10 Nov 2010

Enslaved (PS3) Review

Game: Enslaved
Platform: PS3
Genre: Action Adventure
Overall Score: 7/10
Comment: Enslaved is a game loosely based on the Journey to the West novel, where the protagonists Monkey and Trip travel together to bring her home. Circumstances force our musclehead hero Monkey to have to obey our damsel in distress. The premises redefined, it was a very different take to the original source material, but it came together rather nicely to tell its own game.

I must admit that when I decided to pick Enslaved up, it was because of the promise of an engaging tale. Perhaps those expectations were too high. While character interactions were nicely fleshed out over the entire tale, plot development was sluggish and highly reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII, and the charming conversations between characters usually have clumsy set pieces littered between them. In fact, in my personal opinion (You are certainly entitled to yours), the story up until the end was rather bland and generic, and the only really interesting bit of the story came at the end.

Visually, Enslaved is a beautiful and stunning game. The world represented is vibrant, the environments sufficiently detailed, and the level designs do not leave you the impression they were recycled or lazily designed. The animations were slightly jerky at times, and frame rates show slight signs of slowing down in a few occasions, but it’s nothing unbearable. Special mention goes to the voice-acting, which was top-notch, often carrying the characters’ emotions in a believable manner and bringing the game to life. The music, while not necessarily spectacular, fit with the atmosphere of the game well, and none of them struck as inadequate or overused.

The other minor grudges I have with the presentation come with the object placement and platforming of the game. The interactive environments and the crevices in platforming come across as extremely arbitrarily placed. Having played Uncharted 2 and Assassin’s Creed, the feeling that you could climb anywhere and anything were strong in both games. The scaling routes, while usually obvious, never pressured you into feeling the developers are placing big signboards that read ‘GO HERE NEXT’. A series of flashing boxes, flashing protruding poles extending out of buildings in equal distances, mostly having absolutely nothing to do with the infrastructure made me feel that Ninja Theory were forcing the platforming a little too much.

The gameplay is where Enslaved’s reputation takes a huge dent. Ninja Theory, in my opinion, tried too hard to do everything. They combined action, first-person shooting, platforming, puzzle-solving, all in a single package. While the end product managed to gel reasonably nicely, I do end up feeling that they should have dropped some aspects of the game to focus on other areas. That’s not to say that the core mechanics in the game are bad, it just comes across as ‘could have been better’ in all the mentioned areas.

The combat is simplistic; I never had high expectations coming into this game, so it didn’t strike me as disappointing or terrible. It does become somewhat a chore, because enemies and bosses make repeated appearances and the environment rarely plays a part in the set pieces. In addition, due to the nature of the upgrade progression and the lack of additional weapons, you never really feel like Monkey gets a lot stronger, and what you have been doing since the early stages of the game work later on as well. There aren’t many ways to carry out your job. On a positive note, the feedback you receive after every blow dealt does leave a nice sense of impact and satisfaction. The first-person shooting part of the game comes as a sort of a frustration inducing element. I don’t really have an issue with it since I do pride myself in having a certain degree of skill, but it does come across as a kind of contradiction to the accessible combat and platforming sections of the game.

Platforming is a major portion of the game. It makes up the other half of what you do while in control of Monkey and naturally, it would draw comparisons with other competitors of the field. Perhaps I have been spoilt by developers who have integrated platforming into action games seamlessly, (Yes, Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed, I’m looking at you two again.) the platforming in Enslaved comes across as rather lackluster. Being incredibly linear, the mechanics decreed that you shall not make a jump unless there is a shiny glistening platform ahead of you and within reach. It holds your hand like you are blind and the only challenges come in when environmental hazards are introduced or the path you are supposed to take is not clear and a turret has been shooting at you.

It also takes time to coax precise movement out of Monkey, whether on foot or on cloud. The movement in Enslaved is typically jerky, and without a button-triggered cover system (presumably a developer design decision to cater to more casual gamers), you tend to move in and out of cover or into the firing line of a turret unwillingly a bit too often for a normal person’s liking. The cloud is also painful to steer, and in levels where speed and precision is required, you tend to rely more on your memory than your reflexes.

The camera is another source of annoyance. Usually, it does its job and shows you what you need to see while navigating. But it has a tendency to go too close or out of control in the middle of battle, and it is a source of frustration against a boss where the cloud is necessary, mainly due to the fact it’s hard to get the camera to show you what you need to see.

While bugs do not occur often, when it happens it does sour the experience a bit. I have had 3 occasions of Monkey or necessary characters disappearing on me, forcing me to restart from the last checkpoint as the required event does not trigger. One of them had me restart at the beginning of the chapter even though there was another clear option of a checkpoint placement.

There is little to do after completing the game as I don’t feel a strong desire to revisit any of the set pieces, and for completionists, the lack of a good interface to point out what exactly you’re missing makes it a troublesome task to tread the previous chapters. (Though that is more of a flaw in terms of design choice, since 100% tech orbs are required) I criticize the game, but overall, it was still a decent journey, and most of the problems I raised are nuances that can be lived with or overcome with some practice. Still, ideally, a game should be accessible. Without giving away any spoilers, given the way the story ended, you can count on Ninja Theory to provide a sequel, and maybe then they would have addressed many of the issues highlighted. Enslaved is certainly a piece with strong foundations, deserving of a sequel.

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