By Jim Rossignol on October 29th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.
It’s been three years since Enslaved debuted on consoles, and it seems almost criminal that it didn’t get a full-price PC release at that time. Now though, someone has flicked the porting switch somewhere in the depths of Namco Bandai, and a PC version of the game has materialised on Steam. I had a play through Ninja Theory’s beautiful and ambitious action game, and the scribbled Wot I Think on the back of the internet.
It seems easy to dismiss Enslaved. Another big budget outing that didn’t sell all that well. A shiny thing with a bunch of major names attached – Alex Garland wrote the script, Andy Serkis acted the lead – and not really all that much going for it in the game department. And it is a simplistic, linear light show. Leap your way down prescribed routes, to execute the single solution to the puzzle. Button mash to bash stuff into a rainbow of particle effects. There’s not much more to it than that.
But I like it anyway.
What little Enslaved does in game terms is suitably underwritten by an exquisitely beautiful world, clean and smart dialogue, a superb high-speed hoverboard mini-game sequence, and combat that is meaty and responsive. Sometimes you just want a meathead to bash robots with an energy stick, and hear the metal crunch. It doesn’t drool stupid in its story, either, despite the many cliché waypoints it visits along the way, Enslaved is great at what little it does, and it’s almost enough.
In the realm of third-person action it doesn’t offer any kind of challenge to Rocksteady’s Batman games, and in consoleland it has been ground into post-apocalyptic dust by Naughty Dog’s buddy movie wannamasterpiece, The Last Of Us. Nevertheless, Enslaved shouldn’t be forgotten, and it has a few things really going for it, chief among those that it never frustrates, and that it is smart and lithe enough to dodge the boredom that its repetitious mechanics are in danger of stumbling into. Also, it’s a colourful broad science-fiction epic that doesn’t spend too long noodling over any of its particular story issues. It rollicks, and it does it with fireworks.
The story, then, because it sort of matters to this sort of game, is that a pair of escaped slaves crash to Earth in New York, one hundred and fifty years in the future. The city has been overrun by jungle and killer robots, and the odd couple must co-operate to escape and get home. The title comes from the conceit that brings sexy redhead lady and muscle-ape future-biker (literally called ‘Monkey’) together, which is that she enslaves him with a hacked headband, forcing him to get her back across the US to her post-apocalypse survivor town, far off in the mountains.
This means a journey through some completely fantastic environments. It’s one of those games where the powerful influence of a super concept art tingles through every section of the game. Jungle New York is impressive enough, but the vertiginous wind farm is one of my favourite locations in any game. The palette for the entire world is bright and rich, underlining just how far this game’s post-apocalyptic motif falls from the usual washed-out zone of the dead.
The “odyssey” through each of these bright environments is told with a bunch of arena type areas, which link puzzles with combat locations where you get to use meat-man’s laser stick (and some other toys) to knock sparking crap out of the robots which stalk the landscape. Mostly it requires leaping, a bit of combat timing, and some observation of the glinting clue signposts. A few of these arenas actually stand out, particularly where the giant cat robot comes in, which is a minor highlight in quite a playful set of ideas. Very little skill is involved in overcoming any of this, but it’s still an indulgent sort of pleasure to wade through.
The best single idea is probably the hoverboard section, which sees you zooming about through huge areas of the game, and could well have been developed further, rather than being a sort of mid-game treat that last just a few moments. As it is, these sequences are just a delightful contrast to your general leaping, lift, press, and whacking.
As for the PC port, well, it’s okay. I ended up playing it on 360 pad, because that’s how the game was designed, and it made the most sense. I can’t really imagine tackling a game like this with mouse and keyboard, although it seems to work. As for the conversion to PC, it offers nothing of the Unreal engine’s vast array of possible options, with the display offering just resolution and gamma correction. It must have been trivial to convert this game to PC, but it’s a bit of a shame that a little bit more effort wasn’t made. Hell, why on Earth Namco though not to bring this game out on PC in the first place is beyond me. Did some suit really not want to pay for a bunch of menus and some QA?
Anyway. Should you buy Enslaved? Sure, why not. It’s an entertaining few hours, light and pretty with some ideas that aren’t particularly original, but are well executed. I suspect when it’s in a Steam sale you’ll pick it up and not regret that fistful of dollars for even a moment. Just don’t go in expecting anything other than a glittering 3D action game, and we’re golden.