Gamersyde Review: Enslaved
Many games are hitting shelves at this time of the year and it is difficult to cover them all. As we are a small team, we unfortunately have to choose which titles will get a detailed Gamersyde Review. To start October, we chose the new game from Heavenly Sword’s creators. Follow me inside for the complete review of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West accompanied, for once, by a bunch of videos taken from both versions of the game.
Free adaptation of the famous Chinese novel Journey to the West (which also inspired Akira Toriyama for Dragon Ball), Enslaved's main ambition is to embark players upon an odyssey that will follow the adventures of Trip and Monkey. Two protagonists who are diametrically opposed, Trip being fragile and attached to her clan, and Monkey a lone wolf armed for survival in a hostile world apparently controlled by machines. Two heroes who will have to stick together in an epic story whose narration was the object of a quite particular attention. We must admit that, with director Alex Garland (28 days later, Sunshine or The Beach) behind the scenario of the game, we could expect something good.
Forced to help Trip to go back home because of the slave headband she fixed on his head (see our video of the demo of the game to find out more), Monkey will nevertheless need the talents of the young woman to survive. Story of a permanent co-dependence, Enslaved succeeds where many other games fail, developing a strong relationship between both main characters and thus making them very interesting for the player. Thanks to efficient cutscenes and a good character modeling, it will be difficult not to embark upon this great journey. Reminding the Prince of Persia of 2008 or both Uncharted titles, the work on the characters is undoubtedly a great part of the success of the game.
It is not long before the player realizes that Monkey needs Trip as much as she needs his. Thanks to her computer skills, she is for example able to use a decoy that will allow Monkey to avoid enemy fire. To do that, provided the gauge is full, simply use the circular menu (L1/Lb) every time that a diversion is needed. Trip is also able to scan the area to reveal hidden mines or lurking enemies. This ability however, is automatically triggered when you first visit a new place thanks to a little device found in chapter two which is perfectly integrated in the universe of the game.
The HUD itself is justified by the scenario at the beginning of the adventure. It is maybe an easy way to explain it but after all most games don’t even take the time to justify its presence (health and shield bars, objectives, ammo etc). But let’s come back to Trip’s talents if you don't mind. Apart from allowing Monkey to upgrade his skills (which we shall talk about more later), she will also give him strategic information about his enemies (weapon type, shield or not, technical failures etc) and, before maybe opening the gates to her heart, she will have to unlock many doors so they can continue their adventure.
Now that we introduced a few aspects of the game it is time to speak about gameplay. There will be people who won’t like the work of Ninja Theory, the kind of players who only like games when they are challenging and offer total freedom. To prevent them from being disappointed, I will put it down right now: yes, Enslaved takes the player by the hand, from start to finish, he is assisted at every moment, remembering that he is stuck on rails. But what rails!
Even the most open minded players might regret the lack of freedom during the platform sequences of the game. If the Prince of Persia from 2008 was already pissing you off, then you will most probably dislike this game even more. This time, not only is the way marked out by glowing pieces of the stage to avoid the player getting lost, but it is even impossible to fall from a platform. That is to say, if you don’t find the right direction for a jump, Monkey won’t even move a muscle.
On the one hand, the gameplay gains in pace and dynamism but on the other hand, it lacks the challenge you might be looking for, and maybe even, some will say, its main interest. Uncharted 2 had a similar approach even if it left the possibility (though it was rare) to fail the action and fall to your death. In Enslaved, Monkey will automatically adjust the length of his jumps and, unlike Lara Croft who has always had to endure painful deaths because of the player's failed attempts, here you won’t be able to jump if it wasn’t previously decided by the developers.
Does it mean that the platforming aspect of the game is not fun at all? Well, once again, it depends on the kind of player you are. The way these sequences are staged makes you feel like the hero of an adventure movie, so it is really immersive in the end, even though death is almost impossible. That being said, sometimes a good timing will be required in order to survive, as some platforms will actually crumble and fall should you decide to take a little too much time sightseeing. One example is when Trip and Monkey have to climb the Brooklyn bridge while part of it is falling to pieces, a sequence where Monkey will also have to take care of his lovely companion. As the demo of the game gives a pretty good idea of what to expect, I won't say more, but suffice to say that the platforming sequences are indeed very effective when watching. Now as for playing, you will either be sensitive to it, or reject it completely.
Monkey can also use a device he calls the cloud, which allows him to somehow levitate above the ground much like Marty McFly in Back to the Future 2. It is of course very reminiscent of Dragon Ball too, but given both stories got their inspiration from the same tale, it is no wonder. The game feels a little bit less linear in its structure when using the cloud, because you are more or less free to wander around the area you are exploring. Don't get me wrong, there are not several ways of dealing with the situations, but the players has a bit more freedom somehow. Some sequences will still be scripted and straightforward though, as you will need to catch up with an enemy to save Trip from a horrible death. One should also note that the cloud cannot be used whenever you want, but there is a justification to that in the story too. That's why some areas or some bosses will require you to use it, while some others won't.
The combat system and the way health is dealt with is a bit more challenging than the rest. Indeed, contrary to most games now, where health regenerates with time, here you will need med kits every time you are badly wounded during a fight. Because of that, it is necessary to learn the basics of combat before going head first. Don't hesitate to parry or dodge your opponents' attacks or you will not last long, especially when outnumbered. Unfortunately, the combat itself is nothing like what you can find in Bayonetta or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which means it is definitely accessible.
After Heavenly Sword, it comes as a bit of a surprise, as this PS3 exclusive offered quite a good number of combos and tactics to handle the enemies. Once again though, because the different encounters are well-staged, because you can feel the violence of every blow, it is always rather exciting to kick some robot's ass. The hate and determination of the main character is something that is easily transmitted to the player, and it helps the immersion process, however limited the combat may be. I just said that health does not regenerate in Enslaved but it is not entirely accurate. You can actually choose to upgrade your character (three levels are available but they cost a lot) so you can recover without having to find a precious med kit.
Which brings me to the upgrade system of the game, a system that makes it possible to enhance Monkey's abilities: defense, attack, health, firepower. Nothing really original stands out, but it is still a welcome addition to the game. All you need to do is collect all the red orbs you see scattered throughout the levels and use them with Trip. Since the enemies you have to face are well-equipped most of the time (protective shields, gatling guns etc), needless to say collecting orbs will not be a waste of time.
Talking about enemies, you should obviously expect robots to give you a hard time during your quest. So yes, you will only have to fight metallic beings, most of which are rather similar in design. There are not a great number of different foes either, but the little variety there is is not that much of a boring element. Given the context in which the story is set, it is indeed quite logical to find a limited amount of robot models. It is hard to imagine hundreds of different robot types after all, even in the Terminator movies it did not happen. Sometimes, running away or using your wits will be your best chance to stay alive, giving a sort of Crash Bandicoot meets Prince of Persia feel to the game.
Enslaved also has some Third Person Shooter elements as you can use your staff as a firearm. Two types of ammo are available: plasma, lethal and deadly, and stunt, necessary to buy you a little time. Monkey can also use turrets as well as the machine guns of his fallen enemies to take out those who might threaten Trip's life. One thing I noted was that the PS3 controller makes it a bit trickier to aim because of the two analog sticks, and it was also easier to handle the camera with the 360 controller because of that. I know that some will argue that it is just a matter of getting used to, but still, that's how I felt when playing the two versions of the game.
One of the main strengths of Enslaved is definitely its artistic design and the world that it chose to depict. With a colorful post-apocalyptic world the player knows very little about, Ninja Theory manages to set some believable environments, whose verticality gives the landscape an impression of grandeur and size, even though the different areas are not that big. No open world here, as each location has only one exit and one way to get to it but it all makes sense in such a context. It seems indeed perfectly normal that there should be so many obstacles in the two characters' way, preventing them from having the freedom they are after.
Technically speaking, Unreal Engine 3 has known better days: texture pop-in (something that seems a bit more of a problem on 360), aliasing, screen tearing (on PS3)... There are some framerate issues too, as slowdowns happen once in a while but it appears the 360 version may be a tad more stable. Thankfully, all this never affects gameplay and however surprising it may sound, it does not make the visuals any less good. Obviously, it is all very subjective, but I found the game's graphics very pleasant and I immediately fell for Enslaved's design.
Ninja Theory had shown what they could do with Heavenly Sword, a game that may not have been praised for its gameplay or its very short adventure but that proved the studio's technical and artistic skills, and they confirm they have a talented team when it comes to giving life to enticing characters. The choice of Trip as the main female character is certainly a proof that they have a thing for redheads, but even if she bears a little resemblance with Nariko, she is different enough so we don't get a feeling of déjà vu. The voice acting should also be praised, as Andy Serkis and the others deliver a great performance from beginning to end.
Enlaved: Odyssey to the West may not be the most impressive game of this end of year on a technical standpoint, but thanks to rich and detailed environments, it definitely has a lot of charm. Aside from the visuals, the game offers a great adventure with believable characters it is quite easy to identify with. Sure, we could have done with more freedom and challenge, and it is true that the focus has been more on design and story than on gameplay in some areas. So if you did not like Prince of Persia in 2008 because of how it played, maybe Enslaved is not a game for you either. That being said, by borrowing ideas from games like Uncharted, making the game closer to a movie experience thanks to efficient scripts, Ninja Theory's new title manages to keep an almost perfect pace during the 8 to 10 hours necessary to complete the adventure. And if you do not want to finish it too soon, I advise you to choose the hard difficulty setting as in our videos. It can be a bit harder sometimes, but nothing impossible and that way you will have fun a little longer. Because in the end, what is to be remembered about Enslaved is that it is great fun to play, something of importance in video games, wouldn't you say?
About the game
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