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Enslaved: It’s the journey that counts

This is what you should be picturing!

I’m going to lay down a scene for you here, so I’m going to need you to take a deep breath, empty your mind, and follow along with me for a moment.  Ready?  Good.  So, America has been wrecked, and the only landmarks you’ve ever known have been the crumbling remains of once great cities, the former home of more people than you can even wrap your mind around.  There are mechs everywhere.  They want to punch you in the face for some reason.  But you don’t care.  You physically resemble a monkey, for God sake, to the point where you consciously refuse to wear a shirt, have a scarf dangling from your belt so it resembles a tail, and all that matters to you is staying alive.  Unfortunately, there’s this girl, see?  And if you don’t do exactly what she says, she’s going to kill you.  Unless, of course, you end up getting mauled by robots first.

If this all sounds like a completely normal way to spend a Saturday night to you, then you can pass on Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Maybe spend the money you were going to spend on a new shirt, you weirdo).  For everyone else, Enslaved is an extremely well polished game with a beautiful story and landscapes to dig into, if you can ignore a few irritating locomotion issues first.

 

Dammit Trip, what part of "don't get mauled" didn't you get?

 

The story begins on a large slaver ship, presumably on its way to drop off another load of slaves to an unnamed location.  On this ship, tucked safely away in a cell that looks like an egg, is YOU.  Okay, his name is Monkey, and he moves and acts like one for the most part.  (No poo throwing, though.  Maybe if they do a sequel?)

Anyway, Monkey is unexpectedly freed when a young lady named Trip escapes from a nearby pod, overloads a terminal, and generally makes a bad day a great deal worse for our hapless hero.  Things explode.  Mechs attack.  And before you really know what’s what, Trip has placed a slave headband around Monkey’s forehead before calmly informing him that A) she can kill him if he doesn’t do what she says, and B) He’ll also die if her heart stops beating.

And so the two head off into the ruins of America, trying to get Trip back home before they get destroyed by robots or Trip gets herself killed.  If you’ve played games like Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed and the like, you know what to expect.  Monkey is an agile guy, so it’s up to him to physically carry Trip over obstacles, throw her across gaps, and platform like a nitwit in order to keep her safe.

Trip isn’t completely useless, though.  She has a few abilities that she can use to help Monkey along, by either distracting ranged mechs with a hologram, upgrading your abilities, sending out a little EMP burst, or by bypassing decaying security features along the way.  She can actually be quite handy, once you get past the inital paranoia about her accidentally wandering into a land mine, or a group of dormant mechs, or a turret, ect.

 

Upgrade yo'self before you wreck yo'self!

 

Out of the characters in Enslaved, Trip is the believable one.  Rather, she’s the only one who looks normal.  Not really sure what’s going on with that red stuff around Monkey’s eyes, or why his hair seems to be defying gravity with the best of japanese anime characters, but it is what it is.

It also falls to Monkey to fight the endless horde of mechs that continuously attack you through the journey.  Combat here is pretty basic.  Monkey has a stick, and he can hit things with it, using either a light or a heavy attack.  He also has a stun attack to break through the defenses of enemies with shields, or more frequently, enemies that are blocking your attacks.

The combat was actually the most surprising part of the game for me.  Going in, I knew the best part of the game was the story, and it totally is, by far.  But, for the most part, combat was written off as way too basic.  I disagree.  Sure, it’s the same pound-and-beat style over and over again, but varying enemy types, as well as flawed enemies, add a tactical flair to combat.  You might be able to rip off a mech’s gun arm and use it to destroy his buddies, or maybe pull the head off an electric mech to send off a temporary EMP pulse.  Knowing your foes comes in handy, especially when Trip is shouting about how she needs help ASAP.

 

Nice arm, I think I'll take it.

 

But the story is indeed where the game truly shines.  You never do quite find out what happened to cause the apocalypse in Enslaved.  There are a few passing mentions about robots and wars and some propaganda on the walls, but aside from that you spend most of your time in cities overgrown by nature, slowly consuming what remains of a once great culture.  Trip and Monkey aren’t on the friendliest terms when the game starts, and for good reason.  But it’s the journey that counts, and after facing countless perils each begins to see the other in a new light.

Also:  The characters are incredibly well designed.  This is one of the few games I’ve played where the characters actually have believable facials expressions.  I’ve seen worse acting from actual real life actors.  Though to be fair, I’ve seen the Scorpion King, so that leaves the bar a bit low.

There’s an upgrade system in place here, too.  Trip can improve your abilities and weapons if you collect enough “tech orbs” which are floating around willy nilly in the world.  The orbs are never explained.  They’re just around, okay?  And you’d better collect them.  That’s what you do with macguffins, you gotta get them.  Anyway, the upgrades are your standard ammo/health/shield/combat upgrades, which will make your going a bit easier, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before.

 

Seriously Trip, don't get mauled! What is so hard about this?!

 

As for the negative in the game, well, there are two major issues I have beef with.  First of all, if you’ve played Prince of Persia or Assassin’s Creed, you’ll be very aware that this game is very…  linear.  There’s one way to climb, one way to jump, and for the most part the game is okay with completing some of these jumps for you.  You have to be exactly right where the game wants you to be, though.  Sometimes the game won’t give it to you if you try to climb up on the edge of a cliff instead of the middle.  There’s no picking and choosing of your route.  You’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward.  And there isn’t too much challenge there either.

Why is this an issue?  Because Monkey is an extremely athletic guy, and it just seems silly that he can jump over one pillar but not another, or that an invisible wall is stopping you just short of pulling off something that would look amazing.  There were several times where I was pushing forward and A in order to make Monkey go where I wanted him to, but all he was doing was standing at a cliff’s edge, rolling like a ninny while Trip was shouting “Hey, what are you doing?!”  For the most part, I had no idea myself.

Imagine if you had that issue in real life.  “I’m not having a seizure, honest!  I’m trying to jump over this small gap!  No, I’m not sure how I can keep rolling at it and not fall in.  I think I might need a priest.”

 

Oh noooooooo

 

The second issue is a bit of a camera problem.  The camera, fora large part of the game, will be fixed in one direction, letting you just ease it around to take in the corners.  This works fine for most of the game, but in later levels it has a bit of a problem staying in one place.  Combat gets scary when you suddenly lose sight of four mechs in the middle of a fight.  You can usually compensate, but not before a mech has beat your face in for about ten straight seconds.

The problem moves over into platforming as well.  Controlling Monkey feels a bit on the floaty side, and it can take a little to actually get him to move when you want him to.  It feels a bit dodgy, but I don’t know, it never really bothered me too much.  But when you add that to a camera that switches int he middle of the jump, you have some instances where Monkey pauses in the middle of a platforming, faces a way the game won’t let him jump when the camera adjusts, and rolls in place for a second or two.  It gets a little irritating, especially when you’re in a section where time is of the essence.

Anyway, that all being said, the story was more than adequate for me to keep coming back to this game.  And, because I know Elrood was freaking out about how no one would commit to a length of this game, I’ll just say it here:  It’s about 10 hours, though I didn’t find all the collectibles in the levels.

I enjoyed my time with this game, and the ending caught me completely by surprise.  You see, its…  Well, it’s kinda like…  Yeah, okay, I have no idea what was really going on.  But the story is solid, the gameplay is fun, and you’ll enjoy your time in the ruins of America.  You might be wondering which games to pick up and which ones to avoid as the summer gaming slump comes to an end, but this is one game that’s totally worth your money.

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2 Responses

  1. I just wanted to make sure this game wasn’t six hours long or something ok! The demo was fun but I wanted to make sure it had at least a bit of meat on it. I’ll be playing this as soon as I’m done with Castlevania (look for review next week!) and I’m happy it appears to be good.

  2. I saw this game being discussed at CheapAssGamer because it’s on sale for $50. I was intrigued and after this review, I’m gonna take the plunge and pick it up. Curse you, however, for perpetuating the use of, “it is what it is.” I thought this useless truism had died a long overdue death a year ago.

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