Letting-the-dust-settle--Enslaved Letting the dust settle: Enslaved

   24/06/2012 at 18:47       Joe Bennett       9 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Enslaved, Letting the dust settle, X360, XBOX 360, Phwoar Trip

Sometimes I don’t think the game industry realises how important demos are to the success of their game.

A demo should entice the player to purchase the game. It should encourage anybody dithering over whether to buy the game or not to move it to the top of their ‘to buy’ list. And in some cases it’s also a tool to convert naysayers into potential purchasers. In short, a demo is one of the most important weapons of any publishing company’s arsenal.

So why then is the decision constantly made to use the most broken, the most buggy or the most downright boring part of the game as a demo? Instead of converting ditherers and naysayers, it turns away previously determined purchasers. I totally get that a demo is ‘not representative of the final product’ in terms of completeness, bugs or overall experience. But it should at least be representative of the fun that the player will get from the final product.

In some cases I’ve even known demos to be devious little liars. I’ve played demos before that have written cheques that the final game couldn’t cash. In Enslaved’s case it’s more of an IOU to the final game’s Premium Bond win. And going by the posts made on forums and social networks at the time, it cost Ninja Theory (and Namco Bandai as publishers) a lot of sales.

Rather than taking Enslaved to the top of the to buy list it moved it to the bottom, and in some cases off of the list entirely. I for one was interested in the game throughout its development and could have been converted into a day one purchaser, but the demo put me off entirely. And it wasn’t until I saw it for £5 pre-owned in CEX a few weeks ago that I decided to take a punt. As punts go, it was more Shane Lecher than Jeremy Kapinos (Google them, or just trust me that it’s a good metaphor).

Go West

Enslaved’s post-apocalyptic world breaks gaming convention. It doesn’t feature zombies and isn’t beige or brown. Instead it is lusciously green and full of life. Be that organic or mechanical life.  Creating the game world to be one where nature is slowly recovering and growing over the ruins from a cataclysmic war, rather than still displaying the effects of the war, makes it feel so much fresher as a result.

This is all thanks, in part at least, to Enslaved’s story being (albeit fairly loosely) based on the ancient Chinese story, Journey to the West. Although Enslaved isn’t set in mythical ancient China and is instead set some 150 years in the future, the influences from the world created in the original ancient Chinese story are, nonetheless, still prevalent. From the names of the characters through to the heroin, Trip, forcing a warrior, Monkey, to protect her on her journey, the links are there to see for anyone that’s had the pleasure of reading the original Chinese tale.

But for those of you that haven’t, and I’m assuming that will be a majority, a short synopsis is most likely required:

You take control of Monkey (expertly voiced by Andy Serkis) as you guide Trip (again, expertly voiced by Lindsey Shaw) back to her home town. Your guidance and protection is not provided willingly though – at least not at the start of the game – as Trip manages to ‘enslave’ you by fitting a device to your head that ensures you follow her every command. Well you would wouldn’t you, if disobeying caused your brain to explode. Maybe something for the law enforcers in the UK to consider.

So off you travel the ravaged lands, where humanity is at an all time low due to a war where robots (known as mechs) destroyed almost every living creature on the earth. Mechs still very much litter the landscape, and often come to life when you get in close proximity, still following their ‘I will exterminate you’ programming from years before.

Enslaved or not, you perform your duties admirably. In combat, you can use your staff in close-combat and at long range, whereupon it doubles up as a projectile weapon. The close-quarters combat is very fluid and not as dumbed-down as I first feared, with an array of moves to choose from and the ability to stun enemies while you pick off other long-range foes. The mechs are themselves agile, and also require different strategies, with some resistant to being stunned for example. Some downed enemies can even be used as powerful weapons. Outside of combat Monkey is even more dexterous. Cliff faces, hundreds of feet high piles of rusting metal, building walls, ruins; all of these can be traversed in just a few leaps and hand holds. Even large distances can be covered quickly due to Monkey’s Cloud device. Essentially a hover board, it can be used to glide across land or water at breakneck speed, and even faster if you glide over a boost orb.

Upgrading your abilities opens up even more fluidity in combat. As you defeat enemies they drop tech orbs that are the game’s currency. From increasing the damage you can deal out or take in combat, through to powering up your weapons or adding new moves. Tech orbs are also littered throughout the world, often hidden out of sight, or at the top of a high building, which encourages exploration in what would otherwise be quite a linear experience.

Trip is no ‘Princess Peach’ or ‘Yorda’ when it comes to being a damsel in distress either. She may not be able to handle herself in direct combat, but she has other useful abilities in her arsenal. From scanning the area so that all of the landmines and hazards are revealed to Monkey, to projecting a holographic image of herself to draw fire away from Monkey, using Trip’s abilities wisely can make the difference in battle.

Monkey see, monkey do

Throughout your journey you will experience flashbacks from what appear to be memories from Monkey’s pre-war life. Although quite how that could be, seeing as the war was 150 years ago and Monkey appears to be no older than 40, is not abundantly clear.

These flashbacks range from moments with families to stunning scenery that was most likely experienced while on holiday and again have to be uncovered by exploring the environments.

When you finally reach Trip’s home town, you find buildings in ruin and everyone killed. Even Trip’s father. With this news Trip decides not to free Monkey and instead instructs him to help her locate and kill her father’s killer. In order to achieve this she suggests enlisting the help of her father’s friend, Pigsy, who proves to be another memorable member of the cast.

Richard Ridings does a fantastic job of voicing Pigsy, and this coupled with Pigsy’s quirky/smutty sense of humour and love for Trip makes him one of the most memorable characters of this generation. And although Pigsy’s love for Trip is eventually rejected, it’s this love that ends up saving Monkey and Trip at the end of the game. As despite Monkey’s valiant efforts throughout, it’s the unplayable character, Pigsy, that makes the greatest sacrifice; he recognises that he has no chance with Trip, and that Monkey has (unintentionally) won Trip’s affection, but the love he has for her is so powerful that he gives up his own life in order to save Trip and Monkey, thus enabling her to have the life with Monkey he hoped he, himself,  could provide her with.

It’s a great way to end the tale. Well it would have been had the next five minutes not spoiled everything that came before it.

Pyramid’s a real Giza

Upon reaching ‘Pyramid’, you discover that there are slaves under the control of a deranged man, who it turns out has been responsible for the flashbacks that Monkey has endured. It turns out that the man’s name is also Pyramid, which begs the question what it would have been had he lived in a Bungalow or in a Shit House. Here Pyramid (the person, not the building) pleads with Trip and Monkey to allow the slaves to live out their ‘lives’ under his control, where they enjoy seeing the world as it could be and once was, rather than the bleak land it has become. And while Monkey is being won over by Pyramid’s mind games, Trip sneaks up behind Pyramid and kills him. The game ends, with all of the slaves confused and Trip asking Monkey whether she’s done the right thing. Who knows? All I know is that I found it a terribly abrupt, non-interactive way to end what had otherwise been a really interesting story.

But it would be a shame to allow five minutes of stupid game design to have too much of a bearing on what preceded it. As what preceded it was a more mature approach to delivering a videogame world and an emotionally driven story. Being a tale of deception, trust, belief, commitment, determination and ultimately love, Encharted screams ‘make me into a movie’. Shortly followed by a whimper of ‘but don’t call Uwe Boll’.

Characters are rarely this lovingly created in this form of medium. The characters and story are the stars of the show here – the gameplay is merely a sideshow. In that respect it shares much with Beyond Good and Evil, and to a certain extent Uncharted as well. It helps that Trip is every bit as iconic and loveable as Yorda. At the start of the game when she’s huddled up, legs tucked into her chest and with her head bowed, you can’t help but want to go over and put an arm around her, in a purely platonic, protective way. Regardless of the fact that you need her to survive in order to ensure your survival, you want her to survive. You want to fight for her. You want to protect her. How many other videogames have made me feel this way in my 28 years of gaming? Very few. And this is why Enslaved will stay long in the memory.

It’s leaps and bounds above the demo. It is unfortunate that each of those leaps and bounds flashes at you like a possessed streaker (note to Ninja Theory – stop holding my hand. I am perfectly capable of discovering ledges on my on, thank you very much), but I implore anybody who was turned off by the demo to give this game a try now that it’s so cheap.

It’s not the classic that Enslaved could, should and deserved to be, due to the lack of challenge, design issues and repetitive boss battles. And it’s a shame that Ninja Theory know how to make loveable characters, compelling stories and worlds you want to explore, but that the tools they provide you with to go and explore it aren’t often up to the same standard. With all that said, I should feel guilty. I’ve just completed one of the best games that came out in 2010 and thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so that I’ll be surprised if it didn’t make it in to my personal top 10 games played in 2012. And I didn’t pay the developer’s a penny for it. A horrible shop that provides one of the worst customer experiences ever got the money instead. And while I’d rather that £5 had gone to Ninja Theory than CEX, I don’t feel guilty at all. They had their opportunity to have my money, considerably more in fact than I eventually paid for the game but, like so many others, they blew it. They blew it because, like many others, they don’t understand the importance of releasing an enjoyable demo and lost out on a day one purchase. It’s all very well developers and publishers moaning about the pre-owned market, but they should look closer to home first.

User Comments:

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evilashchris - on 24/06/2012 at 20:26 wrote:
Cracking article Joe, mirrors my thoughts almost exactly, only I thought the ending was great :D

Dragul - on 24/06/2012 at 23:48 wrote:
Great article Joe.

Exactly my thoughts on the game, but you should have played Pigsy's Perfect 10. I completly transforms the game and hugely increases the difficulty level (I think I died 3 times in PP10)... :)

kentmonkey - on 24/06/2012 at 23:49 wrote:
Cheers. The ending does appear to be a bit marmite; some liked it, others (like me) really didn't 'get' it as an ending at all.

Great game though. Playing another of 2010's gems at the moment: Alpha Protocol. That'll be the next of these articles.

kentmonkey - on 24/06/2012 at 23:51 wrote:
I'll pick that up Dragul. I'm up for some more Enslaved.

peej - on 25/06/2012 at 08:56 wrote:
Fantastic write-up fellah. I really think Enslaved was one of those games that set up a brilliant character list, an enticing game world, a fairly good kick-off then pissed it all away on some metaphysical bollocks at the end. Once again I think Ninja Theory are a team who have some of the best artists and conceptual people working for them but get really lazy when it comes to turning it all into a game. The thing tore like a ragged arsehole, was extremely rough looking in places and the platform bits were horribly on rails so it often felt like there was no risk (nor reward for that matter).

But ahhh Trip, I could spend a gaming lifetime looking at her. She's amazing. Oh and definitely looking forward to your Alpha Protocol write-up because that was one game I seriously thought I'd hate but ended up absolutely gripped by.

The more articles like this, the merrier!

Ironlungs76 - on 25/06/2012 at 11:47 wrote:
I'll add my hat to the Enslaved love-in, I thought it was great (albeit the camera was dreadful).

kentmonkey - on 25/06/2012 at 12:12 wrote:
Really? I honestly didn't notice any camera issues. Presumably because it never allowed you to fall off so the camera never became a problem for me.

Didn't tear for me peej. What system did you play on? If 360 I'm wondering whether a patch sorted that out (although, unlikely).

Genuine numpty question here...can a TV have any bearing on a game tearing? I ask this because I've played a game around a friends on the PS3 and it teared quite a lot, and then I played it home here on mine and never experienced it, including during the section I was playing on round his. I guess it doesn't, but I don't understand TV technology enough to know for sure.

Ironlungs76 - on 25/06/2012 at 12:17 wrote:
Not very often, but the proximity of the camera to the character at times was very close without too much room for movement. Thinking back, it was about the only gripe I could immediately recall about the game but it wasn't an issue for the large part, only certain sections.

kentmonkey - on 25/06/2012 at 12:21 wrote:
Oh I see what you mean. Yeah, it was a little close for an 'action' game. It was similar to a camera in a third person RPG in that regard.

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Better late than never, eh Ror?
Khanivor - In response to: Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review - 37day(s) ago.
Enjoyed this, cheers!
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Looks who's back. Shady's back.
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