Friday, March 25, 2011

enslaved: odyssey to the west, part 1

let's talk about developer Ninja Theory a bit first, shall we? For being such a large presence in game development, they've got a relatively short resumé. Résume. Whatever. How about we résumé this review?

Try and stop me
Okay, I think it's outta my system. Sorry. Anyways, to my knowledge, Heavenly Sword and Enslaved are really the only games they've made except for a small game under a different name back in the early '00s. They are currently making a reboot to the Devil May Cry series, which enrages me because that series does not really need a reboot, and will probably have Heavenly Sword's "like God of War" combat from the ground up. In order to properly convey my thoughts, I've first got to mention God of War. GoW's combat is very, very simplistic when compared to, appropriately, DMC. In one of my first (bad) articles, I briefly and clumsily went over the huge strengths DMC has over GoW, like how the combat actually feels connected to my input, and is not just the result of "hit X". GoW really feels like "mash Square for a while, and hit Circle when you feel bored". Not a bad combat mechanic if you want to make it accessible and rewarding for new gamers, really. But if you pick up DMC, you'll immediately notice that you have to be on your toes and creative where GoW has no such requirements. As a result, you feel like you're meeting real challenges and overcoming them, and are not simply glorifying yourself and being rewarded excessively for, again, pressing X. This GoW style of combat is what you get in Heavenly Sword. I rented it, enjoyed it a little, and quickly sent it back. It was decently put together, free from major flaws and mindlessly fun for a brief period. It just wasn't really compelling. Appropriately, this is what you get in Enslaved. Where HS was a ripoff of GoW, Enslaved takes a good bulk of its game mechanics from Uncharted, with usage of cover and ridiculously fictitious climbing. As a game, it's just about as compelling as HS. There's not a whole lot to be interested in in terms of gameplay, reward, innovation or challenge. So you'll probably be a bit surprised to hear that I like this game.Why, you may ask? Because, sir -- Story.

I just made someone's stomach turn
This game has a great story. I'm not far enough in to give a really blatant spoiler, but if you're like me and you like going in "fresh", stop. First of all, the characters are genuinely interesting. Paper-thin protagonists aren't a problem as large as I would instinctively say (and then start whining about), but it is refreshing to see a couple of characters come along who are top-notch, cinema-quality characters.

Trip and Monkey (left to right) are your duo for the game. You control Monkey (so far), and are able to perform climbing acrobatics beyond anything Nathan Drake or even Lara Croft can do. This game really is ripoff central, because he climbs like Prince of Persia, hides under cover like Marcus Fenix, fights like Kratos, and cracks wise like Nathan Drake. He's a futuristic (dare I say it) Bro, the type that would love energy drinks and drive a huge truck had he lived today. He's a juice-head through and through, though he's not one-dimensional. He's got some Francis in him. He is funny at times, and is not a total dickwad like I'd expect. Trip, your "Daxter" for the game functions a lot like Ashley Graham in Resident Evil 4, hiding for most of the game while you clear the are of enemies, then coming out and unlocking a door so you can proceed. She's mechanically competent, facilitating the game's weapons upgrade system. She is largely dependent on Monkey for getting around large obstacles and is able to provide combat support using distract and heal techniques. They are not very similar, but you get the impression that they're really all the other has. Their cutscene relationship is a lot like the one between Jason and Marie, really. The title "Enslaved" refers to her fitting him with a Slave Crown (he was asleep), forcing him to escort her to her home in the West. If she dies or is threatened, the crown is programmed to kill him. It's way less callous than it sounds, and their relationship is charming at times. Despite this "balls in a blender" situation she has him in, they get along pretty well, joke a bit and even evoke sexual tension. I'm rooting for them to wind up together, and that's a hard thing for a developer to make you want when it's between a slave and master.
Why can't you see what's there
Your world for the game is a post-human New York, overgrown with vegetation and landmarks in a "Mayan ruins" state. A year is not given, but it's after the point man has invented big, walking robots. The game begins with your character on a prison transport ship, crashing into NY and waking up enslaved. She tells him what's up and he says "............let's go". He's angry, of course, but figures if he has to, he has to. One of my favorite things in games is an environment that tells a story. This game does that pretty well, though I can't really find words to explain it past what I've written. I think you get it. It says a lot of things. The world as we know it has ended. Someone has populated the world with battle droids, and whether this happened before or after civilization fell is important. Our characters were on a prison transport. Someone arrested them. We're not sure if they're criminals. Or whether their captors were government or some kind of Road Warrior-esque band of bullies. And I could go on. There's a lot to learn about the world, and you're kept guessing. Couple it with the developing relationship between two characters trying to survive, and you have a great story. A weird thing I noticed is that this is one of the few games in existence that makes me want cutscenes to come up. Normally, a gamer loves gameplay and dreads cutscenes. Here, the cutscenes are what you want to see. Call it a negative or a positive, but its interesting. There's not much to cover right now, and probably won't be until I finish it and can evaluate the story. If you've had your eye on this game, or just want something to play other than an FPS, you should try this out. It's out now for the PS3 and XBOX. Let me leave you with a YouTube video. This happens right after their slave ship crashes, and she has ejected an escape pod. With him riding on it.

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