Enslaved for both the 360 and PS3 is an inspired retelling of a story that has been a huge influence on many others over the years. If you have watched any fantasy anime over the last 40 years the chances are that you have seen some influence from the tale. Ninja Theory the team behind Heavenly Sword, bring players a whole new take on the Journey to the West with Enslaved. Set in an undisclosed era of the future, Monkey and Trip must once again work together to survive their adventure. Expect to see hundreds of tiny hints towards the original story scattered through-out the game, but only those with a keen eye will be able to relate them all to the original fable (and I don’t mean the Xbox title).
Built quite obviously on the Unreal 3 engine, Enslaved is quite honestly one of the best looking titles out there. Every section of every level has been carefully crafted, while each character and enemy has been coated in detail and textures. While the game starts off looking rather average, your first expose to the outside world reveals the true beauty of the game. Outside environments are capable of taking your breath away. The sun rays are skillfully mastered to effect scenes and change the disposition of the atmosphere, however there is such as thing as to much lighting and the game does sometimes become a bit too clever for its own good.
Playing the PS3 build there were some discrepancies however. The game is fraught with very noticeable frame-rate drops as well as screen-tear. This isn’t unknown on the UT3 engine, but the frequency at which the game stutters is almost unforgivable. Thank god it makes up for it in other places. Of course the major issue of the engine is present too, with textures taking their sweet time to load up. Considering the lengths the developer went to creating such a wonderful looking world, it’s a shame your first encounter with many of the locals will be in smudge-o-vision.
The world around you can be considered on the main characters of the game. Enslaved does a great job of keeping you interested in not just the protagonists but the state of the world. With every character in the game completely unaware of the disaster that obviously destroyed the world, finding out more about it is just as interesting for you as it is for them. The inner workings of the destroyed US city (you know the one that all games are based in) are sometimes more interesting than the game play and on more than one occasion I have gone off the beaten track just to look at the distance.
The diversity of the world makes for great game play to. While one minute you might be swinging from the overgrown plant life in order to reach your objective, the next you will be scaling the hollowed out remains of a skyscraper in order to reach a crane. While the game play might become repetitive, the situations and locations do not.
The controls are simple enough for anyone that has played a third person adventure game before. However, Ninja Theory has designed the game with the kid’s gloves on. If you wish to make monkey jump, you had best have something to jump to. The function simply will not respond if the game does not believe you will make the jump, which is a blessing and a curse. Having played through a large section of the game, it became apparent that falling to your death could be easily achieved if direction wasn’t given. While at other times it appeared that Monkey could leap ridiculous distances when called upon. This means that you have to pre-predict where the game is leading you and try the jump button regardless, it’s not like you can lose.
There is the slight issue of your captor on the other hand. While incredibly useful at times, Trip will require your help to traverse the land. Fail to do so and your headband will start to go off, stray too far and it’s instant death of you. Monkey can approach Trip and place her on his back, making smaller jumps and scaling vertical surfaces a piece of cake for the pair of you. It’s not always clear sailing and sometimes you will either have to launch Trip to her destination and catch up on your own or find an item in the level in order to create a path for her.
On your journey you are bound to encounter the slavers and mechs that populate the desolate city. On several occasions you will have the option to sneak round the enemy after trip loads up to your headband the radius of their sensors. It soon becomes apparent that doing so is simply not worth it. While easy enough to do, you don’t gain any experience points for it, whereas beating them to death will supply a great deal. With absolutely no penalty for straying into dormant enemies, gamers that want to increase their abilities will find themselves choosing the fight every time.
Fights are a simple matter of using two buttons to create combos, smack an enemy enough times and the robots will crumble before you. Soon the game elevates combat with mechs that use both shields and block moves. This requires you to hold your attack button and release an electrical stun attack to break through their defense. There is also a 360 attack used to push multiple opponents away, but I must have used the move all of twice in the entire game, relying on the dodge and block functions far more.
Trip is supposed to be a concern in these fights according to the game, with her having a small EMP to stun potential attackers once before needing a recharge. Monkey will have to run to her rescue if this ever happens. ‘IF’ is a big part of this as having progressed through almost all of the game, I never had to do this apart from in the tutorial that made me. Generally if you get right into the melee, Trip will be safe from harm.
If you aren’t pummeling the enemy with your staff, you are shooting at them with something. Occasionally you will be able to steal an enemy weapon from them and turn it upon their allies, which is supported by some wonderful, animation making you feel quite the bad ass. If there isn’t anything to steal you can use your staff in a ranged offensive style. Your staff has a set amount of damage and stun shots, which can be upgraded with experience, while the ammo is easily found scattered around the levels. A standard shot will do reasonable damage, while on the other hand stun will just render the opponent useless for awhile. There is a level where you will be relying on your ranged function constantly, but the main use of the staff is boss fights.
It didn’t take an experienced gamer like me long to figure out how to deal with the problematic enemies easily. The stun shot will in fact down an enemy as long as they are in there standard animations. This basically means you can stun, beat the tar out of and then stun again the bosses. Keep it up long enough and they will be vanquished in no time at all. Not that you have to, the normal difficulty level for the game is far from likely to challenge most experienced gamers. Be warned, that for once the hard mode is what it says and bosses will give you a run for your money.
Enslaved is a strange case. While there are obvious and glaring flaws throughout the experience, everything gels so well it’s hard not to like every glitchy moment of it. The story is masterfully told through some excellent voice acting, which is heavily backed up with some of the nicest stylized animation. When looking through the genre that Enslaved sits in, it’s hard to remember the last time a good old fashioned adventure story came up and was told so well (perhaps the last was Uncharted 2?). You come to understand the motivations of characters that originally start out as 2D personalities, but develop alongside each other beautifully.
The combat may be a cake walk for most gamers, but the visceral and awesome looking animations when you bring something down is a joy to watch. Every movement looks to have been thought through to perfection with the camera angle showing every scene in all its glory. Mentioning which, the camera has not been mentioned so far as it was completely unobtrusive through the whole adventure, very rarely needing me to take control for an optimum angle.
Which a few patches this game could overcome its obvious technical flaws and become a game that everyone should own. A dystopian future that doesn’t look drab is a draw enough for those who have watched a single futuristic film since Blade Runner. While some gamers today complain at a lack of multiplayer or length of game play, the phrase ‘Quality over quantity’ springs to mind. Gaming should be about enjoying the experience, and Enslaved is genuinely enjoyable from start to finish. In a busy month of releases, it’s a worry that this one might get put into most people’s play later list, however if you want an experience that will put a smile on your face pick up Enslaved.