Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Reader Review
There has been a lot of talk lately about how japanese game developers are lagging behind western developers in terms of gamedesign. The japanese, looking dramatically into a mirror and asking, "what have we become?!" seems desperate to let the westernes take over the reins and salvage, what the japanese think's, is a complete mess. I disagree.
And to help illustrate my point we have Ninja Theory. The proposed savior of the well known Devil May Cry series. This developer has made two games. Both games were generally well recieved but were, in my mind, often flawed games. And the latest of these efforts is Enslaved: Journey To The West. An action-adventure game centering around platforming and combat elements. You control Monkey, a very acrobatic and scrappy guy who has been taken prisoner aboard a slave ship flying over post-apocalyptic New York. And after escaping the ship by following a girl named Trip he is then enslaved with a slave-headband by the very same girl. she's not mean its just that she is desperate to get home and she needs his help. this is because evil robots roam the lands. (like they always do in the future) And so it's a journey (to the west) to reunite Trip with her family and releasing Monkey from his brain-exploding shackles
Now, lets talk good "japanese style" gameplay. I believe the gameplay's mission is to be engaging, it should force you to actually learn it's systems, and then let you apply that knowledge to defeat whatever obstacle it throws at you. The japanese excel at this. Devil May Cry has a fantastic combat engine that is deep, allows exploration by letting you discover interesting ways that the systems interact, (your weapons VS different enemies, say) and most importantly, you can get really good at it if you so wish. it also wont allow you to finish the game if you don't to learn the ropes as you go along. This does not apply to Enslaved. The combat is shallow, it is even more shallow than their last game, Heavenly Sword, which was atleast spectacular to watch. there is no drive to engage the player in its gameplay at all, the combat, and enemies (what few types there are) are simply a representation of what the character goes through in the narrative, not actually a way to explore the fun of playing games. You have a light attack, and a heavy attack. each is used at specific times and you can't possible miss the opportunities because the enemies are very obvious in what they are going to do and what their weaknesses are. And the platforming i will barely justify as gameplay at all, simply press a direction on a wall and press a button next to the shiny ledge, it's impossible to fail, and it's extremely linear.
I'd say, because of the state of the gameplay, this game is a moral failure on Ninja Theory's part as a game developer.
I believe i read somewhere that Enslaved was originally pitched as an animated movie but it wouldn't take with the studios. And this would explain alot actually. They must have then decided to make a game out of it. But lacking the passion for gameplay that i feel is required to create gaming experiences that will last.
I can see why it got so much praise. It's often a very spectacular rollercoaster ride of an experience. And very hassle free. and I will give the game a few points for good colorful graphics and great characters, although i did miss a villain of the same caliber as that awesome guy from Heavenly Sword. I just think its a shame that what counts as a good game nowadays is one that seems to be ashamed to be a game at all. A game that isn't interested in exploring gameplay and ways to interact with the gameworld in meaningful ways. Devil May Cry inspired an entire genre of games. It forced players to think about what they were doing. It tested them with boss fights that required you to use all your skills. You were in full control, but where you able to handle it? The game asked. and many players answered by defeating it, and getting a sense of self-satisfaction that only a good videogame can give. Ninja Theory, and many western developers, seem to not be able to give poeple this satisfaction anymore. The new DMC, made by Ninja Theory will have great graphics and a great plot, but i still fear for it. And Enslaved is ultimately a disappointment. I think they should give the reins for a sequel to a japanese developer.