During the E3 presentation of the Witcher 2 this year, the producer for the game mentioned that they were going to have an easy combat option for people who just wanted to experience the story without having to worry about the combat. It struck me as an odd feature, because the combat seemed like such a core part of the game and why would you want to tone something like that down.
If you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up, it’s because Enslaved seems to have taken that approach and not made the easy features an option. Playing Enslaved feels like playing a third person action game with training wheels, a safety harness, and water wings. These training wheels include not allowing you to miss any jumps or fall off the edges of the world. Sure we’ve seen some of these things in parts other games (Uncharted 2 and the God of War games come to mind), but never has the difficulty of a game been taken away so completely. As someone who’s not a fan of platforming or jumping puzzles, I normally welcome a little bit of help, but the game’s constant need to protect you from yourself detracts from what is an otherwise amazing game.
Getting back to the game, Enslaved is set 150 years in the future, after mankind has been mostly been wiped off the planet by an undisclosed conflict. You play Monkey, a lone wolf who gets by and who has been captured by a slaver team. They’ve also captured Trip, a teenage girl who manages to break out of her cell and escape. Fortunately for Monkey her escape allows him to break free but unfortunately for him, it causes the ship to crash. Monkey and Trip manage to escape the ship, knocking Monkey in the process. While he’s out, Trip decides he would be a great person to get her home and decides that he’ll need the “encouragement” of one of the Slaver headbands to get her there. The game is loosely based on the classic story “Journey to the West”. I’d love to offer a comparison on their take of the story but I’m not that well read.
Don’t expect to get a lot of answers about what has happened to humanity, as the game only provides minor hints about the world in which the game is set. Instead the focus is on Monkey and Trip and their evolving relationship (which is complicated in the last third of the game by the addition of another character). Trip is especially interesting as her character evolves the most over the game. Monkey gets a variation of the Han Solo arc which we’ve seen before in other games.
Thus starts the journey of our two heroes, and it’s also where the Ninja Theory magic kicks in. The first thing you’ll notice is that Ninja Theory has been able to bring the fantastic character models from Heavenly Sword to the Unreal Engine 3. The human characters in the game are the most expressive and real feeling of any game on the market. Monkey and Trip look, feel, and react like real people which are helped by some amazing voice over work.
The world the characters inhabit is also as good. There are a few texture pop-in issues (a side effect of the Unreal 3 engine), but they aren’t as bad as I’ve seen in UE3 games. I read somewhere that Ninja Theory used a lot of what they saw in the show “After we are gone” and the influence of the show is evident in the first half of the game as Monkey and Trip must escape the overgrown ruins of New York.The main enemies you’ll face in the game are mechs which were are a remnant of the conflict that wiped out humanity. The mechs are mostly a passive defense and only become active when they detect human life (making them like giant walking landmines) There’s a decent variety of mechs in the game, but once you get towards the end of the game you do wish they had tossed in a few more to keep things interesting as Ninja Theory resorts to the “just add more enemies to increase the difficulty” line of thinking towards the end of the game.
Monkey has two weapons at his disposal, his fists and a large expandable rod that he can pummel mechs with. Using these combinations, you get a wide attack which you can use to push enemies back and then strong and weak attacks.
In the later stages of the game you’ll gain the ability to shoot stunning blasts and plasma out of the staff which adds a ranged attack to your arsenal. As you progress through the game you collect tech orbs, which you can use to buy upgrades to your weapons, increase your health, and learn new combat moves. The combat is fairly satisfying and feels just right. There are some decent combos in the game and there are certain situations where Monkey will literally rip a mech in half with this staff. You will fight the camera a bit (a hallmark of the third person genre), and there are a couple of times when you can go into one of the pre-rendered sequences and then have the camera pointing the other way while you get pummeled by a mech.
It’s not just you and the ‘bots though as you have to keep Trip safe from them, which means keeping an eye on her when you go into combat. Monkey can distract the mechs by yelling at them, which will keep them off Trip for a while. The help doesn’t just go one way though as Trip can throw up a holographic distraction, which can pull long range fire off of Monkey so he can approach and take a turret out. It’s a nice layer to what would otherwise be a fairly ordinary combat system and it does give some of the combat situations a bit of a puzzle feel.
If you’re not an achievement junkie or OCD collector, there’s not a lot of replay value to Enslaved. It is one of those games you would save for a rainy weekend play through or to show off what the medium can to non-gamers but I can already see a fine coat of dust starting to gather on my copy.
Enslaved is one of those rare games that more than the sum of its parts (much like Heavenly Sword), and it’s one of those games that people should play because the writing and characters are perfect examples of what this industry can do. It’s just a shame that’s it’s held back by some over aggressive hand holding distracts you from the experience. I realize that this might appeal to casual gamers as the game doesn’t allow you to fail in some of these sections (except the one time when it does) but these portions of the game are going to bore those who have played other staples of the genre.