Stale Gamer: Review Vol. I - Joe Fathead Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Stale Gamer: Review Vol. I

Greetings, all. Both of you.

I am a relatively new member of the Gameinformer community, but I suspect a senior member at the same time. Hence the Stale moniker. I have been playing video games since my aunt bought our family a Pong home console back in nineteen (mumble mumble). I have decided, for now and until the schtick runneth thin, to indulge my grey hair and my past "best if used by" date.

I have a backlog of games as long as my arm, my other arm, and my right leg. As such, I generally do not feel the need to keep up to date with the latest releases, nor the commensurate droppage of coin necessary to do so. Pretty much the only franchises that would entice me to run out and buy the iteration of most recent vintage are Zelda and Ratchet & Clank, and even the venerable R&C are pushing it lately, though it pains me to say so. Since I am thus irrelevant, I am going to break with what I take to be the decorum of this fine web site and review games that have also passed their "best if used by" dates, and do so in the blog section. There's a good chance I'll toss in some nonsense or other to make them even less interesting. And, I expect that I would get fewer readers if I posted about years old games under their proper location. Consider these experiments in messing around. Thanks for humoring me. Both of you.

I will always endeavor to do my best to avoid spoilers, and will give ample warning when I decide to spill some measure of beans.

I thought I'd begin with a game I recently finished, but isn't itself really so terribly old. In my defense, it wasn't talked about much outside of reviewing circles even upon its release. That is Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. I'll make up categories as I go along, based on the time tested Gilligan's Island character rating scale.

 

Simply because I love this picture

 

Gameplay

Enslaved is a single player action/adventure game. Its gameplay is fairly standard fare, competently executed albeit not terribly imaginative. You run around as the good guy fighting the bad guys, employing a staff (no giggling, please) as both club and ranged weapon. There is a combo system in place, but it's not that involved, or I just wasn't very good at it. You can get away with mashing a button or two, but there is enough variety in smacking and shooting that fighting can be mixed up sufficiently across the game's rather short length (more on that later) to keep you from dropping the controller in annoyance and going back to Skyrim. There are reports of graphical glitches and cutscene dropouts, but I encountered nothing more than occasional screen tearing. I played the PS3 version, which got the lion's share of complaints. While screen tearing can interrupt immersion in a game, it wasn't too bad here.

There are also plenty of platforming segments, and these were not too inventive either. They were certainly not bad, but since the Prince of Persia series went 3D, there haven't been many games that forged new ground in this respect anyway. You are presented with ledges, poles, and other handholds that flash with color as you jump to and from them. The game directs you to them and it is very difficult to miss. While this removes most of the tension (some are timed), you also don't have to worry much about missing a jump and falling to a cheap death, a la El Shaddai. On occasion you do a little surfing on a glowy white hover board called the Cloud. This is also designed well enough, but I did find myself frustrated now and then over missing jumps on the device.

Code yellow spoiler warning: If you don't like to know anything at all about a game's premise before playing, why the hell do you read reviews? That said, please skip this paragraph. Now then, what's cool about the play is the interaction between the two main characters. You play as Monkey, an escaped slave who just wants to get away from his captors. Your companion, however, has other ideas. Her name is Trip (how she made the trip from Heavenly Sword to after-the-fall America is beyond me, but at least she got a haircut), and she has fitted you with a device that kills you if you disobey or get too far away from her. You must keep this in mind as you progress from task to task in a rather linear fashion.

The gameplay of Enslaved is not its big draw, but it doesn't hinder the game, either. I would rate the gameplay a Mrs Howell - not the reason you signed on, a secondary character, but with some lines that you didn't expect and which you got a kick out of.

Graphics

Enslaved is set in a future that has seen much of humanity exterminated. While there is a glut of games with this rather uninspiring premise, most of them seem to think that a future without us involved is destined to be bleak and colorless. Mother Nature begs to differ, and Enslaved understands this. The colors are bright, there is plenty of light, and the sky is blue and inviting. There are ruined buildings that speak of what was, but they are overgrown with life. Pick just about any other future-shock game off the shelf and you'll get the tiresome vision of greys, browns, and cloudy clouds in a steel sky. I'm sorry, but yawnsville already. In Enslaved, the palette actually enforces the melancholy of humanity's destruction, because, as far as the rest of the planet is concerned, who needs us anyway?

The character models are what you'd expect - roided up sausage fingered male playable character accompanied by va-va-voom female companion. The facial expressions are pretty darned good, though, and add to the game's value significantly. The developers used some mystical facial recognition software voodoo, and to good effect.

 

Trip remembers she left her Amex back on the bus. (Gamespot? What Gamespot?)

 

In the graphics department, I award Enslaved the coveted Mary Ann award - the foxy girl next door.

Story

The story, along with the voice acting, is where Enslaved kicks butt. Andy Serkis, he of Gollum fame, voices Monkey, and Lindsey Shaw voices Trip. Both do a super duper job, and their interaction imparts Enslaved with much of its appeal. The writing is smart, the characters are believable, and the development of their relationship is the reason you signed up for this gig. While their situation is not one you can relate to, the humanity displayed by these two is, and easily worth the price is admission. In the long debate of quantity versus quality, Enslaved - a not too long game at roughly 12 hours - brings the hammer down with authority on the quality side. They don't have to be mutually exclusive, but if I had to pick, I'll take the shorter game that draws me in over a padded out fluff-monster every time. Especially since Enslaved is now available used for a fraction of its original price. I could wax ineloquent further, but I don't want to mess it up if you haven't played it yet.

 

The glue, baby

 

For story, Enslaved receives the illustrious Jonas Grumby, a.k.a. the Skipper, my favorite character on Gilligan's Island (the Professor is a close second).

In sum, if you like a game that consists of more than blowing the snot out of faceless enemies (as therapeutic as that can be), check this one out. It's worth your time.

Speaking of time, thanks for yours. Both of you.

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