The lights are on
In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.
~ Tyler Durden, Fight Club Welcome to the wasteland. Civilization has fallen and we, humanity, have lost. The machines have risen and are collecting up the last of us. For all of those unfortunate souls who paid money to see Terminator Salvation, this sounds all too familiar. A slaver ship arrives, abducts you and every other human around, and begins to cart you off. You’re trapped in a cell, no hope of escape, little hope of survival, only sure of the uncertainty which will befall you.Enter Monkey, the protagonist of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, a lone wolf and solo fighter who lives with his wits and his weapons, the latter of which is currently missing. Locked up on a slave ship heading to god-knows-where, your fate is all but sealed: slavery, possibly death, and definitely the end of your free existence.Being a video game, however, you, as the player, can be certain that this is only the beginning of the story and not the end. You’re soon rescued by Trip, the cutest, most naïve (but technically genius) Ginger on the planet. Freedom is not free however, as she outfits you with a slave headband and essentially forces you to protect and guide her as she voyages to the West, to her home and safe haven.If you haven’t figured it out, the strongest aspect of Enslaved is the story. While post-apocalyptic dystopias are a dime a dozen in modern games, the story in Enslaved, while similar to others, does a great job of making you truly care about the characters, the world, and the situation. The world is colorful, eschewing the mottled browns and greys that are all-too-common in the post-apocalypse. Bright colors flourish and the world (somehow) shines and shimmers with a hyper-realistic gloss that makes everything seem bright and sunny, no matter how far society has fallen.Complementing the visual presentation is the voice acting, the three primary players (Andy Serkis as Monkey, Lindsey Shaw as Trip, and Richard Ridings as Pigsy) do some of the best work I’ve ever seen, nee' heard, in games. The characters feel alive, with intention behind their words and emotion in their delivery. No one “phoned in” a performance, which is a rare compliment in gaming.While the story and luscious aesthetics are Enslaved’s strongest suits, the gameplay, unfortunately suffers at times. As a third-person, Action-Adventure game coming out of Ninja Theory, gamers can expect tight, fluid combat that allows for combos and masterful destruction. To this degree, there is a partial degree of success. Gaining Tech Orbs allows you to upgrade Monkey’s skills, weapons, defenses, and health. Doing so unlocks new and more powerful attacks which gradually allow you to shred through lower-level enemies. While this is all fine and good, the major drawback is with the camera, which is usually user-controlled, but occasionally fixed (often at odd angles) at the worst possible times. This rapid, drastic, and harsh shifting of perspective wrenches the gamer out of an otherwise incredibly immersive experience. Also adding to the frustration, are the camera changes in the middle of climbing and platforming segments, which can lead to a few unfair deaths.While the gameplay, at times, had slight hiccups, the biggest disappointment comes in the game’s ending.SPOILERS BELOWAs you progress through Enslaved you will come across masks that show you flashes of images from a past that is full of happiness, families, farms, a burgeoning society. When the climax arrives, you find out that these images are from the mind of one man, the man behind the Pyramid, the man who has captured the last remaining humans and hooked them into a neural network that does nothing but feed them pretty pictures of an idyllic past. They’re all plugged in, blissfully unaware of the calamites that have fallen upon earth, wasting away as machines (in essence) rule the wasteland.Sound familiar? It should. Because it’s The Matrix. END SPOILERSAfter thoroughly enjoying the game, nothing spoiled it more for me than a lifted, blatantly plagiarized ending that felt so disingenuous that I wanted to spit.On the achievement front, you can expect the basics of collecting kills through various means, a few difficult time challenges, and finishing the game on different difficulties. In short, it’s nothing that completionists should fear.In the end, perhaps Tyler Durden is right, perhaps there are no “unique and beautiful snowflakes” when it comes to endings and we should just enjoy the pretty accumulation of generic snow. In my opinion, however, gamers deserve better. A game as enjoyable as Enslaved deserved better, and so do gamers. With top-notch story and presentation values, Enslaved looks and feels like a great game. Unfortunately, average combat and terrible ending end up marring the experience. Thus, like many other games, Enslaved is an enjoyable game that falls short of elite status.
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