Weekly Roundup 05/13/2012

This week I played through Enslaved: Odyssey to the West from start to finish. It wasn’t a long game, but I definitely enjoyed it overall. The highlight has to be the animations, particularly the faces. I know this game came out in a pre-L.A. Noire world, but in some ways its facial animations are just as good, if not even better. They don’t have that weird disconnect from the rest of the body that the L.A. Noire faces do, and are almost as lifelike at the same time. It’s impressive stuff.

Monkey and Trip are the heart and soul of Enslaved's narrative.

In fact, the game as a whole looks pretty great, and I really enjoyed the lush, colorful environments. I found the world at large pretty engaging, and liked seeing all the different sights and sounds it had to offer. The game has its own unique atmosphere, which I always appreciate, and uses it to tell an interesting story in its own subtle way. Enslaved is not a game that shoves its story and ideas down your throat; it’s more inclined to let its characters lead the way, and let you take from it what you will. I generally prefer character driven stories in games, and it helps that Enslaved’s characters are as likable as they are (even if they can be a bit stereotypical at times). There are really only two characters, Monkey and Trip, which lets the game focus on them a lot rather than focus on many different characters a little bit each. I felt like I got to know them pretty well as a result, and found their constant back and forth to be genuine and appealing. By contrast, I didn’t like Pigsy at all, who joined the cast for the last third of the game. He was an awful attempt at a comic relief character, and introduced a dumb, weird side story that I would have prefered to do without.

Anyway, constantly following the two primary characters reminded me of the 2008 Prince of Persia in some ways, both as a storytelling device and as a gameplay template. Monkey and Trip work together to get through areas, with Trip providing intel and often acting as a button pusher/door opener, while Monkey of course provides the muscle. He’s also extremely acrobatic (like the Prince), so there’s plenty of “platforming” thrown into the mix as well. I put platforming in quotes because it barely qualifies. The game literally won’t let you jump if it would lead to your death, so I just ended up spamming the jump button during platforming segments as I rotated the joystick around, which proved to be the fastest, most efficient way to get through these parts. It’s basically on autopilot, and thus pretty dumb and meaningless.

Combat is just kind of "meh".

Enslaved’s combat is also incredibly simple. Tell me if you’ve heard this before: press X for a light attack and Y for a heavy attack. Sure, you do have a few other moves, such as a stun, a dodge and a projectile, but it’s all pretty basic stuff. The game tries to bulk itself up a little via collectibles and upgrades, and while none of that is bad I still never found any of it to be that interesting either. The core combat just doesn’t have a lot to it; adding a little bit of dressing on top doesn’t do much for it. Still, being a little bland is about the only complaint I can make, as what’s there is fine for the most part. The one legitimate problem I did have with the combat was the camera. It just stuck way too close to Monkey most of the time, making it really hard to see everything you needed to see on the battlefield. The controls in general also didn’t feel as responsive as they could have been; I think there was a bit too much animation priority or something. Which makes sense in some ways, as the animations are one of the game’s highlights, but could still be a little annoying.

Like I said though, the combat, collectibles and upgrades weren’t bad, it’s just all stuff I’ve seen done (and done better) many times before. For me, Enslaved’s high points easily outweighed the rough spots, and I really enjoyed the adventure on the whole. We also kept trucking with Magicka this week, though we didn’t end up playing it a ton. Not much news to report there; the game continues to be completely insane. Otherwise I’m battening down the hatches in preparation for Diablo III. I wasn’t the world’s biggest Diablo II fan, but I also only played it single player, and I plan on playing it strictly with friends this time, which should help out a lot. So I’m going to give it a solid go. And that’s all for now, until next time!

Currently playing: Magicka, waiting for Diablo III!

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4 Comments
Posted by MajorMitch

This week I played through Enslaved: Odyssey to the West from start to finish. It wasn’t a long game, but I definitely enjoyed it overall. The highlight has to be the animations, particularly the faces. I know this game came out in a pre-L.A. Noire world, but in some ways its facial animations are just as good, if not even better. They don’t have that weird disconnect from the rest of the body that the L.A. Noire faces do, and are almost as lifelike at the same time. It’s impressive stuff.

Monkey and Trip are the heart and soul of Enslaved's narrative.

In fact, the game as a whole looks pretty great, and I really enjoyed the lush, colorful environments. I found the world at large pretty engaging, and liked seeing all the different sights and sounds it had to offer. The game has its own unique atmosphere, which I always appreciate, and uses it to tell an interesting story in its own subtle way. Enslaved is not a game that shoves its story and ideas down your throat; it’s more inclined to let its characters lead the way, and let you take from it what you will. I generally prefer character driven stories in games, and it helps that Enslaved’s characters are as likable as they are (even if they can be a bit stereotypical at times). There are really only two characters, Monkey and Trip, which lets the game focus on them a lot rather than focus on many different characters a little bit each. I felt like I got to know them pretty well as a result, and found their constant back and forth to be genuine and appealing. By contrast, I didn’t like Pigsy at all, who joined the cast for the last third of the game. He was an awful attempt at a comic relief character, and introduced a dumb, weird side story that I would have prefered to do without.

Anyway, constantly following the two primary characters reminded me of the 2008 Prince of Persia in some ways, both as a storytelling device and as a gameplay template. Monkey and Trip work together to get through areas, with Trip providing intel and often acting as a button pusher/door opener, while Monkey of course provides the muscle. He’s also extremely acrobatic (like the Prince), so there’s plenty of “platforming” thrown into the mix as well. I put platforming in quotes because it barely qualifies. The game literally won’t let you jump if it would lead to your death, so I just ended up spamming the jump button during platforming segments as I rotated the joystick around, which proved to be the fastest, most efficient way to get through these parts. It’s basically on autopilot, and thus pretty dumb and meaningless.

Combat is just kind of "meh".

Enslaved’s combat is also incredibly simple. Tell me if you’ve heard this before: press X for a light attack and Y for a heavy attack. Sure, you do have a few other moves, such as a stun, a dodge and a projectile, but it’s all pretty basic stuff. The game tries to bulk itself up a little via collectibles and upgrades, and while none of that is bad I still never found any of it to be that interesting either. The core combat just doesn’t have a lot to it; adding a little bit of dressing on top doesn’t do much for it. Still, being a little bland is about the only complaint I can make, as what’s there is fine for the most part. The one legitimate problem I did have with the combat was the camera. It just stuck way too close to Monkey most of the time, making it really hard to see everything you needed to see on the battlefield. The controls in general also didn’t feel as responsive as they could have been; I think there was a bit too much animation priority or something. Which makes sense in some ways, as the animations are one of the game’s highlights, but could still be a little annoying.

Like I said though, the combat, collectibles and upgrades weren’t bad, it’s just all stuff I’ve seen done (and done better) many times before. For me, Enslaved’s high points easily outweighed the rough spots, and I really enjoyed the adventure on the whole. We also kept trucking with Magicka this week, though we didn’t end up playing it a ton. Not much news to report there; the game continues to be completely insane. Otherwise I’m battening down the hatches in preparation for Diablo III. I wasn’t the world’s biggest Diablo II fan, but I also only played it single player, and I plan on playing it strictly with friends this time, which should help out a lot. So I’m going to give it a solid go. And that’s all for now, until next time!

Currently playing: Magicka, waiting for Diablo III!

Posted by dankempster

It's always nice to read some well-formed thoughts on Enslaved. I really enjoyed that game when I played it last year (around this time, weirdly), and for most of the same reasons as yourself. The characters of Monkey and Trip, and more specifically the rapport that develops between them, keeps Enslaved's otherwise bare-bones story really engaging. The gameplay is simplistic, yeah, but I kind of appreciated that - if it had been any more demanding, I think it might have detracted from the (incredibly rewarding) experience of exploration and discovery. It probably sounds daft, but playing Enslaved felt similar to my first experiences of playing the original Jak & Daxter - using a limited and pretty basic array of abilities to explore and progress through a beautiful, colourful, detailed and interesting game-world.

One thing I'd be really interested to know, if you think you could discuss it without spoiling it for prospective players, is what you thought of the game's ending chapter. I only ask because I know a lot of people hated it, whereas I thought it made for interesting viewing. Perhaps it was because I was reading 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' at the time, but I was impressed by how it posed a similar 'What is real, anyway?'-type question, and also the role-reversal between Monkey and Trip in those closing moments.

Edited by MajorMitch

@dankempster: I really enjoyed the ending to be honest. I tend to like it when game endings leave me with a different take on the game's events, as long as it's done in an interesting way. It gives me something extra to ponder, and I thought Enslaved's was done pretty well.

The idea of being "enslaved" runs pretty thick throughout the game's themes in a number of ways. The ending was kind of the culmination of that idea, so I thought it was very consistent thematically, but it expressed it in a very different way from the rest of the game. It was on a grander, almost "big brother" kind of scope, rather than more personal like the rest of the game. And like you said, it posed other questions, about what is real, what does it mean to be free, is happiness worth enslavement, etc. I also really liked how the dynamic between Monkey and Trip played out. Trip had Monkey enslaved the entire game, for the most part against his will. But right at the end she frees him from the ultimate enslavement, perhaps also against his will. So then was she even freeing him? Was Monkey ever really free to choose anything for himself? The one moment where Trip offered him freedom, Monkey didn't even take it. He chose enslavement instead, presumably it made him happier.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting stuff all around. Maybe those that didn't like it prefer more cut and dry endings? I don't know, I seem to like a lot of video game endings that aren't well received :P

Posted by Hargreaves93

I recently bought Enslaved and as soon as I have finished The Lost and Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony DLC for GTA IV then I plan on starting this game. I've heard some pretty consistent reviews about this game so I'm really looking forward to giving it a go.