Enslaved is ultimately a disappointing game. There are a lot of good elements and the characters in particular are quite good, but there are so many things that are slightly mishandled or wrongly implemented that in the end it falls short of being a satisfying game. I did learn things from the game, and Ninja Theory has shown some serious chops in places, but I left feeling that there were some significant issues that keep Enslaved from being anything more than a much weaker version of other, much better games. Details within.
- I’ve said it a lot, but the two main characters are great. Monkey and Trip have good looking models and good voice-actors. And perhaps most importantly, their relationship is interesting and complex. I basically kept playing the game because I liked their chemistry (when can you say that in a game?) and wanted to see where they would go. Whatever this game does wrong, it gets its protagonists very right.
- There are some pretty good set pieces in the game. A couple of the chase scenes are quite exciting, and there are some nice battle set-ups with a good sense of tension and pacing.
- Battling is okay. You can button-mash through much of it, and you can get a bit a overpowered in the late game, but there’s some variety of enemies that keeps you on your toes.
- It’s a minor point, but there are some basic smart design choices in how the game is paced. The chapters end about where you want them to, and the checkpoints are frequent enough and well-spaced enough that despite Xbox problems I never had to replay too much. I know this seems small, but I have played so many games that simply don’t know how to do this that I should tip my hat to one that does.
- It’s hard to describe exactly, but the game holds your hand too much. In jumping sections, there is only one way to go and the game will actually NOT LET YOU JUMP if there’s nothing to jump to. In combat, the game will literally spawn the power-up you need to win right in front of you if you run out. I know this is supposed to make the game more fluid, but what it actually does is make the game feel stilted and overdetermined. I need freedom to explore and freedom to fail to feel agency and have fun.
- The narrative is a bit confusing and there’s some inconsistency in it. They take a couple of cheesy plot moves that are not as good as the characters dealing with them. And the game’s conclusion is quite unsatisfying as an explanation of what was going on and as wrap-up to the protagonists you love. It’s really bad when a game leaves a bad taste in your mouth because of the way the story ends.
- Graphics are hit and miss in Enslaved. There are some pretty sections, but there are other sections that are garish or unreadable.
- There are a host of other minor missteps. Currency is placed in odd, ill-chosen spots on the map. Feedback on how to interact with Trip is often absent, so you have to experiment randomly to proceed through environmental puzzles. Stealth feedback in particular is just about useless. Goals and important information about current puzzles are not reinforced. There are just a lot of small places where Ninja Theory fails to polish.
Enslaved tries to be a great movie-like game, but it fails to be spectacular enough to be Uncharted 2 or free and fun enough to be Assassin’s Creed 2. Instead, it’s a collection of mostly half-good measures that make a mediocre experience. This is all the more a shame since the protagonists are honestly great. You can see what the great version of this game would be, but Ninja Theory fails to hit that bar. Especially given the disappointing ending, I just can’t recommend you buy it, but if you REALLY like Uncharted 2 and don’t mind playing an inferior version, or if you just want to see a couple of well developed characters in a game, it might be worth a few hours of play.