An Engrossing But Flawed Journey
In the war zone that is the autumn 2010 video game market, it's easy to overlook a game like Enslaved. This is a shame, because although flawed, the game is also quite unique. Backed by minimal marketing and releasing amongst a slew of highly anticipated games, Enslaved came out of left field to deliver an uneven but ultimately worthwhile experience.
Enslaved starts with a bang, throwing the you right into the action and seamlessly introducing the numerous gameplay elements in an engaging way. Taking control of a stoic wanderer called Monkey, you will navigate a rapidly disintegrating slave ship as it hurdles wildly through the skies of post apocalyptic New York. Searching desperately for an escape pod, you'll control Monkey as he leaps and crawls across the outside of the ship. As the ship falls ever lower, Monkey finds one last escape pod. Unfortunately, it's already occupied by a teenage girl, and the ensuing chaos of the crash leaves Monkey unconscious. Upon waking, the girl, Trip, informs Monkey that she has outfitted him with a hacked slave headband, thus binding him to her. The two strike a deal; Monkey will escort Trip three hundred miles West to her village, and in return Trip will remove the headband. This opening sequence is exhilarating and provocative, but unfortunately the rest of the game doesn't quite maintain this level of quality.
There are also a few sequences in which Monkey will ride a hover board in order to cross larger expanses of land or to fight a boss. Although the platforming and combat can be cumbersome at times, they are largely enjoyable experiences. The same can not be said of the hover boarding sections, which feature some of the slipperiest controls you'll see in a console game. Trying to jump precisely from platform to platform with the hover board is like trying to perform brain surgery with a scalpel coated in butter. While having an epileptic seizure.
All of the disparate gameplay elements, hover boarding aside, are competent enough, but by the end of the game it starts to feel as if Enslaved is just coasting along. There aren't enough new gameplay variations introduced throughout the game to keep things interesting for the ten to twelve hours that it will take to beat the game. Luckily, the story picks up the slack. Monkey's developing relationship with Trip is truly interesting, and it's fun to see their characters grow both in game and during the cutscenes. A few of the scenes were actually a bit touching, and there's even a nice little twist at the end to shake things up. All is not well in the script of Enslaved, though, and there are some annoying characters and logical inconsistencies that poke their heads through from time to time. The biggest offender is a character introduced during the second half of the game, who takes the thoughtful and melancholy tone of the game thus far and stomps it into the ground with uncomfortable jokes about wet dreams and farts. It's a weird change of tone for the game, and Enslaved never quite recovers from it. The previously mentioned logical inconsistencies are less annoying, but still a little weird. Throughout their journey, Monkey and Trip are pursued by large mechs known as Dogs. These enemies look and sound fearsome, and Monkey even states at one point that no one has ever killed a Dog, but when the time comes to fight one it'll be over in a minute. You just shoot the Dog with Monkey's staff, and it falls on the ground and lets you beat it to death with a stick. How is it that nobody has ever killed one of these?
The graphics, on the other hand, are consistently quite nice. Post apocalyptic New York sports an overgrown look that is just lovely, and characters move through the environment in convincing and (mostly) realistic ways. The character models also look pretty good, but it's their animations that really sell the game. The nuance with which Monkey and Trip emote goes a long way towards immersing you in Enslaved's fiction, and the battle animations are fearsome. Fighting is entertaining despite the weird camera issues and simple controls simply because it looks so damn brutal, especially later on in the game when you'll be fighting larger groups of enemies. Unfortunately, the trademark Unreal Engine issue of texture pop-in rears its ugly head now and again, but it barely detracts from what is overall a very good looking game.
In keeping with the graphical presentation, the audio is another strong point in Enslaved. The score is beautiful but minimalist, only poking its head through when absolutely necessary. This creates a very natural feeling world because there isn't music blaring through the speakers at all times, and it makes the action packed moments feel even more intense. Voice overs are also good all around, and the lip syncing is spot on thanks to the impressive motion capture technology that was used to make the game. It may sound shallow to say that the presentation is the best part of Enslaved, but it really makes the game that much more believable and sympathetic. It's a credit to the game's audio and graphical design that this ravaged world seems not only plausible, but lush and inviting.
Whether or not you enjoy Enslaved largely comes down to how much you value story and atmosphere versus good gameplay. The fighting and climbing aren't necessarily bad, but they do have their issues and they do get a bit stale by the end of the game. That said, this apocalypse is a unique and visually stunning one the likes of which haven't been seen in gaming before. If you're looking for an original world to explore, you may find yourself enraptured by Enslaved.