You need to take this journey
Enslaved is probably the first real surprise of Fall for me, I had played the demo and had a mixed reaction to it. The graphics were well rendered and colourful, the world seemed intriguing but there were a myriad of camera issues and control problems to spoil much of the fun. Still I decided to rent the full game and give it a shot.
The camera and control problems are very much present in the full game but they seem to be less of an issue once the game gets rolling. The camera has a habit of getting really tight on the action during combat and they jolt the camera briefly towards the enemy every time you land a successful hit. This gives some real impact to your strikes but also means you can not see the two enemies sneaking up behind you. The camera also has a habit of snapping to odd angles now and again which can be frustrating and disorientating but it never got in the way of the gameplay too much.
The player character, Monkey, uses a stretchable staff for his melee combat and he can also use it as a ranged weapon. You can fire either a plasma blast to damage enemies or a stun round that drops shields and well...stuns them. You use these two types in concert to dispatch ranged enemies but the odd shot here or there at a rushing melee attacker is useful too.
If your reading a user review you probably already have a good idea of Enslaved's plot but just in case lets recap. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is based off the ancient Chinese story Journey to the West, which stars a playful god-like character the Monkey King. The game takes inspiration for characters and themes but sets off on its own journey if you will. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic future after some catastrophic event, possibly a war, which resulted in robots taking over the world and the remaining human survivors fighting to stay alive. You play the role of Monkey, not quite a god in this tale, nor as playful but quite powerful and athletic. Monkey has been trapped along with a group of other human survivors on board a robot-run slave ship bound for an unknown destination. An intelligent tech-savy teenage girl by the name of Trip escapes from her cell and sets off havoc on the ship. In the chaos Monkey escapes and eventually makes it off the plummeting slave ship by hitching a ride on Trip's escape pod. He was on the outside of the pod during the journey however and though not killed he is knocked unconscious as the pod lands in a crumbling, overgrown New York city.
He awakens to find that Trip has attached a slave headband to his head and unless he does exactly as she commands he will succumb to physical pain from the headband and worse if she dies he will die. Trip is smart but she is weak, timid and not used to surviving on her own. She needs Monkey to protect her as they travel back to her village. Seeing this story through is one of a biggest reasons to play this game. The story is written by Alex Garland, known from films like Sunshine and 28 Days Later; it is a fairly simple tale once you strip away its sci-fi wrapping but this allows the story to focus on character development, something that games tend to handle terribly. The relationship of Monkey and Trip is fascinating to watch unfold, from anger and mistrust to mutual respect and friendship. This is done slowly enough to feel like its earned and the performance captured cut-scenes go a huge way towards making it work.
Andy Serkis, of Lord of the Rings, King Kong and soon to be Tintin fame plays Monkey and also acts as director for these scenes as he did on Ninja Theory's previous game, Heavenly Sword. Much like Heavenly Sword the performance capture allows an extra level of acting we tend to miss in games. Most notably it captures the facial articulations of the actors allowing them to show real emotion. With Heavenly Sword we learned that this technique can capture over-acting which while amusing in that game is thankfully toned down for this more serious tale and only springs up in the appropriate comedic moments. We instead are able to see a lot of subtly in the acting that would have been lost through traditional motion capture or hard to replicate with hand-animation. This gives Enslaved a unique presentation that few other games can match and possibly allows us a glimpse into a future of story presentation in games.
Trip accompanies you during much of the gameplay and many sections of the game involve getting her safely to an objective, thankfully these rarely resemble anything you would see as an escort mission in other games. Trip is usually out of the way and safe most the the time while you venture out to clear an area. You can give her simple orders to use her abilities for combat situations or environmental puzzles. You can get her to throw up a distraction to draw fire while you run to the next piece of cover and then command her to run towards you while you provide the distraction.
The gameplay is not quite as linear as I had first believed. The game gives you small but meaningful alternative ways to tackle different areas. For example you will often be dealing with deactivated mechs who only attack when you step within their radius and there is often a way to navigate the environment that avoids activating the mechs at all. The exploration in the game works a lot like Prince of Persia, Monkey is agile and can leap, climb and swing around then environment. The objects that Monkey can climb on will glow in the environment, once you find the first object to climb onto the platforming just involves pointing the left stick towards the next object and hitting the jump button, but the animations are nice and often if you pay attention instead of always blindly jumping towards the next obvious handhold you can spot alternate paths with hidden goodies .
The flaw to all this climbing is that the game can be pretty specific on where you can and cannot climb up. This is mostly a problem with ledges where you will find that you need to stand in a specific area to climb up even though the ledge is often bigger than that area. You can also not jump to your death ever, which is a good thing but sometimes it can take a while to figure out where you can actually jump to.
Enslaved is a game with great pacing, your never doing one thing for too long and a unique fun set-piece moment is just around the next corner. The game tends to know when its used one trick a bit too much and it will stop doing it just before it gets repetitive or at least give you a slightly different twist on the trick.
Enslaved is not a game you should pass up, its one of my favorite games in a pretty spectacular year of games. And despite the fact that I rented this game and there is very little to go back to after completing it I have a very strong feeling that I should go out and purchase a copy. That might have something to do with the fact I am very excited for the upcoming DLC content, but even without that consideration there is a very good chance I will pick this game up just to add it to my collection and I can't really say anything more positive than that.