Sleeper hit of the year?
I have to tip my hat over to Ninja Theory and their new game, Enslaved, as it seems to do something that a lot of the big franchise games now are failing to really provide: a meaningful and emotional story. Most of the time the games are fun to play and there's enough variety to the gameplay or it has a multiplayer component to provide countless hours once the single player's finished. But in the case of Enslaved, the gameplay works hand in hand with the narrative and they both seem to compliment the other as the more story you get, the more areas and gameplay you'll see which will let you see more of the story which makes for a fine balance. The gameplay itself isn't anything to completely write home about but it's not it's biggest flaw either but it becomes one of those games where any negatives the game might have doesn't cripple anything and becomes more minor issues then full on complaints which is a good place to be.
After a big set piece / tutorial level where a character named Monkey escapes from a crashing slave trip along with a red-headed woman named Trip, the duo found themselves in a post-post apocalyptic New York and Monkey outfitted with a slave headband courtesy of Trip. If he strays too far from her presence or if her heart stops beating for whatever reason, he dies but without Monkey, Trip won't last so they strike a deal: bring Trip to her old home and Monkey goes free. What initially begins as a reluctant alliance becomes a genuine friendship as they make their way towards Trip's home while fighting off the mechanical warriors still seen patrolling the wastelands.
Enslaved's graphics are quite something to behold as in a generation full of realistic browns and gun-metal greys, in comes Enslaved which injects a huge dose of color to your console and the game looks gorgeous. Sweeping vistas, bright colors and some great character animation makes the game something of a visual treat. But the game was made using the Unreal Engine which means graphic textures that seem to "pop in", the occasional framerate dips and at times the game almost overdoes the "bloom" effect but still, the game's very easy on the eyes.
Also entirely welcome is the storytelling and the performances out of the 2 main leads. Known for Gollum from "Lord of the Rings" and King Bohan in Ninja Theory's last game, "Heavenly Sword", Andy Serkis provides the performance for Monkey and one thing the developers nailed this time was the idea of subtlety as I felt the acting in their previous game was a bit too..."actor-ish" but many of the performances here tend to be a lot more internal or a bit understated and nicely dramatic when they need to so Serkis is a lot less flashy than Bohan was. Also in regards to sound, the music is fantastic and in one sequence, where Monkey has to capture a robotic dragonfly which will act as your area surveyor, the music elevates the scene from just a simplistic platform chase to something almost whimsical and endearing. In fact, that damn dragonfly has some personality too which is quite something.
As for the gameplay? Well it's...serviceable, meaning it doesn't get in the way of the fun yet it's also not going to be this absolute crazy fun in other action games like Devil May Cry or the recent Castlevania. There's not a lot of combos, aiming your stun and plasma bursts feels slightly off and upgrading merely improves on your character rather than add many tricks to your arsenal so your charged stun attack now as more of a wider radius or the stun effect lasts longer rather than have whole new range of attacks. The platforming itself is very straightforward as well and if you've come off a Prince of Persia game, this game will be a cakewalk. Unlike Uncharted 2 where you had to recognize the telltale signs of something that can be scaled, anything you need to climb, swing off of or grip will be flashing and only in select occasions near the end, platforming mainly consists of pushing your analog stick in the direction of the flashing part and pressing A. It's not as strategic or as "puzzling" as a Prince of Persia platforming sequence is but you also won't be retrying parts because of a failed jump either.
Now here comes the big question: this game launched the same day as Castlevania (which I hear takes 20 hours just on default difficulty), one week before Medal of Honor with the long multiplayer component and 2 weeks before Fallout: New Vegas which promises near 100 hours or more of playtime. Enslaved? Will take you about 10 hours on normal, couple few hours to collect and upgrade everything then a second playthrough on hard. So is the game worth the full 60? Well, I'll put it this way, the experience of playing the game was well worth it but I fear this game might suffer the same fate as Vanquish: it'll be more rented than bought but if you have the cash, by all means by this as it is one of the more better told stories this year but if you just want to rent it, then get off the chair and do it right now...and if it's not there, just buy the thing anyway.