Thanks to my good ol' pal Ryan McNamara, (@rpmcnamara) I had a chance to check out the blockbuster hit that is scorching the sales charts, Enslaved. Okay. So maybe it hasn't scooped up much wide spread critical acclaim, but this game excels in a few key aspects and dog-gone-it, I want to recognize them. It also makes the development team's view on gender roles pretty apparent within the first hour or so.
Plot spoiler: Women always need help from big, strong men and will eventually get their way even if it means wiring a death machine to ones (upstairs) noodle. Get your mind out of the gutter. Shame on you. Oh, and the guys name is Monkey. Monkey.
If you can move past that mildly offensive and sexist main theme, Enslaved offers some pretty compelling gameplay. The first thing most gamers will notice is that the character models and major set pieces look pretty impressive. The Assassin's Creed like climbing animations make the "aim and press A to jump" mechanic fairly entertaining to watch. Coupled with massive pieces of the climbing surface being torn out from under you moments after jumping, the game creates a sense of urgency and gives the player the occasional "whew, that was a close one" moment.
A feature that is becoming more prevalent and, in my opinion, is a welcome change is the use of chapters in campaigns. Enslaved makes use of this tactic and I feel that without them, my play-through would have been drastically less enjoyable. Putting a defined break in gameplay allows the player to pick their stopping point before the feeling of "why won't this level just end already" sets in. I found that the chapters were just about the perfect length and let me walk away pleased before the faults of the game outweighed the fun-factor.
That's my Monkey. Always beatin' on fighter mechs. He does that. A lot.
Even with a great presentation, the final hours of Enslaved made me feel like the title was referring how it made you feel indentured to the lack-luster, repetitive gameplay. Combos with Monkey's stick (what would your mother say...shame on you again), while varied between weak and strong attacks, felt completely broken and mixed together as well as oil and water. There are several power-ups that are meant to switch things up a bit but without proper explanation, I found none of them notable. The enemies that are thrown at you consist of three or so types of mechs that are only discernible by how quickly they make you call malarky. One has a shield, one doesn't. One shoots unblockable energy bolts and another is doing a Cassius Clay impression on your make-up covered, monkey face. Most of the battles feel like they are serving mainly as fillers to extend the storyline and didn't really need to be there.
Under all of these pros and cons, there is a story. Somewhere. I just haven't found it. Monkey is a guy (I think..) and Trip is a girl. What do you think happens?
The thing that I took away from my time with Enslaved and what I feel is most important, is that there is room in the game industry for mediocre games. Enslaved could have easily been on my top 10 if more time was given to polish and a more engaging story was presented. This is a franchise that I hope doesn't fade into the abyss of forgotten games because the world it takes place in has value. There were times that I felt completely involved and immersed in the adventure. This first entry could serve as a way to pinpoint what worked and what needs changing in order to bring Dr. Monkey (as I like to call him) into the spotlight of gaming.
If nothing else, Enslaved is definitely worth a play through if you are an openminded gamer with a broadened horizon. What's that? Only play Call of Duty and Madden? Well, I think last years edition is on sale for $4.99 if you wanna switch things up a bit.