Monday, November 8, 2010

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - Review

Why I Wanted To Play It

In a Fall season filled with video games that can’t muster more than mild interest from me, I was playing game demos on the Xbox and hoping to happen upon something fun and different. Enslaved is what I found. The demo was fun, dramatic and ended with an interesting beginning. Your muscle-bound character escapes from a slave ship as its crashing into New York City. The escape is a daring mix of jumping and climbing along the exterior of the ship as it crashes through tall buildings. You fight some robots with a fun energy staff and make it to the outside hull of an escape pod just as it blasts off into the city. New York is obviously abandoned and has overgrown into some post-apocalyptic jungle.

You land in the jungle and are knocked unconscious only to awaken and find out you’ve been enslaved anyway. A young girl has hacked a slave helmet and put it on you. Somehow the game actually makes you pity her. She has enslaved you, but promises to free you as soon as you’ve safely escorted her to her home village safe and sound. If she dies, the slave helmet will automatically kill you. An unusual way to pair up a team, but it had me wanting more.

How I Got It
I was strapped for cash but excited about playing a new game I’d never really heard about. Just as I was trying to figure out what games I could sell to get Enslaved...weird...a beacon of hope shined from a Redbox at Albertsons. Redbox had never offered games before but there it was: Enslaved the video game for $2 per night. Fate, it seemed, would have me play this game. I rented it immediately.

How it went
Fate would also thank me kindly not for making a full purchase. I beat the game in 3 nights, and I do not feel the need to go back and play it again. However, I do not spend time, effort and two extra nights to beat crappy games.

What Thrilled Me
Enslaved was fun and entirely worth a rental. The game’s big successes are in its story and its ability to deliver some really big scenes. The characters are fun and their relationships are different than you’ve seen in most stories. The game has an enjoyable take on life after an apocalypse and the ending is very satisfying. You will find yourself fighting gigantic robots and climbing on enormous structures as they move, shake, and fall apart. There a huge bosses to fight, levels that are fun to climb around, and a girl that’s worth having as your AI partner.
This is probably the games greatest triumph: the inclusion of an AI partner that you come to appreciate rather than despise. Despite the fact that you must escort the girl to her village, this game is never an escort mission. Though she is put in peril a few times throughout the game, I never had to restart the game because I failed to protect her. The game smartly gives your companion useful powers that make her an appreciable addition to the journey. She is responsible for your upgrades, scan enemies for weaknesses, and is a wiz with technology in ways your character could never comprehend.

What Chilled Me
While the game’s got a hell of a start and satisfying end, that chewy middle part starts to taste a little bland. The game begins to get a bit formulaic as it goes on. You’ll climb, jump, help the girl get to an important area, and repeat. There will be new types of robots and new types of bosses but the overall design remains the same. The levels are vibrant and varied in their aesthetic, but they are a shallow mask over level design that remains fundamentally the same from start to finish. The game is entirely a linear path and what you do in the first few levels will be much the same as what you do for the entire game.

Furthermore, the game commits a few video game deadly sins. There are occasionally parts that become frustratingly hard or unclear as to what you need to do. You never go too far back when you die, but you will find yourself watching short, unskippable cut scenes multiple times. Finally, I encountered a glitch on one of the later levels that made me reload and replay about 10 minutes of the game.

And How It All Turned Out
None of the problems with Enslaved were frustrating enough to make me stop playing. I was always excited to see the next bit of story and explore the next new landscape. I genuinely enjoyed the combat and the platforming through most of the levels. Nonetheless, I was glad to finally reach the end. The game did not have me begging for more. Enslaved doesn’t quite warrant a purchase, but for a one time thrill ride, Enslaved is well worth a rental.

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