Welcome to We Present Our Case, a new feature in which we … well, present our case for a particular game that has perhaps been overlooked, overshadowed, or that we’re just especially fond of at the moment. For our first installment, we’ll be taking a look at Ninja Theory’s sadly under bought post-apocalyptic adventure title Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
What You Might Have Heard:
Yeah. Yeah. “The game is too easy!” This is easily the biggest criticism brought against Enslaved, and I agree that the platforming and combat elements tend to be of the hand-holding variety. There’s typically only one way to progress from point to point, and traversing environments feels a bit like you’re on auto-pilot, plus there’s no real sense of exploration even though the way the settings are constructed suggests you should be able to go off the beaten path a bit before progressing onwards.
The game’s button-mashing combat also comes up in critiques, because, like the platforming, it poses no real challenge to the player. While there are tons of upgrades that can be made to your character and his electric staff, you can get by using the same combos and attacks for the entire game and be just fine. You might have to mix it up every once in a while, because some enemies have special defenses that must be broken before they can take damage, but, for the most part, you’re hitting the same two buttons the whole time. Traversing the environments also requires little to no thought since you know exactly where to go at all times, because there is only one path.
What You Need To Know:
Honestly, I find the “it’s too easy” argument, as it applies to both the combat and platforming in Enslaved, to be a bit of a copout. I mean, Bayonetta, a game with some of the most spectacular and viscerally thrilling action as you’ll ever see actually has a one-button control option. Yet, I bet if I told someone who loved Bayonetta that it wasn’t a good game because it was “too easy” (even if the standard mode isn’t one-button based), they would slap me in the face. Similarly, I would never dream of saying that something like the opening level of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves isn’t thrilling or enjoyable, even though you are guided to the points in the same way people complain about being funneled towards goals in Enslaved.
Another example would be Rock Band’s No Fail mode. I understand that, like Bayonetta, this is an option as opposed to an integral part of the game’s design, but it proves my point that not all games have to be super hard in order to be considered high quality experiences worthy of your time. As such, difficulty should not be a valid argument for why Enslaved isn’t “good.”
Enslaved’s success isn’t derived from the complexity (or lack their of) of its mechanics. It’s about the adventure that you embark upon, and watching the relationships develop between the wonderfully realized characters. The performances across the board are fantastic, and thankfully, the game’s tech is solid enough to allow every hint of emotion to show instantly in each character’s face. This not only makes you not want to skip a single cutscene for fear of missing some nuanced bit of character development, it makes you feel like you know these characters, which adds tremendously to the game’s overall effectiveness.
The game also features one of the most stunningly realized game worlds of any title released this year, and considering its high profile competition (Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 2, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Mafia II, etc.), that’s saying something. It would have been so easy to stick to the same old grey, browns, and all around muted tones found in other post-apocalyptic games, but the developers gave the game an identity all its own by ramping up the vibrancy and color and by transforming a familiar place like New York City into someplace that feels entirely different even though it’s instantly recognizable. Getting lost in the scenery and in the mystery surrounding the post-apocalyptic narrative is something you will not be able to avoid, and you will love every second of it.
The Bottom Line:
If you’ve been turned off from checking out Enslaved, either because someone told you it’s “too easy,” or because you’re hesitant about what the game is or whether it’s a story you’ll want to invest in, I urge you to reconsider, because there’s a great game waiting for you if you do. Besides Ninja Theory working on this title, the story was written by Alex Garland (who wrote the excellent novel The Beach, ignore the DiCaprio movie) and was directed by Andy Serkis, Gollum himself, who also performed some of the motion capture.
The game already has one released DLC pack, "Pigsy's Perfect 10," and if the game continues to get enough second wind support, and Ninja Theory is given a much deserved chance to develop a sequel, we could witness something similar to the jump that Naughty Dog made between Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted 2. You heard it here first.