A stepping stone to acceptance
Enslaved, Enslaved, Enslaved, Im really not sure where you came from but im damn glad you arrived in my 360’s disc tray. Enslaved is a game that, although ive been aware of its development/existance through trailers, just never lit my fire through the entire duration of its pre release marketing cycle. If im perfectly honest i think i watched the first trailer for Enslaved right after i watched the first trailer for Quantum Theory and i think Quantum Theory's extreme generic-ness possibly spilled over its flash based video container covering me in a thin film of total apathy that i then proceeded to recieve my first photons of Enslaved through.
Beyond this initial non impression that Enslaved left me with lied further reasons for me to ignore it. Its a character action game like Heavenly Sword or Devil May Cry and generally im not a fan of these. It is based on an ancient Chinese myth involving characters called monkey, pig and trip and Monkey can fly around on a Cloud. None of these things point towards anything other than this being a title i should of avoided, but then something changed.
I read of involvement from Andy Serkis followed by an article regarding performance capture technology that referenced Enslaved and the costs associated with its usage (hint:its not cheap). Finally i read that the script was being penned by Alex Garland and none of these very high profile factors aligned with my previous non impression of Enslaved meaning that i was going to have to take a look myself.
Thankfully my "look" at Enslaved turned into an 8 hour play through from start to finish in only two sittings. To know me is to know that this kind of behaviour is rare if not bordering on a trace element in my gaming makeup. Typically i have a short attention span that means i can only bear to play games in short sharp stints but once id finished chapter 1 of Enslaved i was totally and absolutely hooked and i knew right then i needed to see the direction this odyssey was going to take me (suprisingly it is west).
Initially when the game first started my interest was peaked simply by how fricking good unreal 3 tech looks nowadays. Honestly it shocked me how gritty and sharp and non plastic that engine makes worlds look now, even over previous versions of unreal 3 and the first impression it gave was "wow..ok..this doesn't look like the cheap generic character action game i was expecting" The second thing i noticed was the characters eyes in cutscenes. It isnt an exaggeration to say these characters are the most well presented, emotive, believable video game characters ive ever interacted with and the strides this title have made in eye socket technology is responsible for a great deal of this. Characters make genuine eye contact and light bounces off their eyes as you would expect. The last time i felt like this in reagards to a video game character was when Gordon Freeman opened his eyes after being knocked out only to be greeted by Alyx Vance's rye smile for the first time. The characters are believable showing very little of the "uncanny valley" syndrome we have become used to in this generation of consoles meaning i genuinely care what happens to them.
The undoubted technological achievements the game displays in regards to the characters is also paired up with a subtlety of storytelling/character development we rarely see in video games. I love Video Games, they are without doubt my number one entertainment medium but Enslaved not only put into perspective how far we have come in regards to story telling in games but also how far we have to go. The subtle character development used in Enslaved is not revolutionary, Its probably basic in regards to film making but in the world of video games it feels leagues ahead of most titles. Most games are guilty of going the route of being over the top in regards to character/story development to ensure your smashed over the head with the point the game is trying to make. Enslaved however feels like it trusts its player. Its technology enables the developers to have the fidelity they require to show subtlety and nuance in their characters emotions and they use it beautiful, trusting that small flickers of emotion will be perceived by us the player and i personally find this a revelation. A film student would no doubt play enslaved and then read my appraisal thinking "its nothing special i dont know what hes talking about" but the point im making is exactly that, Video games have come so far but still have so far to go in regards to intelligent character development, enslaved represents, in my opinion, one of the baby steps that games like Half Life 2 have taken previously.
All this talk of character development might come across as if that's the only thing the game has going for it but that's just testament to how good the character side of things is that i felt the need to talk about that first over what turns out to be some pretty amazing gameplay too. The platforming/ traversal side of the gameplay is simplified in a prince of persia esq manner that means although im only pressing up and the a button repeatedly as i climb up a collapsing crane, i still feel good about it and am never frustrated by the controls. The platforming sections also deliver some of the bet set pieces of recent time. Scrambling up cranes as the collapse, platforming across the wings of currently crashing airships, chase sequences as you escape from mechadogs, these are all par for the enslaved course and its cinematically astounding. The ying to the platforming’s yang is combat and this comes in the form of mano et mecho combat thats typical, in style at least, of Ninja Theory's previous title Heavenly Sword. Combat is comprised of light and heavy attacks mixed up with doges and counter attacks that trigger with well timed blocks. It isnt overly complicated but the depth to the combat displays its self piece by piece slowly as you upgrade your character until by the end of the game your dodging front shielded enemy's before turning them into their own ticking time bombs to wipe out the other three mechs coming for you. Its pretty satisfying.
So in summary I think Enslaved is a serious contender for 2010's game of the year. It came out of nowhere and genuinely made me think about video games in general afterwards. Not every game can invoke an emotion like that so for me, its a must play.
Its technically proficient, made by artists enabled by the technology they have been given resulting in a game that serves as another baby step towards games shedding that feeling of its "good story telling.....for a game".