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Enslaved Odyssey to the West explodes with life and colour. Platforming meets action as writing, performance and game play invite us to dance. Its biggest testament though is the height of expectations it creates - even if on broader terms they were left unmet.
Enslaved draws on an old Chinese story. Not being familiar in Eastern culture though, it was a game I had to take on face value.
In this light, it sets up some intriguing relationships hinging around the two main characters: Trip a young tech geek girl, and Monkey a muscle bound criminal. We join them just as their relationship begins - with abandonment, betrayal, entrapment and torture.
Trip leaves Monkey on a collapsing spaceship, choosing to save her own life. They both survive and end up together, and out of fear Trip fits a slave's headband to Monkey to ensure he will help her survive. Monkey responds with raw anger and rage throughout.
It's a pretty dark place that even the bright visual palette and jungle tundra can't hide. But the mix of emotions it raises are genuinely grown up - and certainly address the topics I'm keen to discuss with my kids when they are old enough to play it.
There is honesty to Trip's initial actions, and Monkey's rageful response. But Enslaved doesn't leave us there, instead we find the two protagonists realising they need to work together to survive. Monkey soon wins Trips respect and even persuades her to follow his lead to get them through the gunfire. In return, Trip finds she is more effective asking for Monkey's help than using the headband to command him to obey her.
A combination of textures, movement and an understanding of human imperfections create the most lifelike videogame personas I've seen.
It all happens much too quickly of course, as their initial miss-steps are lightly forgotten and forgiven. But there is enough substance in the telling for to genuinely add to the game play.
Beyond the characters and narrative tensions Enslaved is a platform action game a bit like Prince of Persia. It comes from Ninja Theory, the team behind Heavenly Sword, and again calls on the talents of Andy Serkis (Lord of The Rings). Here though he is paired with the writing talent of Alex Garland (28 Days Later). Like their previous game, even swapping imperial Japan for post apocalyptic America, it looks gorgeous.
Ninja Theory's call sign characterisation is clearly present. I'd normally talk about this in terms of writing and dialogue, but it is the visual quality of the people we deal with that somehow makes them feel more human. A combination of textures, movement and an understanding of human imperfections create the most lifelike videogame personas I've seen. Even besting the excellent work of Uncharted 2.
Monkey's charged attack alone is enough to give you chills.
Along with the platforming puzzles are regular and high impact battles. Camera work and visual effects make these both impressive and threatening. Monkey's charged attack alone is enough to give you chills - with a deep throbbing Pod Racer like sound that seems to resonate around the game space.
For all its artistry and intriguing relationships though, this is still a game expected to be played by more committed gamers. Although the way ahead is usually well signposted, if you miss something or get confused you can literally spend 30 minutes on a level that should take 5.
This is fine if you are not short of time, but for family gamers like me it can be less that satisfying to see those minutes ticking away while you fumble around the same location over and over again. Particularly if the experience will eat up the equivalent viewing time of three or four films - around nine hours. Uncharted was excellent at spotting when a player was stuck like that and giving them a helping hand - no such luck here.
The visual experience was breathtaking, and characters offered some real talking points.
Despite that though, Enslaved impressed me. The visual experience was breathtaking, and characters offered some real talking points. It's a shame that it couldn't have been more tailored to a wider audience, but it is still a great game as it stands.
It all leaves me wondering though, what might have been if the characters had not reverted to their archetypal stereotypes. If there had been space for them to escape expectations of saving each other to wrestle with darker concerns, there could have been some real cultural fireworks. Or, if the game play led pacing had been allowed to give way to slower more melancholy moments, perhaps something more substantial may have bubbled up from our simmering protagonists.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: