through the work she needs to do to combat that; foraging for, cooking and eating food. This mostly involves preying upon the wildlife that roam the larger islands, which start small and mostly unintimidating, but grow in threat until you are facing some seriously dangerous beasties. But if Kara manages to kill a pig, she can collect a bone. With a bone, she can upgrade her pointy stick to a more damaging bone-tipped spear . . . and so on.
If you’ve played survival games before, you’ll know the deal here; explore, discover new resources and beasts, exploit and kill them, cobble some animal bits together in a new way, and move on as a better-equipped and fed Kara than you were before. It’s a familiar gameplay loop, but Windbound brings a couple of attractive positives to it - its ocean setting, where you sail off at the horizon not sure what you’ll find, and the sailing itself.
As well as better personal gear, Kara is also going to need a bigger boat, and you’ll step things up from grass canoe to giant wooden constructions of your own configuration that Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway could only have dreamed of. Materials and design will affect your boat’s handling, and you’ll need some sailing skills, too; finally, here is a video game for the tacking and jibing enthusiast. That might sound a bit silly, but the game is at its best when you’re out on the waves and belting along on the wind, dodging coral, rocks and more that could spell disaster.
There are some stakes there too, as if you opt for the game’s survival mode, death will send Kara all the way back to the start of the first stage, with only the equipment she was carrying to show for it - say goodbye to your painstakingly assembled trimaran. It’s brutal, but for those that can’t face the idea of all those hours of lost progress, there’s also a gentler ‘‘storytelling’’ option that retains your progress at each stage.
It’s pretty nifty - the art style pops, the music is good, and there’s a real sense of atmosphere - but there are some notable letdowns. Combat is unsatisfying, with most creatures tactically bested as soon as you climb on to a shin-high rock. The survival mechanics often force you to stop the fun bits of the game to do the busy work of eating. And while the various island types and their resources and technologies are fun to discover the first time through, there’s not a huge amount of depth to it all, which makes further playthroughs - and restarts - repetitive despite the geographical rearrangement.
If you’re looking for a colourful alternate world to spend an escapist hour or two in, you could do worse. Sail away - but don’t eat any raw meat!