The lights are on
I just finished Enslaved
and I have to say that I have a love/hate relationship with it. The
talented developers at Ninja Theory had a lot of great ideas going in
to this game but failed to capitalize on them with the final product.
The story and characters
in Enslaved are two of its biggest strengths. You play Monkey, which
is probably the most ridiculous name of any video game protagonist to
date. A fun fact about Monkey is that Andy Serkis, famous for his
portrayal of Gollum in New Line Cinema's Lord of the Rings movies,
does both the motion capture and voice work for him. You start the
game imprisoned on a merc ship. One thing leads to another and you
are eventually freed and manage to escape the crashing vessel. When
you awaken from the crash you find another escape prisoner beside
you. This is Trip (another really dumb name but another character
that I ended up really liking). Before I move on, I just want to say
that Trip looks extremely similar to Nariko from Heavenly Sword,
another game developed by Ninja Theory. A coincidence? I think not.
Anyway, you awaken to find that Trip has implanted a headband into
your skull and you are now under her control. You must do as she
commands or suffer a great deal of pain. Turning on her is not an
option for Monkey either because if her heart stops, he dies as well.
Monkey soon comes to terms that he has no option but to help her in
returning home. Another cool anecdote is that this is actually a
re-telling of an ancient Chinese tale.
Monkey acts as Trip's
bodyguard and guide but despite this it never felt like one giant
escort mission to me and I commend Ninja Theory on this. The
relationship between Monkey and Trip that builds as the game
progresses is one that I enjoyed seeing play out. The two even meet a
friend along the way who kept me laughing. The voice acting of these
three main characters was very strong and I even enjoyed some of the
Enslaved does a lot of
things right and one thing that is extremely apparent right away is
the art style. Even though the game technically takes place in a
post apocalyptic setting, the world looks absolutely gorgeous Colors
are bright and rich and the game is very pleasant to look at. That's
the big picture though. When you examine things more closely you'll
find that they don't really look all that great. I noticed a fair
amount of texture popping as well but the overall look of the game is
Moving past the visuals,
the gameplay itself is where I found things that Enslaved gets wrong.
Simply put, the game is way too easy and never stops holding your
hand. Many games hold your hand at the beginning to allow you to get
familiar with how to play and then let you have more freedom with the
tools available afterward. Enslaved doesn't do this and anyone who
is even somewhat familiar with how to play a video game will feel
insulted by the lack of challenge.
Platforming and combat are
the two main gameplay types and both have problems. To begin with
the platforming, the game always highlights where you need to go.
This immediately takes any additional thinking from the player and
really makes you feel like you are just following shiny bread crumbs
all the time. Sure, most of the environments that you are
platforming in are wonderfully designed and are a sight to behold.
Many sequences feel really epic with set piece moments that are grand
in scale. You can tell the team did a great job crafting these
cinematic sequences but the fact that you always know where to jump
next takes some of that wonder and excitement out of the experience.
The fact is gamers don't need glowing objects to know where to go.
We aren't stupid and some examples of games that get this right are
Uncharted and Assassin's Creed.
Another drawback to the
platforming is the fact that most of the time it is impossible to
fall and die. Mistakes and consequences are just a part of what
makes a video game and removing that risk is unnecessary. I
literally should have fallen so many times during my adventure but
even if I tried to I just physically couldn't. Besides these two
major issues the platforming is overall pretty fun and fluid. I did
occasionally have trouble with it and I can attribute some of this to
the camera but when the platforming works as intended it makes you
feel pretty awesome.
Now we get to combat. The
combat sequences were honestly where I got the most frustrated with
Enslaved. While it felt pretty brutal as a whole the combat really
lacks depth. I always found myself button mashing. Even with
upgrades I never enjoyed myself as much as I wanted to. Much of this
may be attributed to recently playing the excellent Bayonetta but I
will try not to compare the two too much here. Most of the time the
combat sections just felt super repetitive and I felt as if the game
was just sending wave after wave of enemies at me. Besides some cool
boss fights, I found the basic mech enemies to be extremely dull and
uninteresting in design. I do highly recommend upgrading as much as
possible because it does help make combat more bearable but looking
back I probably was enjoying myself the least when I was fighting the
standard mechs. I also found the AI to be really dumb and cheap.
Some have extremely long combos that are just impossible to avoid.
Even when I dodged the combo it still managed to hit me because I
just couldn't get far enough away. The camera also became
problematic during combat. One thing I did like about the combat was
the takedowns. Sure they were simple but they were satisfying
Another unnecessary aid
with almost any new area was the fact that Trip scans ahead almost
every time with her dragonfly and you consequently always know what
you are up against. Enemies are highlighted for you and your
objective is always clearly illustrated. Aside from the melee combat
Monkey also gets to shoot projectiles from his staff. This was fun
and helped keep things fresh but I didn't appreciate the poor hit
Besides the platforming
and standard combat sequences the game does do a nice job of
injecting some much needed variety. Puzzles are pretty simple but
they do break things up. You also get to ride this thing called a
cloud that resembles a surf board. I found these parts to be very
fun and entertaining and there were a few cool boss fights that
implemented the cloud. I just wish it was used more.
All in all, Enslaved has a
lot of good ideas and does much right but I felt it did a lot wrong
too. Combat can feel like a chore and platforming is just too
streamlined and restricted. I enjoyed the world Ninja Theory crafted
here and I would have liked it to be a little more open for me to
explore. Sure there were a few hidden collectibles but nothing that
truly tempted me to go out of my way. As much fun as I did have with
it I also felt that the game could have really benefited from
playtesting because there are some rough parts and various design
decisions that detract from the overall experience. It really needed
some more polish. I did enjoy the story and characters and some of
the set piece moments were memorable and will stick with me. The
game is pretty short but I really appreciated the ending.
Frustrations aside, I'm really glad I played Enslaved and I do
recommend it if you are looking for something a little different and
are able to put up with some oversimplified gameplay.
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