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Enslaved Day#1: Escape from New York

Long time since I’ve posted, but busy-ness has finally subsided and I’m getting back into the playing of the hardcore games. Today’s sample: Enslaved, the new game from Ninja Theory. The beginning is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the characters are pretty great: well rendered and animated with an interesting relationship and some good potential. On the other, there’s a stiltedness to the gameplay that’s just inescapable. The jumping around and stealthing which are such a central part of the game are just too stiff, guided, and unclear. I’ll keep playing as nothing in the game is that bad and I’m curious to where this game is going, but boy will Assassin’s Creed 2 and Uncharted 2 look good after you play this. Spoilers within.

Yes, I have Fallout: New Vegas, but I’m waiting for some of the bugs to get fixed before I play it, so I thought I’d try Enslaved first. Boy do I hate the word “Enslaved” as a title.  But I’ve never played a Ninja Theory game, so why not? The narrative sounded sort of interesting to me. Anyway, here we go on the 360. Given what I’ve come to expect from hardcore games today, it loads very fast with little flash to end on a kind of plain title screen with quasi-Middle Eastern music. I choose  to take a new journey after hitting play, and set my difficulty to my standard Normal. We start at Chapter 1: The Escape, as indicated by white type on a black title card. The game starts on slave ship 909 on route to Pyramid, wherever that is. There are all of these pods in rows. This scene is very grainy and garish with colors, all gold and red, so it’s sort of like the beginning of Ico on a massive drug trip. The person that I’m pretty sure I’m playing is inside a pod trying to beat his way out. He’s a pretty interesting looking character, who I (much) later learn is called Monkey. In CS, I see a girl get out of a pod across from me.  She runs up and uses a computer terminal for a moment. The ship immediately starts exploding and Monkey’s pod is blown off the wall. Monkey then breaks out of the pod with a CHEESY punch straight up. He looks around and I get control.  I start running and jumping around (A to jump) the destroyed ship. The movement is nice — Monkey’s animation is very animal-like, which is a nice touch. The game starts with some very simple platforming. Hmm…I can only seem to jump when I’m at a ledge that leads somewhere. That’s weird; it feels a bit hand-holding. There’s another CS of the girl running in front of me, and then more simple platforming. Okay, the game definitely doesn’t let me jump unless I can make it. Aren’t I on NORMAL difficulty? Oh well.

There’s a CS of the ship exploding on the inside and then the back of the ship blows off. Monkey is pulled out of the ship but hangs on to the trailing wreckage. I get control and have to jump from handhold to handhold to get back in. Wow, there is like NO agency here. I can only jump to proscribed handholds that flash periodically. Why does the game even make me do this? I feel like I have training wheels on. I climb back in and run down a corridor to a CS of a robot entering and shooting two other escapees in front of me. Monkey CS ducks behind cover. I get control to climb around to a higher ledge where there’s a guy at a terminal. I approach him and cut to a CS of Monkey grabbing the guy and demanding to know where his stuff is.  The guy doesn’t want to talk, but a threat gets the location of the item store out of him. After he reveals the information, a computer voice says that the guy helped an escapee and immediately terminates him through the masks he wears. Once he’s dead, I get control back.

I jump down a ledge to a new area. Monkey’s bike is there in a cage. Monkey CS reaches in and gets his gloves and an energy staff. He says it’s time to deal with the mech.  I get control and  go back to the previous room. I charge the robot and I automatically block bullets for a time (again, NORMAL difficulty here). I use X to hit and Y to hit hard, and thereby kill robot before I’m even realizing what I’m doing. I keep moving and beat a bunch more enemies trivially, but along the way learn how to block (right trigger) and evade (A + direction). I kill more robots and get outside. A door shuts on me and Monkey CS sees girl inside the closed door. The girl has quite a good model. She genuinely looks scared of my character as he pounds on door for her to open it. She darts away. I get a CS pan of the exterior of the ship and then I get control again. I climb around the outside of the ship to continue on. The game is very “look for next spot to jump to”  and not very action-y at this point. I fight a couple more robots (still trivial) and cross to the other side of the ship. I have to jump past timed fire burst and I get hit; it looks like this is a no-health kind of game by the way the fire damage is displayed. There’s a CS of ship passing by the Statue of Liberty and I get control back.

I do some more running around until I reach a locked door. Monkey tears the door off CS, but he accidentally throws  it into an engine. The ship tilts dangerously, and I get control to have to climb up to the opening I made. This scene feels like I should rush, but I’m not sure if it actually is time-limited. Escape pods are flying off, but I finally reach the last pod. That girl is in it. There’s a CS of her looking at Monkey and hitting eject as he clings to the outside of it. The pod launches and flies over an overgrown and ruined NYC. There are weird robot things on the ground as they pass. The pod crashes and Monkey goes flying and lands unconscious in some ruins.

We’re in the next chapter: The Old City. In CS, Monkey awakens and talks to the girl. She put a headband on Monkey while he was out. He charges her, and she activates the headband to stop him.  She tells Monkey that the headband is activated so that if she dies, he dies,  and that Monkey is forced to follow her commands. She needs to get back to the wind farm from which she came without dying. Monkey is pissed but accepts it. This is honestly a very believable scene — much better characters than I thought. I get control back to blurry vision.  She commands me to stay with her, so I do.  I get an interface for health (wrong about that I guess) and such; she hacked the headband to give me an info display and created an audio link between us.  We’re in the ruins of Grand Central.  I pick up a health pack by running over it. I also learn I can left button to do something that makes her glow so I know where she is. There’s  bridge ahead that’s currently raised – we lower one half from this side, but then I have to climb over to get the other half. I do it and robots appear there. I fight them and it’s nicely a bit harder. I kill them and lower the bridge. Once she crosses, I have to pointlessly hit B to lift a large beam in CS. I enter another room and get some more health packs before moving on.

It is just AMAZING that this game won’t let me explore. Maybe I’m too spoiled by Assassin’s Creed 2 and other such games, but it sucks not to be able to do anything but look for the next place they want me to go.  After a sort of attractive scenic pan, we come to a CS of the two of them outside. A shooting robot sees us and Monkey tells her to get back. She hesitates, and he barks at her to listen to him. I get control to dodge through the ruins (fun) to kill the robot. More robots come and it’s a decent fight – I’m still learning the ropes here, but I win. She comes down and he CS tells her that she has to listen to him immediately when he gives an order. This is a very interesting relationship they have. I now have an interface to control her. I command her to follow as I get control. There are all these glowing red dots around that I’m collecting for seemingly no reason. I have to lift another block, and when I do, she goes through and immediately get attacked. I CS see her use some kind of stunning device her dad gave her (I find out that out when I beat them both) to freeze the opponents so I can wail on them. Oh, there’s a bit of the God o’ War here in the chaining enemies by jumping between them. I win and move on.

We get to a new area with long stretches of open paths and mechs shooting us on the other side. I can distract them by using the right button, and while they shoot at me, it give her room to get across. She also has a decoy device that she can distract enemies with. There’s a locked door in an open stretch at the end of the path, so I’m going to have to climb to where the robots are and kill them. I don’t use the decoy well on this run  so I get shot a bunch but I still win. I go back and get through the door. I REALLY don’t like how the game sometimes locks my camera for pure dramatic reasons. I enter a new room and I see a sign that says no mechs in front of me. I lift a heavy thing so we can go in to this mech-free area. I see a big tree and past that is an open path. In CS, Monkey says that the way down the path is mined. She replies that Monkey should follow her back to the tree. She tells Monkey that she needs a dragonfly. She further says that she’s not commanding Monkey – she’s asking him. I get control and have a nice little scene where I follow the dragonfly up the building, but the climbing in this feels so forced compared to Assassin’s Creed 2. I’m not really sure why that is, but it’s PAINFUL at times. I finally catch the dragonfly and go back to her.  She CS hacks the dragonfly (it’s a robot) to help us. She then connects it to my headband and now I can see the mines and well as some other stuff that was previously invisible.

I get control back,  and I have to carry her through the mines (she can’t see them).  I’ll give it to them there’s nice bonding between the characters here. I navigate the first path, and there are mines everywhere as we come to another open area. I throw her up on a platform and then I have to find another way across the area. I kill a couple robots on the way. I get about halfway across when she tells me she’s stuck. I have to climb up to where she is and throw her to a new platform. It takes forever to figure out where I can throw her – I feel like I’m aiming the right way, but the game won’t let me throw. When I finally throw from the right spot, she lands hanging off the other platform, and then she dies because she can’t hold on and the game won’t let me jump across fast enough to hit the button to save her. Sigh. I get her across safely the second time and we keep going. There’s a turret up ahead that I have to stealth up to. I die the first time trying to approach it and respawn. Oh it’s about using her decoy well. I die a second time but do it right the third and enter a new room with lots of robots sleeping. I can stealth past them if I don’t disturb the circles of attention that display on the floor. Unfortunately these circles do not have clear boundaries and I trip them. I think feedback is the problem in this game. I beat the robots, then climb up to a new power-up that lets me shoot things out of my staff. I blow up a sign to drop it on the turret to destroy it, and then have to kill more robots that appear immediately afterward. When I finish, I get a CS where she tells Monkey that she can download mech schematics to help him, but he says removing headband is what will help.

They move on through a ruined building to a new open area. They exchange names. She’s called Trip, and he’s Monkey (that’s what people call him anyway). I don’t like how they slow me to a walk whenever the characters are talking. There’s another CS span of destroyed NYC covered with mines. Another turret begins firing at us from above, but I learn I can take control of it when I get to it. I stealth up to it and take it down. There’s a CS of Monkey ripping it open, and when he jumps on it, I can use it as turret. I shoot gas truck in the environment to clear out a bunch of the mines, and then a number of robots start appearing in the scene to attack Trip that I have to shoot down. It’s fun, but like much of this game, I feel like I played a better version of this scene in Uncharted 2. I go down to pick Trip up and carry her into another room. Before I get there, I have a chance to upgrade my character. It uses those red things I’ve been picking up as currency. I upgrade my shields and my weapons.

In the next room, they find a biodome of fish and algae. Trip describes her own self-contained home, and Monkey says how it’s doomed. She says if the fish have survived for 200 years everything has a chance… and then a giant robot destroys the tank. Nice way to be subtle, Enslaved. It’s a boss fight against a demolition robot. I have to beat it up until it’s angry and then taunt it into running into a statue. I die five times, but then defeat it.  She cries over the fish, but Monkey says she’s got to scan the destroyed robot and move on.  This starts chapter three, but that’s all I’ve got for tonight.

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  1. name says

    correction- Team Ninja (of Ninja Gaiden, DOA) listed as dev in first paragraph, later correctly referenced as Ninja Theory.

  2. admin says

    Whoops. Thanks for that. Corrected above.

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