Review: Enslaved (demo)

I realise I mostly talk about books on here… I want to try and rectify this because I really do play a lot of games (a lot of games) and watch a lot of films. Let’s take the first baby step with the Enslaved demo.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for Xbox 360

Xbox 360

So what makes a good demo?

Put someone in too early and the game might seem too simple, too linear (afterall, this is the learning stage of the game), but put them in too late and while it might show off the game’s richness and depth, it might also seem too complex to someone who hasn’t had the build up to that point.

The Enslaved demo is the first level of the game so it’s the tutorial level, but it also shows off a little of the storytelling and, obviously, the graphics.

Let’s start with a little personal background, I’m a big SF geek (I may have mentioned) and I have a particular fondness for myths and legends retold under the science fiction flag. For all it’s faults (and there were many) Too Human did a good job with Norse Mythology, for example. Score one for Enslaved then, based (loosely) on the Monkey story (Journey to the West), not one I’m familiar with in anything other than the broadest strokes, but it gives them rich source material to mine, always a good thing. The lead character (Monkey) has the staff, he gets flying disks later on (no cloud, sadly) and he even has a strip of belt hanging down that kind of mimics a tail.

I also enjoyed the 2008 Prince of Persia game… big guy goes clambering around pretty scenery with help from a girl… it was pretty simplistic and a lot of people didn’t like the characterisation but I really enjoyed it. Since it seems Ubisoft are in no rush to produce a sequel (and talk about a cliffhanger) I was quite excited when I saw the first trailers for Enslaved. I was totally up for more of that kind of action.

Monkey by Wu Ch'eng-en (Penguin Classics edition)

Monkey by Wu Ch'eng-en

Then more trailers came out and the graphics started to look a little shabby to me so I let my hopes slide a little (always a safe course of action anyway). And then a demo! Can’t go wrong with a demo, there are the graphics and the gameplay, on your machine and your 42″ HDTV (ok, my 42″ HDTV). And this is actually a chunk of the finished game, not just a work in progress, time to judge the actual facts.

Lets start with the graphics… and I’m glad to say that they’re actually pretty decent. Nothing mind-blowing, but they avoid the drabness of a lot of games and the design work is pretty interesting if, again, nothing ground breaking. There is a slight problem in that because the graphics are colourful and varied it isn’t always easy to spot the handholds (They’re often red in this segment, but then so is some of the scenery around them).

The story-telling seems quite well-handled, and pretty well integrated into the gameplay. There are cut scenes too, sure, but some of the story just comes through while you play. This does mean that there is some kind of director on board, giving the game a cinematic edge, often a good thing, but in this instance sometimes leading to strange and awkward camera choices in what is a visually effective shot, but clumsy in terms of play.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PS3)

PS3

And speaking of clumsy… It’s never encouraging when it feels like you’re wearing gloves to hold the controller. Oven gloves. I think they built the control system out of jam… This might be something to do with the fact that the director was quite jealous of camera control and only reluctantly lets you have some right stick control over it. But also because you will attempt what feels like the exact same thing several times and only on the fourth try will he jump to the handhold, or climb the box. And the parkeur is very restrictive. I imagine this opens up a bit later in the game, but for now you can only hold and climb the pipes that are shiny, that is your path.

I have a problem with that. The path (especially given this was an early level) was not always obvious. Given that you can clamber over the scenery, it’s horrible that only certain shapes of scenery will let you hold them. Either you wait till it glimmers at you shinily, or just wiggle the left stick a bit and press jump lots until it locks onto the target and goes the right way. You can’t jump the wrong way. Less annoying falling to your death moments maybe, but less challenge in discovering the path, less reward when you do find it. There was a bit in the demo (when you face the first robot) where you have to climb the up the pipes on your left, along a gantry to the right, then down another pipe to the level below, where you pick up your gear. On the way back there is nothing that would physically prevent you from jumping off the second pipe to the boxes beside them and then back onto the path, except that you’re not allowed too. You have to go all the way back along the prescribed path (not that far, admittedly, but annoying).

The fighting is fairly standard. And I know more staff moves open up later in the game, but having just played the demo twice they’re already starting to get a little repetitive. Nothing that would bother me, I like button-bashy, hack’n’slashy games, but an observation for people who might like a little more depth.

The impression the demo gives me (which, after all, is its job), is that the game will have some great storytelling, a very cool cinematic edge, but that the core gameplay element (traversal) will be somewhat annoying. I think I’ll pick it up when the price drops, if there’s nothing else I’m playing at the time. It’s not on my list of essentials…

Now, I should be able to treat you to a few interesting insights next week. Tomorrow I’ll be at the Eurogamer Expo and there’s a few games I’m hoping to get a bit of hands on time with. Brink and Bulletstorm I’m particularly excited about, for different reasons, but both of those are looking superb. I’m also looking forward to: Fable 3, Gears of War 3 and Infamous 2. Hopefully *crosses fingers* there’ll be a demo of Duke Nukem too. It’s not on the list but Gearbox were there last year so…

There are developer talks tomorrow for the new Deus Ex and Rage as well. Can’t wait! *^_^*

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