The lights are on
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was one of those titles I was intrigued by, but ultimately didn't have time to play. I was a fan of Ninja Theory's other work Heavenly Sword
and love Andy Serkis with a passion, so I picked it up a while after
release on the cheap. And I have to say, I'm glad I did because the
story is fantastic... but the game itself has a couple of prominent flaws that hold it back.
Enslaved tells the story (apparently loosely based on a famous Chinese fable called Journey to the West...
I've personally never read it, but hear it is fantastic) of a misfit
with the rather apt moniker of Monkey (Andy Serkis). The tale starts as
Monkey is fleeing a burning slave ship with a young woman named Trip
(Lindsey Shaw, who is also very good in her role).
But after a bumpy landing, Monkey awakes to discover Trip has attached a slave headband to him. She enslaves
him... see? Trip has set it so that he will feel a blast of pain at her
command. Hopefully, this will keep him compliant. And if he gets any
clever ideas (like snapping her neck for instance) the headband will
unleash a lethal dose. If she dies, then so shall he (you can already
see the basic gameplay coming into shape can't you?)
end result is that they are stuck together; an unlikely duo. She
promises that if Monkey can get her home, then she will release him.
Problem is her home is three hundred miles across the wasted ruins of
the Eastern seaboard crawling with evil robots... she can't do it alone.
And while she abhors herself for what she had to do to poor Monkey, she
had no choice. While I don't want to give too much away, the story
develops about as you would expect (barring a brilliant ending that I
didn't see coming). It's at times heartfelt and poignant, at times
funny, and at times exciting.
It's funny, I'm not sure
if it's the writing or the brilliant performances put in by the cast
but I can't honestly remember the last time I was so absorbed
with the story and characters in a game. I can tell you that the
astonishing facial animations along with the brilliant voice work and
motion capture of Andy Serkis, give these slightly cartoonish characters
an unbelievable amount of personality. I can't honestly think of a game
where raw emotion has been so well captured, it really is quite
impressive. It's in the eyes...
But it's the gameplay and design where Enslaved
is really a bit of a head scratcher (please imagine a monkey scratching
his head... thank you). There are some really cool elements at play
here... but they don't go anywhere. Monkey has a staff that serves as
his primary weapon. You have your standard light and heavy attacks
that can be mixed up to form combos. These are perfectly satisfying, but
don't evolve at all. The combat is essentially the same from beginning
to end. I don't know if it's because I read about this problem in other
reviews, but I couldn't seem to get that thought out of my head... it
became more obvious the longer I played that I was simply spamming the
same attacks over and over.
The other thing is the platforming. Monkey lives up to his name, climbing acrobatically all over pretty much everything. It looks
amazing (the animations look great the first few times but quickly
become repetitive)... but it's actually surprisingly easy. If Monkey can
jump from one place to the next, he will do so, but if he can't then he
won't... so you won't end up leaping to your death like you do in other
games (Assassin's Creed for example). At first this might not
seem like such a bad thing, but by removing any inherent difficulty that
comes from the decidedly risky endeavor of climbing around
simian-style, the truth is it actually makes things a little boring as
all you are doing is watching the same animations ad nauseum. For such
an agile chap, it's surprising where he can't go if you see what I mean...
there is Trip. Monkey must protect her, that's part of the deal. You
only play as Monkey, but can control Trip from a menu of preset actions.
You can tell her to wait or create a diversion, things like that. If
she does get cornered she will release an EMP blast to stun the bad
bots, but it takes a while to recharge so you have to be on your toes.
On the whole though she seems to stay out of the way pretty well.
of the bigger complaints for me is the camera. It's sort of a
pseudo-360 degree camera that the player controls some of the time...
but it only seems to work properly half the time. There seem to
be a lot of invisible barriers that interfere with the camera as you are
panning around. This causes rapid zooms or worse, leaving you staring
right into a wall. It can make combat frustrating. Other times the
camera will randomly change to a different perspective when you enter a
new area. If you had Monkey running in a certain direction the change in
angle means he'll suddenly take a right turn into a brick wall. It's
not a game breaker, it's just annoying.
facial animations are some of the very best I've seen, the rest of the
game is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to graphics. Some of the
environments are stunningly vibrant and rich. But upon closer inspection
some parts are almost last-gen quality. It's a weird dichotomy. But
with the market over-saturated with post apocalyptic wastelands colored
in browns and grays it's nice to see some color at the end of the world.
Then there are the orbs... oh, those orbs! Trip can
upgrade Monkey's staff or shield if he collects red orbs from fallen
foes or finds them on their travels. And that ain't hard because they
are everywhere... I enjoy running around each level and checking
every nook and cranny (I do that anyway) but this is a bit ridiculous.
It feels more like a chore...
I really enjoyed Enslaved,
but felt that as good as it was it could have been better. Bashing the
snot out of the mechanical menace is pretty fun, but it does get fairly
stale. Taking the combat mechanics from God of War or even Heavenly Sword
would have given the player more options to keep the action fresh. The
camera can be a pain in the butt. The platforming looks cool, but offers
no real challenge. I would have loved to be more free in that respect, I
think Assassin's Creed climbing mechanics with this story would
have been awesome. But all in all, I think it's worth checking out
simply for the 'Steam-punk version of The Matrix' story and the wonderful performances put in by Andy Serkis and Lindsey Shaw.
Score = 8.0 / 10
I'm halfway through it now and combat aside, I think it's so awesome.