Home > Gaming, Opinions (Gaming) > Gaming: Enslaved – Monkey Does

Gaming: Enslaved – Monkey Does

I’m playing around with something new here, sort of a mix of an opinion post and the old ‘Today’s Play’ posts on my previous blog. The idea is to try and piece together my thoughts about a game in more of  an immediate fashion than I’ve done previously (which often results is procrastinating out of making a post at all).

I'm even using large header images!

Monkey, the character you control in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, is much better at navigating than I am. He’s no Lara Croft or prince of Persia, who mistakenly trust me to puzzle out the best route and only make them leap when I’m sure it’s safe, only to be betrayed by my poor judgement (or eagerness to see another hilarious swan-dive death. Sorry, Lara!). If Monkey knows the ledge isn’t safe to drop from he just won’t do it, however much I push him towards the edge or hit the jump key. If there’s no handheld in the direction I’m telling him to leap then he’ll just sit there and patiently wait for me to find the right direction. “Well done, Benny,” he almost says. “I knew you’d find it.”

That could be something of a problem. In 2008’s Prince of Persia it wasn’t possible to actually die but the game still let you make the leaps, simply having Elika pick you up and set you back on safe ground, a watchful parent steering their child back on track. “Not that way, sweetie.” Enslaved doesn’t let you do that, so in what should be the thrilling escape sequence at the start of the game – scaling the side of a crashing ship before the section you’re on crashes into a building – I was moving the analogue stick in the general direction and pressing jump while I watched the building looming up in the background, knowing Monkey would find the way without me.

Any bit of platforming is the same, just point the stick, press A (or X if you’re playing on PS3) and let Monkey find his way through. That doesn’t make for a particularly exciting or involving experience and there’s no challenge there, but perhaps challenge wasn’t a big concern for Ninja Theory. With Enslaved they clearly have a story they want to tell and it’s never more than a few minutes before control is briefly wrested away from you, for a cutscene or for your companion/captor Trip to scan the area, or even so you can watch Trip do something in an area out of Monkey’s reach.

While Trip doesn't exactly break the mould for female video game characters - being slim, attractive, dressed in tight (though not skimpy) clothing and needing to be protected by the big, strong man - she's more than just a damsel in distress. She comes up with most of the plans, including the initial escape, and has a technical knowledge that saves Monkey's life just as often as he saves her from mechs.

So it’s Monkey’s and Trip’s story then, not yours. You’re there to get them through to the next bit of dialogue or the next cutscene, but for the most part it’s not looking to challenge you. Even the combat – group battles against multiple weak enemies and the occasional boss fight with the traditional do-the-same-thing-three-times-to-beat-it approach – seems more about giving you something to do than being because Ninja Theory wanted to make a fighting game. Ninja Theory are thankfully good at the story bits though, and like Heavenly Sword before it Enslaved has some great animation and motion control, the characters moving as if they’re actually performing, faces expressing things without the characters needing to state exactly what they feel, and both Trip and Monkey – the only characters in the game so far – are people I’m happy to spend time with and get to know better.

I’ll finish with one little oddity:

These are the health and shield bars, which aren't odd in themselves.

When you start playing you don’t have those elements on screen, there’s no heads-up display (HUD) at all. Once Trip has fitted Monkey with his slave headband she programs the meters into it to give him a better idea of his condition and to help him keep himself (and her) alive. I don’t think games need to try and make the HUD elements part of the game’s universe because I don’t find they have any impact on my immersion (I’m still interacting with things on a monitor or TV screen, after all), but I do like when games try to do it.

Unless I’ve missed it though the game hasn’t explained the presence of the experience orbs (my name for them) that are scattered everywhere and which fall out of enemies when you defeat them. Are they some sort of fuel or energy source? Trip uses them to upgrade Monkey’s abilities so they can’t be currency (as she has no reason to limit him like that), but there’s no reason for them to be scattered around all over the place either. It’s not a big issue, but by giving other things a clear explanation it’s made the orbs stand out in a way that they wouldn’t have done if there were other ‘game’ bits left unexplained.

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