I have just finished playing Ninja Theory’s Enslaved, and I felt that I kind of need to get my finishing thoughts about the game out there.

For those who didn’t know about this game, Enslaved is a post-apocalyptic third-person platformer with a melée combat element. It retells the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West – better known in NZ by the television version, Monkey.

Enslaved includes a very cool looking post apocalypse over-run with abandoned war machines that were programmed to kill all humans.

Much like Heavenly Sword, another Ninja Theory game, Enslaved left me feeling wanting more. But not in a “that was awesome cool” way but in a “what? Is that it?” way.

There were many similarities between the two games – a desperate desire to tell a compelling story, and a desire to be a fun game. Unfortunately it felt to me in both instances that Ninja Theory kind of gave up half way through the process.

But I’m going to focus on Enslaved here.

Gameplay
Many reviewers have compared Enslaved to Uncharted 2 – and it isn’t a surprise. UC2 has kind of set a new benchmark for production of a third person game both in storytelling and gameplay. Uncharted 2 is not innovative in its gameplay, but it is innovative in how it uses established gameplay. Naughty Dog clearly decided that reinventing the wheel isn’t necessary, focus on good solid and engaging gameplay – then produce exciting set pieces around that gameplay that really lets the player cut loose and have fun.

Enslaved’s gameplay was solid, but also very lacking. The platforming felt unnecessary and used only to pad out the game, the fighting felt anaemic and limited, and there really wasn’t much strategy to the game. It often felt like the gameplay was just there to get you along to the next cut scene.

The cinematic chase scenes were at times cool. but often annoying too.

It wasn’t awful, and was fun at times – but generally I just felt like the game didn’t want to let me really experience the setting.

Graphics
I get that a lot of developers love using the Unreal engine – but why do they do such a sloppy job of it. And why did Ninja Theory drop the ball so badly this time. Heavenly Sword was a gorgeous game that rarely experienced the glitches so common in Unreal engine games. But here the game was constantly plagued by glitches – slow texture loading, clipping, characters mysteriously vanishing… but more than that the game would enigmatically boost the volume on the music, or keep a track playing when it should have cancelled – often drowning out dialogue…

In one instance, Monkey fell but didn’t die, requiring me to reload the game.

Which is all a shame given that most of the time the game does look gorgeous. The set design and character models are great. Monkey grew on me as a character, and the Mechs were all very cool designs.

Story
So with gameplay not really rocking my world, and graphics being glitchy, it kind of comes down to the story.

Yes. The story.

While I do think that the In Media Res opening could have started a little differently, the story does start off well enough, and the initial chapters are well told. The game slowly reveals to us the city, we get some teasing hints about the characters and it all seems a very promising start. Unfortunately as the game progresses, all that promise – the interesting location and vision of a post-apocalyptic world kind of gets dumped in favour of a cliché heavy second half.

It’s a real shame that after presenting the ruins of New York City with it’s teasing hints of how the world collapsed – interesting posters that suggest the slow decent of civilisation, the state of the ruins – and then the minute Trip and Monkey are out of the city all that haunting and intriguing history is summarily dumped.

The middle part of the game, with the arrival of a third member to our merry band, does have some amusing banter and great visuals, and again teases some possible ideas of what happened before – but this gets lost in the hokum cliched plot development.

As if the characters didn’t already have a good enough reason to find out what happens at Pyramid. Instead a good 3-4 chapters are wasted on fetch quests that were unnecessary. I would have excised all but one maybe two chapters from that tripe and focused on getting to Pyramid. Which does bring me to the epilogue.

The ending is, in my opinion, crap. I saw it coming from a mile away and it was not an original finish to the story. It cheapened the whole experience for me because of two things:

a) It contradicted nearly everything leading up to it.

b) It lacked decent foreshadowing.

c) It kind of felt slapped on at the end. It was one of my most hated clichés in storytelling – the twist for the sake of a twist. And it wasn’t even a “ZOMG! I didn’t see that coming!” It was more “oh, so that’s how they decided to spin it this time.”

It felt to me like the writers suddenly felt that the story wasn’t profound enough and tried to have some moral quandry at the end – but it was so poorly handled and sloppily resolved it just felt like a lame duck ending. There isn’t really any room for a sequel either.

What this game and story needed was to firstly be twice the length it ended up being. It needed to draw more plot inspiration from it’s source material Journey to the West – it had some nice parallels at the beginning, but again dropped these in favour of bad lazy game clichés. There should have been more characters. There should have been more communities shown struggling to exist in the world. The arrival to Pyramid should have been the beginning of the third act of the game, and the final chapters should have been about exploring Pyramid and learning its secrets.

And those secrets should have been more profound and uncomfortably challenging than the lame-ass ending that Ninja Theory went with.

Apparently there is a DLC episode planned that will be a story that runs in parallel with the main one.

Given how disappointed the game left me feeling, I don’t intend to waste my money on it.

Ultimately I felt that Enslaved was a squandered opportunity. There was a lot of promise in the setting and characters, but the game cops out rather than does any justice to those inspired ideas.

Conan

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