This review will look at the multiplatform game brought to us by Ninja Theory, most notably known for the PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword. After that the Ninjas escaped into the wild to do a modern or futuristic or post apocalyptic take on the ancient Chinese story 'Journey to the West'. It sold nearly 1 million copies since it's release back in October 2010 which isn't bad for a brand new IP but does it deserve a few more? Let's find out.
So this modern/futuristic/apocalyptic take on ancient Chinese literature revolves around an adventure of two people: Monkey (played by the legend Andy Serkis) and Trip (Lindsey....Shaw?). Anyway the world that we find ourselves being sucked into is a post apocalyptic world where the robots have taken over (this has now happen so much in fictional media that if it does happen I'm pretty sure none of us will be shocked by it). Yes it would appear that robots have once again taken over the world but wait....
What's all the green stuff? Grass? Tress? Flowers? Yes Enslaved does something new and original in its setting and that is a post apocalyptic world where mother nature hasn't been banished. Take something like the latest Fallout games and all their brown, brown and grey scenery and then compare it with Enslaved and already the game looks like a must buy. However to earn it's 'must buy' status Enslaved must do more then just look pretty, which it does in spades. Thankfully Ninja Theory is on the case. As with Heavenly Sword those Ninjas are actually interested in doing games where the story isn't just a thinly disguised attempt to put the characters through interesting locations but actually uses the story as the main selling point for the game. This is what Ninja Theory does best and it does it very well.
It starts with Mr – muscle - Monkey (the hell is up with his neck) escaping from a robot slave ship and accidentally causing the whole thing to crash. In his attempts to escape he ends up at the mercy of Trip who ignores his pleas for help and shoots them into the sky, typical women. Anyway Trip is better with technology then the average women and manages to put a slave collar onto Monkey seeing as she needs someone big and strong to protect her fragile frame from the robots that inhabit this world. However that collar will blow your head sky high if either Trip wants it to or she dies so Monkey must begrudgingly help Trip. Monkey must get her home and then they can go their separate ways and so sets the stage for this adventure.
So Monkey escorts Trip to her parents village in what I can only describe as a brilliantly crafted gaming experience and some of the most fun I've had with games in the last few years. Just the two of you adventuring between the overgrown skyscrapers of New York occasionally getting into fisticuffs with the local gang of mechs and running from their Dog (one of the highlights of the game). Monkey and Trip leave the city and make their way to her home town. This makes up about the first half of the game. However during the second half of the game the new characters, locations and general developments all bring the experience down, a lot.
See Enslaved was sold and advertised on the basis of this lovely escort mission (but not as terrible as what escort missions normally are like in games) between Monkey and Trip. It was supposed to be a low key and simple adventure. You were never a baddass, superhero hybrid who can take on entire armies by himself you were just a normal guy with some training and because of the fragile nature of your character even the most basic grunt posed a threat. Running away from the Dog was terrifying and left you short of breath because it was built up as something that could easily destroy you. The scale was small but intense and it worked. As I said traversing through the overgrown city of light with the sun shinning and the buildings overgrown was thrilling and a joy to play through. Soon however the game ends up with you fighting giant scorpions on a giant robotic Rhino. Throughout the game the scale of your adventure constantly increases but the scale was best and advertised as a low key and delicate operation not an all out war!
So the story gets progressively worse but it is still engaging. The characters are deep and expressive thanks to the motion capture they used and the cutscenes in particular and nice to watch to see the work Ninja Theory put in to make the characters as real as possible. However a problem that I had with the story is that the game leaves too much to the imagination. No background on the robot/human war is given and the enemies you fight are faceless and their actions appear meaningless. Without any proper justification or context for the actions of those you fight the enemy feels, characterless, soulless even. It doesn't help that the final justification of the enemies is weak and cheap, but let's not go their.
The combat is a mixture of what I'm now going to call 'sight seeing' platforming and melee action sequences. The 'sight seeing' is exactly that, where instead of jumping from platform to platform and maybe avoiding some obstacles you just jump or climb along a predetermined route which has been placed to give you the best view of the surroundings (see also the Uncharted series). It's good fun but not challenging at all. You just push the stick in the direction of the next handhold and jump. The only challenge is if you don't have hands or have recently died.
The melee holds up a little better but is mostly button bashing. The game has a skill tree, combos, multiple ways to attack but its all very compressed and in the middle of a fight when many bladed mechs descend upon you you are going to do either one of two things. Either you're going to mash the attack button or hold the block button. As a whole it is fun and usable but don't expect the levels of God of War or even the previous Ninja Theory title Heavenly Sword (which is just the female version of the game).
But its interesting because playing this so shortly after Uncharted 1 it was easy to see the similarities between the two. Its obvious that both studios went for the 'cinematic' approach with 'sight seeing' platforming showing off lovely scenery instead of challenging the player. The games also starts to loose their shine as the characters dig themselves in deeper and deeper into their dire situations. When the games gives you full control and dumps you into combat the game looses its shine even more and now perfection for them seems out of reach, but then the games bring back the pretty scenery and vistas and all is forgiven.
Anyway that's all there is to the game. The story is deep and emotional. The characters are likeable and with actual arks and developments in their attitudes towards each other and the world they inhabit. The combat is functioning and enjoyable when you get into the flow even though it doesn't have the complexity or depth that it seems to be aiming for. The platforming sections means a nice view of the scenery but no challenge. Overall the game is enjoyable even if the second half quickly descends into more and more combat leaving behind the 'sight seeing' platforming (just like Uncharted 1?!).
These reviews however, will come down to this: is this game still worth your time and money? I would say yes. For three reasons. Firstly the game is quite enjoyable (as stated a lot) and is a nice experience to play. Secondly the game is pretty cheap going for about £12 a time of writing which is definitely worth it's length. Thirdly and most importantly because by buying this game you will help show the industry (even in a little way) that you as a consumer are open to games that aren't just about military 'badasses' with some multiplayer slapped onto it and a short crap single player. Buying this game would help develop the industry as a whole and help get new and interesting IPs off the ground in the future. In the long run it might genuinely help and it wouldn't hurt to take a look. (There is of course a demo still available on the online stores for PS3 and 360).
Thanks for reading and remember that comments are of course welcome.