Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Enslaved PS3 full review

In my quick review I stated that Enslaved was drunk, one minute it's telling you that it loves you; then it's crying into a pint; then it's threatening you for looking at it funny.

The story is based on the classic Buddist tale of Monkey escorting monk Tripitaka on a... well you know what you don't need to know because the developers certainly didn't bother. Okay slightly unfair; we play Monkey who has to escort Trip using only his staff and 'cloud' under penalty of pain from the headband he's wearing. Beyond that though forget it.

The game starts with the obligatory tutorial teaching you how to move and fight and at first this seems like a reasonable platformer. Sadly though the developers have looked at other examples of the genre, looked at their flaws and drawn completely the wrong conclusions about how to deal with them.

The two biggest ones in platformers being - is that something I can jump to or just a piece of static backdrop scenery and damn I missed that jump for the umpteenth time. Rather than change it so that if it looks like you can reach it you can and not add in visual clues to indicate safe jumping points they went a different route. You can't fail to make a jump and you know exactly where you can or can't jump because such items have been coated in a film of shiny. No you can't climb that pipe, but you can climb that identical looking pipe because it's shiny! No you can't jump from there, but you can if you take one step to the left.

Now sure jumping and failing or heading the wrong way can be frustrating, but the solution isn't to make it impossible to fail.

Okay again a little unfair certain handholds will crumble meaning you need to jump quickly, but there aren't many of these and they can be irritating when you can't just jump, but have to be pushing in the right direction as the camera changes. Yep our old friend the shifting camera makes a spectacular return. It can't pass through scenery so not only does it swoop about but zooms in and out with a passionate joy.

In a platformer such antics aren't fun, add in a combat system and it's really not fun. Push in the direction of an enemy to mash the attack button and watch the camera spin so that your 'towards the enemy' is now 'to the left of the enemy' and you're left swinging at air. No there's no lock-on so you flail about in a group just mashing light and heavy attacks with no really thought just hoping you hit something. I said in my mini review that there's no combos; eh yes and no. You can do a wide attack by hitting two face buttons simultaneously; but as with all my efforts in this I get the results of one followed by the other (swing then jump; jump then swing) so forget it. The 'hold circle' for a charged attack to break shields and blocks would be great except for two minor problems:

  1. you can't move while charging; and
  2. your charge can be broken if attacked.
Add in the lack of a lock and most of the time you either lose the charge because the enemy is close enough to attack you or if they're too far to attack you they're too far to be attacked. The best bet is just to hammer them until you either slip around the shield or they stop blocking.

You get two more options to attack though; your staff can shoot plasma or stun bolts (given the ammo); except aiming drops you into first person mode in which you can't move. Oh and it's easy to hit things between you and the target that you can't see or had no idea was there.

So far then we have a melee combat platformer in which you progress along a linear path to shoot things.

Hmm okay not quite linear - at times you can veer off to check out the surroundings. But only once, when the game allows you to. In essence you're presented with one of three options
  1. This is the only path;
  2. This is a fork; or
  3. This is an open space.
It sounds fine except of course it's not. The fork option is a choice between A and B. Path A is the story path and Path B leads to some collectables. Except you don't know which is which. Try Path A first and you'll often have the exit behind you close sealing off Path B. Sometimes that doesn't happen without some input from you first so at least you get the equivalent of the third option open space in which you can head back and take the path not taken.

Remember that headband I mentioned at the beginning? Stray too far from Trip and you'll get headaches and start staggering around; stay away to long or head further away and it's head pop time. Take Path A and if Trip follows, you won't be able to return to Path B despite nothing physically stopping you. Given the delay between Ow and Pop is only a few seconds this puts a serious crimp in exploration and leads to worse with the cloud.

Yeah the cloud a hovering platform that can only be used in certain areas and allows you to move faster and explore areas you wouldn't normally be able to reach. Except it's a one-person platform you have to leave Trip behind. At least you do get the headache warning if you stray too far; except given the speed you're travelling at and the inertia given to the cloud in terms of stopping and turning the delay between warning and death is even shorter.

Why can't you stray too far from Trip. Because she needs protecting. Go to far and she'll get scared and push the panic button; get into combat and some of the enemy might make a beeline for her. She dies - you die. Yep it's an escort mission writ large and we all love those don't we. Um okay Ico was fine, but in this case she vacillates between stupid/helpless and intelligent/armed with nothing other than storyline necessity to explain it.

Continuing then we have a melee combat platformer escort mission in which you progress along a linear story path to shoot things and that encourages you to explore your surroundings by frying your brain if you stray too far from the set path.

Sounds fun doesn't it?

Okay mechanics. Graphically it's a standard Unreal Engine game which makes it difficult to distinguish between things (hence the shiny I guess). Aesthetically it works; the vistas are great and everything hangs together well. Art direction gets applause from me. There's no real variety amongst enemies - some have shields, some can shoot from a distance, some can shock you that's really it. There's a couple of larger ones and three set bosses, but for most of the time it's the same old thing doing nothing different.

Given that lack of difference the only thing that would make the game different on any playthrough is the upgrades you can purchase using the collectables you're not supposed to find ;-) However none of thes interlink. Sure you need Health upgrade 1 before you can buy Health upgrade 2, but that's as far as it goes. With the cost of some of the one-off upgrades the path is pretty fixed into shield, health, damage upgrades unless you hoard.

It's a shame really; this game has good art, but the story-line is basic and contradictory. The ending itself is highly anti-climatic with the big denouement being played out as one large non-interactive cut-scene. I get the feeling this started off well then got passed through to many focus committees and then rushed towards the end.

It's okay as a cheap game, but not a normal full-priced one.