|System: PS3, X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Ninja Theory||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Namco Bandai Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct 5, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Andrew Groen
I have every reason to believe that Enslaved is going to be a great game when it finally releases this October. The developer, Ninja Theory, were the masterminds behind one of my favorite games in all of the PlayStation 3 library, Heavenly Sword. Enslaved's visual style is one of the most unique to come along in years. And to top it off, the game has some fairly obvious high-profile influences from Gears of War to the highly lauded Ico.
Right now, however, it's in somewhat rough shape. When playing the game it's impossible not to see immense potential. I'm just not sure the game was ready to be shown.
Enslaved is based on a Chinese novel called Journey to the West in which humans are randomly abducted by mysterious ships, taken into the West, and never seen again. We don't know many of the details yet, but we're already intrigued by this interesting premise. Mostly because we're so incredibly tired of space marine war stories and high fantasy.
The demo begins with some beautiful visuals that serve as a wonderful display of Enslaved extraordinarily vibrant graphical style. We expected nothing less from the developer of the drop dead gorgeous Heavenly Sword. It's a unique take on the tired, old post-apocalyptic setting. There are ruins everywhere, but this setting could potentially tell a different story than most apocalypse-based tales. Rather than a dusty, ruined metropolis, we see a city in ruins covered in vegetation. In this world, it's more likely that the human race has simply neglected these civilizations than that we were wiped out in nuclear holocaust. Colorful flowers and endless green cover every wall and serve as a reminder of how fixated on machines and concrete the industry has become.
The gameplay is a mixture of combat and platforming. Here's where things get a little dicey. The combat in Enslaved needs a lot of work. For starters, there's no type of lock-on feature. In most combat games there's a sort of 'magnetism' that sticks you to an enemy as you're hitting them. It helps prevent the frustration of accidentally veering off to the side in mid-combo (then having to spend the next few moves viciously punishing the air). Enslaved doesn't have this (or it's toned down to such a degree that it didn't do very much), and it shows immediately.
As a result, the combos tend to fall flat. Instead of an increasingly punishing amount of damage, we usually weren't able to hit the enemy after the first few swings. To be fair, though, this system is more challenging than your average beat-em-up. Landing a full combo is brutal and satisfying, though far too infrequent.
My skepticism does not extend to the game's animations though. Ninja Theory is once again proving that they are masters of visual effects. Though many will argue as to the depth and greatness of their games, it's fairly difficult to debate how amazing this game looks in motion. The main character, Monkey (yeah, I know), even seems to have slight characteristics of apish movement.
This isn't just a completely average brawler, though. They've got a few unique tricks up their sleeve that should help to make this a bit more interesting. For instance, they have a mechanic that allows you to make use of your female accomplice. On your command she can stand up from behind cover waving her arms around. This will draw all enemy fire and allow you a few precious moments to make your move. The demo was short, so we weren't able to see many of the ways in which you can use your partner to aid you, but the idea itself is interesting. It made me think of another such game that worked in a similar way, Ico. Obviously, this game is a lot more heavy-handed than that epic of minimalism, but the concept is the same. Grow a relationship between characters by making them constantly interact on screen. Although if that's their goal, then they should probably rethink their design of the large-breasted female character with torn clothing. Monkey is just as sexualized though, to be fair.
We've been wanting to see what Ninja Theory was working on for several years, and now that we've gotten that chance we've come away mostly impressed. The framework for a fantastic game is certainly here. There are some issues still nagging, but they don't seem critical. The issues that I noted could very well be chalked up to a lack of polish evident in all games pre-release.
We're certainly hoping that's the case, because we're really looking forward to romping in Enslaved's world when it releases this October.
CCC Freelance Writer