Back in June 2021, I came across an intriguing demo during ‘Summer Game Fest’ from Dutch developers Black Cube Games. The demo impressed me a lot and I have been waiting to play and review the full game ever since. Originally scheduled to be released in the Spring the title was released in July with so little fanfare that I completely missed its arrival on Xbox. My big question is, was it worth the wait? Join me as I try to answer that question in the Xbox Era review of ‘The Tale of Bistun.’
Described as a ‘Story-driven/Isometric/Action-Adventure game’ based on a tragic story from Persian legend called “Khosrow and Shirin” it has a striking visual aesthetic. It is not ground breakingly stunning to look at but is of high quality considering how small the development team is and along with the amazing traditional musical score creates an atmosphere that works perfectly to convey the tale being told.
Where am I?
Waking up with no memory of who he is, a stone carver sets off to discover his identity and uncover his past. The mountain he finds himself on has been blighted and he is required to battle the now hostile local wildlife and release trees from the supernatural crystal that is squeezing the life out of them. While jumping between this and a ‘realm of lost memories’ the almost familiar whisper of an anonymous narrator constantly pleads with him to tunnel further into the mountain. Will this reveal the truth about his situation? Orr does he risk coming face to face with the terrifying adversary known as Bistun? Not wanting to give away any spoilers I will leave players to find that out for themselves.
The source material is very highly regarded in Persian culture and is treated with the respect that it deserves. The story narration is great in fact, all of the voice acting is of such a high standard that it is easy to get swept up in the story that is being told. The environmental soundtrack delivers to such a high standard that it is possible to hear the wind rustling through the leaves of the trees, the squarks of exotic birds and the wandering of animals that solely appear in the background as decoration.
As briefly already mentioned, the musical score is something else that caught my attention on numerous occasions. The range of traditional Persian music on display throughout the game is really impressive and could compete with the offerings of far bigger developers. For a small indie game, the all-around experience delivered is well worth the relatively small price tag of the title. In my opinion, this would fit very well onto Game Pass if it is brought to the attention of the right people at Xbox.
Gameplay consists of traversing the landscape and battling foes in what is described as ‘fast-paced, tactical melee combat’. The fighting is simple (being based on two buttons) but it is fun. Starting with only two carving axes you can soon progress to a more powerful pickaxe and eventually a heavy-duty weapon that I like to refer to as ‘MC Hammer’. Enemies encountered ranged from small Ghouls and Carrion birds to Knights with spears, Ogres, Grenadiers and giant Deevs.
Progress is rewarded with a powerful ‘Active Ability’ for each weapon type which becomes increasingly required as the number of enemies being faced multiplies. A cooldown is built into these special attacks so running, dodging and rolling soon become second nature whilst waiting for the meter to refill. It is worth noting that weapons can only be changed at certain locations and cannot be switched at will. Personally, I stuck with heavier weapons after acquiring them.
Following a brightly coloured Hoopoe bird around the mountain showing you where to go next, it is a requirement to traverse ledges and slides, carve your memories into rock faces and create statues of the main characters from your past.
Portals need to be discovered within the mountain. These are used to transport the stone carver to an alternative realm known as the ‘Celestial Revelations Realm of Lost Memories and Forgotten Souls.’ Removing the crystalline blight from these areas kicks off the retelling of memories with the aid of statues. Once these have been completed players are transported back to the mountainside.
Look to the Stars
Eating an enchanted Poegranite or carving into the mountainside itself at the end of a level rewards the player with a cut scene showing a memory of the past. These are delivered in a format that uses stars in the night sky which is both original and effective. When pieced together all of the recovered memories paint a concise picture of what is going on.
When all is finally revealed after a well-designed three-stage Boss battle players are asked to make a very important choice and the game finishes. I was so interested in what had come to pass that I went back and made the other choice to see what would happen. This was easy to do without much replay being required which indicates that the developers want people to go back and see both endings.
Rounding things off, The Tale of Bistun left me feeling very impressed. Sure, there are bigger and better games out there and the gameplay mechanics are limited and slightly repetitive but for the price, this game is well worth checking out. This is a classic tale that is worth hearing and is presented in a way that does not outstay its welcome. It is rare for a piece of Persian culture to be celebrated using the medium of video games and this is a piece of work that Black Cube Games should be proud of.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC|
|Release Date||July 13th, 2022|
|Developer||Black Cube Games|
|Publisher||Black Cube Games|