In Depth Review and Story analisys
After i heard that Ninja Theory was working on a new IP inspired by the “journey to the west” book i was very excited. They had previously impressed me with Heavenly Sword, a game that tried to inovate gaming as a medium by hiring Andy Serkis to both direct and act a production that whould take storytelling in video games to a whole new level and they did....sort of. The game was criticised for beeing very short but it was clear that the colaboration between Serkis and NT was worth it. The animations, the acting and the story were all top notch and the game impressed with the tech behind it as well as the art direction.
So the stakes were very high. After 3 years of working on the title and yet another colaboration with Andy Serkis the result is Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, a 3 person action adventure with platforming, puzzle solving and bet’em up elements.
The story was the main attraction to the title, and it follows Monkey and Trip’s adventure from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States, 150 years into the future, in a post-apocaliptic war torn world. After beeing captured by slavers the two escape the ship and crash in NY but before Monkey can come to his senses, Trip equips him with a slave band designed to keep him submited and follow her every order. Altough relluctant at first Monkey realises that they have a better chance of surviving together with his brawn and her brain and thus the allice is forged.
Do not read further if you don’t want anything spoiled. This is an in depth look at the story and may contain elements you might not wish to know.
The main thing about the story that bothered me was that it lacked character development. Aside from a few sequences where you can see Monkey's desire to help Trip, and her drive to kill whoever's responsable for her wrongdoings (let's not spoil the story), not much happens. The background of the characters is never reaveled, you never know what's really going on in their head, aside from the obvious of course. Also the feeling of time going by is not there. Even though the 2 have spent considerable time togheter (later in the story) , not much changes between the way they interact. We are assuming that the journey lasts for some time, beeing that the characters go from coast to coast, yet the characters only talk to each other for a very short amount of time and never have a true conversation, only mild interactions to one another. In prince of persia for example, the relationship between the prince and Elika was a lot more complex, there was a lot of dialogue and a whole range of topics were aproached, including background stuff about the charcters' lifes prevous to the adventure wich made the player feel a deeper connection with them. Also, there was a lot of emphasis on the delevopment of the relationship in time, wich in enslaved is poorly constructed. Sure, there are a few moments of well written dialogue, especially later in the game when Pigsy is introduced, but there is a feeling of imbalance and lack of detail in the construction of the relationship betwenn Monkey and Trip. In the end you feeel that Pigsy is the one you know best, beeing the only character that expresses himself the most. I think the story could have been so much more, and considering they hired the
writer of sunshine and 28 days later, i expected this game to be very complex and very inovative
in it’s aproach to character development and the relationship and interaction between the two main characters. There are finer examples of games that have been well written, like dead space, prince of persia "the reboot" (wich incorporated very detailed elements from zoroastrism, look into it) uncharted and probably the best written game of all, mass effect 2. Games that feature complex characters, stories and dwelve a lot in the background information of the universes in witch they are set (especially Mass Effect)
That beeing said i think Andy Serkis and the rest of the actors do a great job delivering their performances. I just wish they had more to say. There are also parts of the story that seem to be missing. The dramatic scenes are very short and you sometimes don’t have any idea of what happened between the present and what you’ve just seen in the previous cutscene. To give an example there is a camp fire scene after they leave NY, where a brief conversation occurs, then the game fast forwards to the time of arrival in the new location and without much conversation, the characters just resume thier tasks, finding yet another way to the next location. It’s holes like this that make the game feel like there’s something missing from the story (there’s another one twords the end of the game in chapter “the dam”, you can check it for yourself).
The graphics are amazing, the game altough uses unreal 3 has a verry different estethic feel to
it than other games using the engine. Most of the lighting and effect have been made for this game
and they look great. Textures looks great and the lighting is new and effective in creating a
different post apocalyptic word than you’ve seen before but where this game really shines is in the look of the character models. Both Trip, Monkey and Pigsy look great and their animations are fluid, but the unreal engine can't handle the face animations as well as we whoud hope. Altough they are done with
motion capture the facial animations look a lot better in the pre-rendered scenes of Heavenly
Sword wich used the same tech. In engine they look ok, with wrincles and eyebrow movements looking
quite cool but the lip sync is sometimes off, the best in-engine lip synch i’ve seen in Red Dead
Redemption, so from a game that wanted to inovate, i had bigger expectations. The most impressive aspect of the graphics in Enslaved is the art design. It features a rich, colored post apocalyptic world and is the main reason to actually play this game. Every level has it’s own unique feel and you never get tired or feel that you’ve seen a texture too many times.
The combat sistem is probably the game's weakest link. It features just a few combos and even
after upgrading it still seems very simplistic. The counters you can perform consist of just one move, and the finishers can only be aplied to two types of enemies , each with it's own animation. The lack of depth and progression in the combat sistem make the game’s countless battles feel pretty boring after the first half of the game, but luckly the diversity in the gameplay makes up for weak combat sistem.
Navigating the enviroment is what you do most of the time in Enslaved, and altough it has been done to a greater level in Assassin’s Creed and is extremly easy to do, it manages to be engaging due to the excelent level design and beautiful levels. There are also some puzzles in the game most of wich involve just navigating back and forth and activating a switch, but they are very easy. Apart from navigating, fighting and the ocassional puzzle, the game features some big unique moments involving “the could” a gliding device that Monkey can activate in certain areas and some interesting boss battles that keep the player from getting bored and are placed in exactly the right moments.
The game's greatest achievment is the cinematic value of the game.Due to it's great level design
and fast paced style, plus the continnous change of enviroments, the gamer never feels like he's
been doing the same thing for hours. Altough the boss battles and "vehicle" levels are quite rare,
they appear just as the game starts getting stale, wich is great.
Overall Enslaved manages to be more than the sum of it's parts. Altough the combat is repetative
and the story could have been a little bit more complex, Enslaved manages to keep you invested in the simple but enterteining story of the the two main characters and through very good pacing and fun action sequences combined with a very artistic and unique vision of the post apocalyptic world manages to be one of the most original and interesting games of 2010.