Warning : This article contains spoilers if you read this the game may be spoilt for you
Enslaved was a game I'd vaguely heard of nipping at the edges of what I consider my field of gaming vision. Like many games that occupy that zone I pretty much ignored it. That was until it all blew up with everyone saying how great the game was and how no one had really bought the game, it was like art etc etc you know the drill.
Well I still didn't buy it, sure I watched Yahtzee ( All praise his gloomy life outlook and world hatred ) said about it and it got my interest up. I mean a game based on Journey to the West a series I know a small amount about thanks mainly to the state of TV here in the UK and a very strange special night of shows on a channel over here including the show monkey.
Say Hello to Monkey
This is a show based on Journey to the West and is known for many things not least monkey having a magic stick that can grow and shrink as needed. Make of that whatever cheap jokes you will.
The whole idea of the series is the Monkey King is freed by Tripitika and then he must escort her on her pilgrimage along the way recruiting others to join them all to get Tripitika safely through her pilgrimage. If Monkey upsets the god his headband can tighten to cause him pain and its suggested even kill his mortal form.
This is what the cast of the original looked like.
Now Enslaved Odyssey to the West makes a few changes to this, and by a few I mean if this game were based any looser on Journey to the west then Journey to the west would look like it were wearing it as clown pants.
This is the main cast shot for Enslaved odyssey to the west
So from that picture you can see Trip isn't exactly a monk there's the absence of one character in the sea monster and everything and Pigsy looks a bit different to his Journey counterpart.
The original Journey to the west was about Buddhist and or Taoist Philosophies, not exactly great video game material so this is something else cut in favour of more hitting robots in their groins with big sticks.
I ended up picking up Enslaved for £5 ($8ish) when the UK store Game went into trouble and I managed to somehow get to the reduced stock a day before most of the vultures, I will say even at that price for the game I played I still am a bit disappointed.
Now we finally get to the meat of the matter as to why I don't think the game deserves its seeming glorification by people.
Having escaped the slaver ship and chases Trip, even witnessing a slave be executed for helping him escape as seeing the ship deploy killer robots to stop him events lead to monkey having a reprogrammed slave headband placed upon him by Trip. This begins the game in a way that is honest but also disheartening as you quickly learn straying too far from Trip will cause the band to cause Monkey pain and Trip to talk to you, if you don't go back she will then detonate it and kill you.
Brain freeze really does hurt
This begins the game as an escort quest, the best way to do which is to carry Trip with you when you can.
Monkey doing his best horse impression
Now while I would rant about this being an escort quests, its only a minor thing as for all the inconvenience Trip causes, there's plenty of time she's out the way and even when she isn't she's got good enough AI to not really get into too much trouble on her own.
As the game progresses you go through various different locations etc etc go through trials and fight some increasingly vicious killer robots who have all apparently been sent by "Pyramid" the organisation behind the slavers who captured you to begin with. You finally reach Trips home and get a bit of quite good humour during the bridge puzzle which really did help only to find out.
Everyone's gone Dave...... Dave everyone's gone everyone gone Dave.
Turns out Pyramid have raided the place and taken everyone, though you find there's a possible saferoom, so you set out trying to open the thing up. During this you have to start a windmill up and considering its a main puzzle and its so long since release I have no idea why this puzzle is still so glitchy and broken. Its a simple puzzle just move the blades to the top and jump down and repeat. You however have to tell Trip to turn the sails and stop them, which for me ended up being broken. Initially I thought it was me being stupid breaking the game, then I googled it and found a lot of people moaning about this problem, luckily I found a solution in that you have to mash your analogue stick left and right till it works.
From here you open the safe room and....
Trips Dad is inside and he's dead, it also tells you how Pyramid did come and take everyone.
Trip decides to take revenge and go see Pigsy who might have a plan. Pigsy tries to hit on Trip shes pushes him away, Pigsy realise theres something between Trip and Monkey (Which is pretty much the first time this comes up other than her asking Monkey to stay with them). All the Time Monkey has been haunted by strange images from ghost mask icons about. Pigsy almost gets Monkey Killed which goes wrong and Trip almost dies, Monkey again saving her.
Everyone flies off in Pigsy's flying machine following a slaver ship and they get shot down. You find out Pyramid plans to build a giant super Mech to use and its nearly finished so you steal it.
Pyramid sends out some smaller mechs, heated battle with Monkey fighting one off form the mech. You realise the Mech is lost, Monkey and Trip get away while Pigsy seemingly sacrifices himself blowing up the mech destroying the others and letting you get into Pyramid.
Where you find.
The man in the mask. Turns out Pyramid aren't evil and this is one guy some how still alive who lived before the great mech war and Pyramid is a virtual reality construct where its members have their own lives and can get married, get food etc all being away from the horrors of the wasteland in the real world, free to leave should they choose to, its implied. Trip then kills him when Monkey puts on a mask and is seemingly being sucked in and enjoying it. "Freeing" those trapped.
If you're wondering why I went through the whole plot its because now I can talk about the plotholes.
1) If people are free to leave why when a slave early on helps Monkey why was he killed ?
2) Why not just tell people what you're offering rather than kidnap them ?
3) Why send in killer Robots if you just want to help people to join and have a better life ?
4) Why when you're pretty much the dominant organisaition and already have about 5 super mechs then have to being a leviathan mech capable of extreme destruction and death ?
So the Plot has a few holes shall we say.
Now before I have a comment about "Oh you only don't like the game because of the ending, its called art you jerk." I should say I actually really enjoy the game Haven Call of the King which has possibly an even more bleak ending.
True a bad ending can be a sour taste but I'm one of those weird people for whom the ending to the Matrix trilogy was fine and I didn't then turn round and slate the series for it. (you know who you are).
My issue is with the fact the ending makes no sense in terms of the larger plot.
So now to air my other issues with the game.
While undeniably beautiful
Just look at that landscape
The game has graphical problems, it has serious pop in texture issues and I don't simply mean in normal gameplay. During one cutscene you get to see a disco ball for about 5 seconds at the start of it, for me all I saw for 3 seconds was a gray blob before the texture finally popped in and I could tell what it was meant to be. Texture pop in in game is one thing but in cutscene it's far easier to spot. This kind of pop in happened numerous times to me.
Next the combat, sure it looks good to watch but playing it feels stiff clunky and boring so much so I actually found it less fluid than the latest splatterhouse game.
The Combat doesn't seem to flow and becomes repetitive and even annoying when you have the stun lock enemies. At one point later in the game I faced 2 enemies than can stun you from a range and a stun locking enemy, I failed the fight probably 5 times just because I had to block to prevent myself being stunlocked by the melee enemies only for the range ones to zap me which stunned me meaning I couldn't block then had 2 of the stun locking enemies unload on me until I could finally block again in the short windown between their attacks, at which point a stun shot would again hit me anyway. I could of course have relied upon the super move but I refused to as I wanted to see if it were possible to get through the game using it as little as possible. In the end I made it through just without using the special attack.
The game doesn't feel like a world, it really doesn't a lot of the time it feels like the game is bussing you from one setpiece to another to show off what its created without you getting to spend any real time in one place and appreciate what's been built for you it feels almost like a bad action film having to take you to ever more impressive stunts and explosions to try and impress you, which in turn comes off as shallow.
Even during the non combat stealth parts of the game I got annoyed as to get through some bits you have to have Trip distract the enemies while you run for it from cover to cover, the problem is Trips distraction reloads so slow it got annoying having to wait all the time for it to recharge making these sections seemingly drag out.
The only other main section of the game is the Cloud surfing sections, which felt ok at first even if they were ripping off another game, but in the Junkyard the developers combine the floaty controls of the cloud with instant kill mines leading to a lot of cheap deaths.
The Final thing I really found annoying was a design choice in the game, throughout the levels are Tech orbs which basically give you EXP and let you level up, there are also masks. During the game its always trying to ramp up tension and make you feel you have to keep moving and going however the Hidden masks and tech orbs break this flow as you can spend a long time hunting for them, and even with hunting I got maybe 2/3 of them. When a game is all about pushing you to keep going the worst thing you can do is break that mood and that's what Enslaved does, even more so if you're very OCD / into 100% completion (which luckily I'm not).
The worrying fact is I actually enjoyed the game WET far more than Enslaved and WET isn't exactly the greatest game ever.
So I decided initially I had missed something so I actually went out and asked people online why Enslaved is held in such high regard. Here are some of the answers I got.
"It was the best game that's been out for a while"
Which if that's really true about when it was released I fear for video gaming.
"It has revolutionary face maping to show characters emotions better."
Which I barely noticed other than Monkey's rage face.
"Its a great blend of different gameplay styles"
So have other games been
"Its Well presented"
So if the game doesn't hold up it can be as well presented as you like I want to play a game not just look at it, sure to rule graphics out entirely for me would be wrong, even running my own little indie games review blog I can still appreciate good graphics as long as they are backing up something solid game wise.
I hate this response most of all as there are far better art games out there, Journey for one which I still cure the fact is a Playstation exclusive so I can never experience it for myself at present just because its art doesn't mean it can't also be fun and enjoyable to play.
For me I found it worrying how much the media was glorifying Enslaved as some great game when years before I played this game.
For me Enslaved is a poor mans Jak 2, even Jak 2 did the boarding sections better with its hoverboard, which felt far easier to fly, even in terms of combat I think just for melee combat alone both with Jak and dark Jak it has more combo moves than Enslaved and a far better selection of fire power. Then from Jak 2 there was Jak 3 which one again far improved upon the game.
If anything Enslaved feels like its on a level with Haven but still not as solid combat wise or as much fun to play. It says something that the break away game of its time in terms of quality and fun for me anyway is only just at the level of a game 8 years older than it and its being beaten by a game 7 years older than it.
So is it really just me or did Enslaved not sell well on release not due to market bias but because it just isn't that good a game really ?