Sunday, January 2, 2011
A veritable shit-ton of great games came out in 2010 and to be honest I was MIA for the majority of the titles that wet the mainstream gaming world’s panties. At the risk of sounding like an art snob, let me note that I’ve played enough triple-A shooters to skip out on the latest COD, Halo or the like. Shoot me. With that said, Enslaved Odyssey to the West is a game that kept popping up on my radar. Anthony Gallegos of Rebel FM and IGN fame mentioned buying this game enough times that it sunk into my subconscious. So last week, with a blizzard dominating the Northeast and LCTR forced to cancel a gig with All That Remains (doh!) I seized the opportunity to play through Ninja Theory’s latest.
By this time I’d guess most are familiar with Enslaved’s premise. The game takes the somewhat familiar angle of the ‘buddy’ or perhaps more accurate, ‘girlfriend’ game. Borrowing significantly from ICO’s mechanic of solving puzzles and getting through obstacles by cooperating with a computer controlled hot female. The key is the way Enslaved marries these mechanics with the story. Said hot female has enslaved your character with technology that will inflict pain on him if he disobeys and kill him if he lets her die. Rough.
Enslaved remains largely derivative in its game mechanics, but its unorthodox framing gives your journey a wholly different significance. What is typically a boy meets girl, boy saves girl, boy gets girl story, becomes rich with questions of the nature of choice and will, and eventually escapism versus physical reality and whether we have the right to value one over the other.
Ninja Theory brings up these questions in good taste. More interested in getting people to consider questions than beat them over the head with dogma, the dialogue is limited and key moments are left ambiguous. When it comes to marrying the narrative of gameplay to the actual written plot Enslaved makes other big budget games look silly by comparison. Remember the ending of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and think how far we've come in terms of subtlety.
It’s unfortunate that the game is marred by inconsistency in nearly every other department. The graphics range from breath-taking to straight-up ugly. Controls are unresponsive in certain situations due to many animations being completely unbreakable. Poor camera angle choices make for some frustrating moments in platforming and combat. In short- you’ll rarely feel like it was your error that led to your demise.
It speaks to my taste as a gamer, but I’ll take a game that’s flawed mechanically, but uses gameplay as metaphor for bigger ideas, over the current crop of mechanically perfect mindless thrill-rides. If you’re of a similar mindset you can find Enslaved Odyssey to the West in abundance and for cheap. Chalk it up to supporting the continued existence of thoughtful games.