Enslaved had a great deal of potential, and wound up on a lot of of gamers’ “most-anticipated” lists after it’s showing at E3. Releasing on the same day as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow last week was a risky move on Ninja Theory’s part, putting the classic reboot in direct conflict their new IP. How the battle for sales turned out we won’t know for some time, but in terms of quality, Enslaved finds itself at a disadvantage to it’s vampire-slaying rival.
Enslaved is kind of a buddy story at the heart of it, albeit an interestingly twisted buddy story in which one of the buddies is forcibly enslaved by the other and commanded to take them on a cross-country trip home. The characters, Monkey and Trip are fun and expressive characters, and players really can feel the bond grow between them as the story progresses. The setting is pretty and thought-provoking, and the artists responsible deserve a pat on the back for their designs. Colors are vibrant and mechs rigorously detailed for your disassembly, creating a unique techno-organic feel for the game that is not common in many titles, especially the post-apocalyptic ones that go for a flat grey palette. Unfortunately, all this beautiful scenery and detail can marred by the shortcomings of the game’s engine at times. Running on Unreal 3, the old faithful is starting to show it’s age, and texture pop-in and aliasing plagued me for most of my playthrough. This is unfortunate, because when it is rendered properly, Enslaved is absolutely gorgeous.
Gameplay is varied but simple for the most part. Trip (the girl you’re protecting) can follow a few basic commands available from a radial menu to make her more useful in combat, such as distracting enemies with a hologram or healing you. Monkey is agile and leaps about like, well, a monkey amidst the rafters and ruins of the old world. Combat is a messy affair for the most part, lacking the tight control and fluidity of other modern action titles like God of War or Castlevania. As I noted in my demo impressions, it was not uncommon for me to launch a combo on thin air, or to dodge right into a boss’s incoming attack. I didn’t feel like the controls were mapped as intuitively as they could be, separating block and dodge to separate buttons mapping ranged attacks to a trigger and button rather than just using a 3-button combat system. Interacting with Trip can also be counterintuitive, since throw and lift interactions require you to first put her on your back, then take her off and throw her. I felt like everything could have been simplified control-wise, and with models like Arkham Asylum and God of War out there to emulate, the lack of polish for Enslaved’s combat controls really stands out against it’s competition.
In terms of platforming, the game delivers epic set-pieces and some exciting moments, but fails to stimulate really in terms of exploration. Levels are mostly linear, with a set track from start to finish outside of avoiding certain sleeping enemies. I also found some of the immersion was lost when I couldn’t jump off a particular platform or down to a lower level due to the arbitrary mapping of the area. While this does prevent you from committing suicide accidentally as happened so often in Uncharted, it also makes your limitations in game that much more apparent, and as a result takes away from the tension that you could fall to your death or take a wrong path.
Overall, I liked Enslaved, but I didn’t love it. The story and characters are fun to get into, and the setting is gorgeous when the hardware catches up. The gameplay is a little too simple and linear for such a beautiful setting though, and the technical issues with the graphics really do distract from the experience at times. I’d recommend Enslaved to gamers who liked Heavenly Sword and are interested in a unique story (the ending is one to ponder), and can deal with average gameplay. You’ll like Enslaved for Trip and Monkey’s sake, but it won’t go in the record books as any kind of landmark for the genre.
Exsturminator Final Score: 7.0
Enslaved is the new action-platformer from Ninja Theory coming out early next month. Ninja Theory is best known at this point for their PS3 exclusive, Heavenly Sword, back in 2007. Heavenly Sword impressed critics, in spite of supposedly depressed sales, and now their new title, Enslaved, is shaping up to be another big hit for the company. A demo was released earlier today, and we at Exsturminator were excited to finally sit down and see how the much anticipated title handled. We’ll let you know now, we were not disappointed.
The demo for Enslaved follows Monkey, a human survivor of the long past human-machine war, as he attempts to escape a robotic slave ship as it falls apart over New York City. You climb rubble and cling to the side of the disintegrating ship, attempting to reach an escape pod before time runs out. Trip, a young woman you will eventually team up with, is always a few steps ahead of you, trying to reach an escape pod herself, often throwing Monkey under the bus in her attempts. The graphics are beautiful, and teh set pieces easily some of the best I’ve seen in a game. One part in particle actually had me leaning forward in my seat, trying to climb to safety before the wing I was clinging to was smashed off by a passing building. Debris flies, explosions light up the screen, and enemy mechs prowl dangerously, all in glorious technicolor. If nothing else, Enslaved looks to be a new benchmark for gorgeous graphics.
The combat in the demo is limited to melee, and this is fast and brutal, if a little aimless at times. Monkey’s attacks don’t have quite the same flow as other contemporary action titles heroes like Kratos or Bayonetta, and several times I found myself swinging on open air and losing my momentum. It was fun, but it didn’t provide the awe factor of some other games do. Monkey’s brutal finishers help give the fighting a cinematic climax, but it’s not quite enough at times.
Combat aside, all other elements of enslaved come off as very well executed, and I am greatly looking forward to this title in October. The demo ends with an appropriate cliffhanger, and sets the stage for Enslaved’s primary conflict and focus. Check back here in October for a review of the full game, and check out the demo in the meantime. It is definitely worth it, trust me.