Republished on Wednesday 1st November 2017: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of November's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
As demoscene veterans, it's no surprise to see Polish developer Plastic's latest obsess over visual effects. Bound is a ballerina-based adventure rife with technical tricks: voxels pulsate like equalisers in the release's dream-like backdrops, particles scatter without frames ever being dropped, and fabrics contort to the shape of the main character's movements. By far the most impressive feat here, however, is the animation.
You play as a dancer, and while we've been asked not to delve into any real narrative specifics for fear of spoiling things, let's just say that your grace is used to combat everyday issues that sadly many will be able to relate to. While the main thread is perhaps a little on the nose, the storytelling leans heavily on metaphors, so you may need to play through a second time to extract every nugget of meaning. This is something that the studio actually encourages, by enabling you to alter your path through the levels.
As alluded, the animation is incredible; Plastic has hired real-world dancers and choreographers to capture the motions of the main character, and the result is unlike anything we've ever seen. The most impressive thing is how smooth it all feels; despite the complexity of the performances, you're always in total control of the protagonist, which is an incredible feat. It's particularly important too, given that this is a platformer at heart.
Unfortunately, the levels don't quite match up to the controls. There are beams to traverse and platforms to navigate, but once you get over the initial novelty of how the protagonist moves, it all begins to feel like busywork as you bumble your way to the next nugget of narrative. The game introduces a handful of platforming puzzles along the way, but there's never nearly enough variety to the traversal to hold your interest, and you'll find yourself tuning out towards the end – even though the presentation works hard to keep you engaged.
An unlockable speedrun mode underlines this issue, as while there are many manoeuvres you can explore to improve your times, we can't imagine many will bother. The race-based gameplay also appears to be at odds with the title's narrative aims; the release will often stop for cut-scenes or whisk you away to ethereal first-person scenes, which will hinder your flow when attempting to achieve a top score.
The experience comes across a little confused as a consequence: it wants to emotionally challenge you, but it also wants to be an arcade game. While the latter aspect is reserved for subsequent playthroughs, it doesn't marry the disparate elements as well as it could. And without the emotive impact of your first run, the platforming simply isn't strong enough to maintain your attention on its own. There's a rich photo mode if that's your thing, and the promise of PlayStation VR support to come on 13th October – but not much else.
Bound is beautifully presented and will make you think, but its basic platforming doesn't have the legs that developer Plastic thinks it has. Fans of emotionally charged titles like Gone Home will be satisfied with what's on offer here – but those looking for a quality platformer may want to dance with something a little more competent in that department.