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Enslaved 360 Review

06/10/2010 Thinking Considered Gamer Review
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Enslaved 360





Further reading:
Heavenly Sword (PS3)
Journey to the West

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Other GamePeople columnists have reviewed this from their perspective - huh?:
Family Gamer (360)
Returning Gamer (360)
Scared Gamer (360)
Tired Gamer (360)
Scripted Gamer (PS3)
Dressup Gamer (PS3)

Enslaved is lush and rich as Hollywood's Serkis and Garland make an inestimable difference. But beyond this success is a quieter missed opportunity - to take something very old and make it fresh and unusual and surprising.

There is a classic Chinese story that many of my Asian friends grew up with. Thinking about them, as well as my dad who is obsessed with mythic tales like this. I thought it only prudent to read up about the tale before I played Ninja Theory's videogame version (and follow up to Heavenly Sword (PS3).

The anonymously published Chinese novel dates from 1590's and divides into four sections. We often call it just Monkey, but it's full name is Journey to the West. The story fictionalises the Xuanzang's pilgrimage to India during the Tang dynasty. He is a Buddhist monk who along with his three protectors Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing - and his dragon prince steed Xuanzang's steed, are sent on a quest. It is full of Chinese folk religion and mythology, and I'm sure I'll never really understand it. But even without really grasping any deeper meaning, the fantastical story still attracts me.

Enslaved Odyssey to the West begins with the escape of Trip from her enforced service. Realising she won't make it alone, she soon picks up with another escaped slave - a Monkey whose headband bonds his life to hers. It is a loose retelling of the tale, but clearly the lines of power remain the same

Even though the vast open planes and sweeping valleys of Heavenly Sword (Ninja Theory's previous game) feel rich and impressive, they don't prepare you for just how lush and rich Enslaved feels to play.

It's a post technology setting with 150 years between us and the most recent cash point. Everything strains to return to nature as you work you way through the landscape.

It's a linear pursuit that's well hidden as you work with both Monkey and Trip in a partnership that sees function as well as friendship take shape.

Game play also shifts a gear with this release, leaving the brawling of Nariko in favour of more puzzle based platforming challenges. It's a linear pursuit that's well hidden as you work with both Monkey and Trip in a partnership that sees function as well as friendship take shape.

There is, of course, combat, but it is kept simple. Multiple button presses will yield combo attacks and unlock new abilities. Maybe Enslaved was too forgiving here as it never quite got me to knuckle down and learn the detail of these interactions. A general ascent to varying my button mashing was enough to proceed most of the time.

Technically, Enslaved incorporates a few red-faced moments. The camera jars against landscape at times, and is at best adequate. Some puzzles are also frustratingly oblique and play to video gaming standards rather than real world logic a little too often, but it's the treatment of such old material that I felt needed more consideration. Not that these texts are too religious or steeped in tradition to be fun - in fact I wanted Enslaved to be more playful with its subject matter, to stretch it further than a linear retelling we'd easily find in a theatre.

The story too often becomes the backdrop, - the excuse - for some admittedly gorgeous on-screen heroism. Whereas I would have preferred to be connected to the sad gentle humanity I found in the Journey to the West itself.

It's a linear pursuit that's well hidden as you work with both Monkey and Trip in a partnership that sees function as well as friendship take shape.

There's no doubt that drawing on directorial talents like Andy Serkis alongside Alex Garland's story telling has created something much more interesting than the usual videogame fare, but this is still a very restrained broad brush approach from a medium that can play with its subjects (ed: and players) so much more than film.

Enslaved does what it sets out to do extremely well. The story telling is grownup, the set pieces are frantic, and even the characters create genuine connections. However, in terms of creating something beyond entertainment, something that lives up to such a humanly evocative name like Enslaved, we still seem to be just getting started with videogames.

Written by Jen Rawles

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Jen Rawles writes the Considered Gamer column.

"For as long as I can remember I've been fascinated by games that can provoke an emotional reaction. I enjoy a game that can tell me a strong, emotive story even if sometimes the game mechanics behind it are weak."

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