Enraged

A rush of anger and indignation followed my every death in Enslaved. With widened eyes and quivering jaw, I would glare at the screen and think, How. Dare. You. There was a slim chance that the offending sequence would enjoy a reprieve as I reloaded to try again, but otherwise my response was to eject the disc from my PS3 with such force that it buzz-sawed through two walls and into the next apartment. The awkward scenes that followed were just another strike against the game, as I leaned through the growing porthole into my neighbors' bedroom and said with a sheepish smile, "Ahm, sorry, but you haven't by chance seen a DVD come through here, have you?"

"It's a Blu-Ray," was Mr. Sharif's frosty response as he passed it back to me.

I won't pretend games don't frustrate me, but even "Green Grass & High Tides" never caused me to tomahawk a Rock Band controller through my television. Enslaved, however, has a special sort of problem. It has gone to such extraordinary lengths to shield players from any mistake or test of skill that the few moments where it does recollect that it's a video game seem more like bipolar caprice.

Protagonists Monkey and Trip hurl themselves across bottomless chasms, smash waves of robots, and climb colossal towers, and yet nobody is ever at risk of falling, or getting so much as a scratch. They are so capable, and Enslaved is so intolerant of human fallibility, that there is no possibility of these characters coming to harm under your control unless you are felled by a sudden coma. Which actually happened to me during the part of the game where you have to defeat like thirty waves of robots by pressing X and triangle repeatedly. You know, that part that happened between the opening titles and the end credits.

Enslaved is barely a game at all, and that is why defeat and death are so infuriating. Having excised most of the agency and skill that comprise most video games, it is outrageous when Enslaved attempts to punish you like one.

It did, however, make me appreciate the accomplishments of that elite line of action-adventures that began with The Sands of Time and Beyond Good & Evil. I have always been suspicious of how much they take out of my hands in the name of cinematic action set-pieces, but Enslaved shows just how risky it is to make a game that gives players so little control and confronts them with such simple challenges. The writing and characters of Enslaved certainly deserve a place alongside Jade, Drake, or Arkham Asylum's Batman, but they are doomed by the game that surrounds them.

Enslaved, like the exemplars it attempts to emulate, attempts to turn players loose on a cinematic adventure full of close calls, clever dialogue, and incredible sights. Games like this are at their best when players enjoy a long chain of successes in battle and exploration. It narrows the gap between player and character: We're experiencing the same victories and hairs'-breadth survival, and so I don't feel separated from a story depicting the same.

Death undercuts the effectiveness of the heavily scripted action, but ease eliminates suspense and eventually any reason to care about your own participation. Games like this have to be easy, but maintain a sense of peril. On some level players have to feel like they are playing for their characters' lives, but without actually having the game remind them of that fact. It's a tough balance to strike, and I only realized how tough when I saw it done poorly.

The two key ingredients seem to be strong characters and a lot of variety to prevent players from noticing how easy each individual action sequence really is, and Enslaved only gets half of the formula. Had there been more variety, more chances to be the characters rather than just control them, I might have been able to put up with the occasional frustration. Beyond Good & Evil didn't save Jade for the cutscenes. Players participated in her life as a photographer and member of a community. Her adventures were contextualized by everyday activities and surroundings.

They also included a rotating set of challenges: puzzles, stealth sequences, chases, battles, escapes... . I was happy to repeat Jade's hell-for-leather escape across city rooftops from the game's big villain, because it was such a sudden and exciting shift. Enslaved, on the other hand, has button-mashing combat and jumping non-puzzles. The repetition is so frustrating, because there is so little that is actually worth playing once, much less repeating.

Enslaved's characters deserved a better game than the one I finished out of a sense of obligation to them. Monkey's world-weariness and Trip's sheltered optimism hinted at interesting experiences in a wider world, and I was dying to see how their cooperation would change them. Yet the game never gave them room to really grow, or to give me a chance to identify with them. Monkey smashed and Trip hacked through one formulaic encounter after another, leaving their journey west perpetually motionlessness.

Comments

"Bipolar caprice" is my new favorite term for what irks me about most videogames. Bravo, my friend.

kincher skolfax wrote:

"Bipolar caprice" is my new favorite term for what irks me about most videogames. Bravo, my friend.

It was also be an excellent name for a band.

Nice writeup. I thought the first Uncharted game was overrated for precisely the same reasons, however the second Uncharted game pretty much nailed this, switching up the flow between gun fights, action set pieces, and environmental puzzles and platforming. My favourite moments are probably the whole train chapters (of course) and the building collapsing during the helicopter attack. The first time I played that sequence was jaw-dropping.

I enjoyed Enslaved, though I do admit that towards the end things did start to fall down a bit. In my mind, it had that freshness and variety you talked about for a while, but then they ran out of idea/time/money towards the end. Overall, though, I enjoyed it, and actually did start playing the game again from the beginning, something I do rarely. One thing this leads me to think about is, do games get graded on a curve? Should we be OK with a rougher experience because it came out at a lower price?

Coldstream wrote:
kincher skolfax wrote:

"Bipolar caprice" is my new favorite term for what irks me about most videogames. Bravo, my friend.

It was also be an excellent name for a band. :D

Or a special-edition luxury car.

I couldn't agree more. I'm mid-way through the game, and I elected to play on Hard difficulty because I'm a shameless achievement whore.

My choice highlights the constant seesawing between challenge-free exploration sections and overly punishing combat sections. What's usually been happening is that I'll play for as long as it takes me to get to dying, then my interest is gone and I'm booting up an XBLA game instead.

Hm. From the demo and catch-all I expected this to fill the void between Uncharteds for me on PS3. Still, it's only $15 on Amazon, has been for a week or two. For that price I'm sure I will get my money's worth, even if it comes with a dose of frustration alongside it.

Stele wrote:

Hm. From the demo and catch-all I expected this to fill the void between Uncharteds for me on PS3. Still, it's only $15 on Amazon, has been for a week or two. For that price I'm sure I will get my money's worth, even if it comes with a dose of frustration alongside it.

Exactly. I picked it up for $15, and I'm happy with it at that price.

Yeah, but how were the switches?

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Yeah, but how were the switches?

Really nice

m0nk3yboy wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:

Yeah, but how were the switches?

Really nice ;)

I see what you did there.

As for the combat: while you can succeed by button-mashing, it does have more depth than that. If you're button-mashing on Hard difficulty, you're doing it wrong. The combat was specifically designed to penalise you for button-mashing on Hard; you have to take a far more measured approach and think about how you're managing the enemies and where the next attack is going to come from.

Apparently hitting the switch summoned Floomi.

This is still a game on my 'to play whenever I get a console because publishers are PC hating fascists' list. Along with Bayonetta and now Mortal Kombat.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Apparently hitting the switch summoned Floomi.

This is still a game on my 'to play whenever I get a console because publishers are PC hating fascists' list. Along with Bayonetta and now Mortal Kombat.

Bayonetta? Hang a digital boob pic on a wall then go bang your head on said pic until it bleeds and you pass out from the loss. Thats Bayonetta!

painthappens wrote:

Bayonetta? Hang a digital boob pic on a wall then go bang your head on said pic until it bleeds and you pass out from the loss. Thats Bayonetta!

That's unfair. Bayonetta is a far better game than your description would suggest. It was one of my favorites from 2010, and not because of the titillation. If I want that, there's plenty of free Internet porn.

No, Bayonetta is instead the game that we wish Devil May Cry was.

Hans

I had exactly that experience at the point right after you

Spoiler:

overload the windmill generators.

3 or 4 waves of 4-5 robots including the ones that just keep chain hitting you. I had been breezing through the story up until that point and it caused me to stop playing the game for at least 3 or 4 months until I finally picked it up again and figured it out. Floomi is right in that button mashing is punished, but up until that point I was pretty much getting by hitting attack over and over. And since getting over that point its been a cakewalk again.

I think it speaks to not enough time/resources spent on playtesting and balancing. Theres also issues with the camera flying all over the place during combat and difficulty picking your next target.

I'm still enjoying the characters and story, and I wouldn't mind seeing them improve on these issues if there's ever a sequel. Floomi, if you might be working on a sequel but cant disclose it, scratch your left ear

Games like this have to be easy, but maintain a sense of peril.

Based on my time with the demo, I thought that is what I would be getting if I bought the game. Luckily, I held off. This whole thing is really disappointing, because I did enjoy the demo. Oh well, try again.

I've completed the first 9 chapters and have not experienced what you mention in that article. Yes, exploration is a breeze compared to combat but combat is usually a good mix of strategy and skill. Button mashing definitely doesn't work past the 5th or 6th chapter (basically, the point where I died a lot and started planning my fights).

I understand where you're coming from but at some point if you're committed to finishing a game, I don't see it as a bad thing that the game demands a bit more skill from you rather than hand itself on a plate.

Games are soooo much easier than they used to be. I think we've wussened

burntham77 wrote:

Based on my time with the demo, I thought that is what I would be getting if I bought the game. Luckily, I held off. This whole thing is really disappointing, because I did enjoy the demo. Oh well, try again.

If you enjoyed the demo I cannot imagine that you wouldn't enjoy the full game. It's really good. Play on easy if you have to. I just think you're doing a mistake passing up on it.

Combat is pure button-mashing until it evolves a new layer of complexity. That is, some enemies will block, and some will stun you. Now you must use dodges and stuns yourself.

But that's about all there is to it. You learn a slightly more complicated form of combat, which is still mind-numbingly easy once you learn the trick, and then the game proceeds to run that into the ground. Just like it does everything else.

I maintain the game is worth playing. The first half is superb. But once they leave NYC, it's all downhill.

interstate78 wrote:
burntham77 wrote:

Based on my time with the demo, I thought that is what I would be getting if I bought the game. Luckily, I held off. This whole thing is really disappointing, because I did enjoy the demo. Oh well, try again.

If you enjoyed the demo I cannot imagine that you wouldn't enjoy the full game. It's really good. Play on easy if you have to. I just think you're doing a mistake passing up on it.

I concur. It was one of my favorites from last year, though, definitely more for the character interaction and story telling than the gameplay.

Rob Zacny wrote:

I maintain the game is worth playing. The first half is superb. But once they leave NYC, it's all downhill.

I get the impression from this that you didn't like Pigsy, then. He's pretty polarising in that respect.

On a related note - and I appreciate that this is going to sound awfully shilly - the DLC, Pigsy's Perfect 10, is very different to the main game. The gameplay is rather more thoughtful and tactful, being based more around stealth and trickery than the rhythm of melee combat. In some ways I'd say it's a better game than the main title - it's certainly a more gamey game. I'm really proud of it - it's an almost entirely different game built on the same tech in quite a short period of time, rather than just being a few extra levels to fill out the backstory. We genuinely tried to do something different, and I think we succeeded.

wordsmythe wrote:
Coldstream wrote:
kincher skolfax wrote:

"Bipolar caprice" is my new favorite term for what irks me about most videogames. Bravo, my friend.

It was also be an excellent name for a band. :D

Or a special-edition luxury car.

The Bipolar Caprice. For the discerning gentleman who wants a car that goes from zero to sixty in four seconds and gets 80 MPG one day, then spends the next crying and refusing to leave the garage.

Floomi wrote:
Rob Zacny wrote:

I maintain the game is worth playing. The first half is superb. But once they leave NYC, it's all downhill.

I get the impression from this that you didn't like Pigsy, then. He's pretty polarising in that respect.

Pigsy... I'm not sure. As comic relief, I don't think he worked very well except when he was playing directly off Trip or Monkey. When he was just there as background chatter, he was annoying. But it wasn't Pigsy that got to me.

It was the lack of variety to encounters. Maybe another robot type, or just another kind of challenge, could have livened things up. Plus, the later settings just can't compare to the sense of place that the NYC segments enjoy. The game starts out breathtaking, but it doesn't stay that way.

But the main problems was gameplay. I may check out the DLC just to see how it differs from what I've already played.

Dyni wrote:
interstate78 wrote:
burntham77 wrote:

Based on my time with the demo, I thought that is what I would be getting if I bought the game. Luckily, I held off. This whole thing is really disappointing, because I did enjoy the demo. Oh well, try again.

If you enjoyed the demo I cannot imagine that you wouldn't enjoy the full game. It's really good. Play on easy if you have to. I just think you're doing a mistake passing up on it.

I concur. It was one of my favorites from last year, though, definitely more for the character interaction and story telling than the gameplay.

Fair enough. You guys have sold me on the game. Well played.

Several years ago, I got to the point in narrative games where I would get very frustrated (and even a little ashamed) when I died. More than once, when I swore loudly after a particularly frustrating death, nearby friends would attempt to reassure me: "Dude, chill, it's just a game."

"No, you don't get it," I'd reply. "Leon S. Kennedy wouldn't have died there. I just messed up the whole story."

I've since been able to step back a little and remind myself that a game is just a game, but I still have a nagging sense that whenever I die, I'm not living up to the character whose body I'm meant to be inhabiting.

AND YET... Enslaved never frustrated me like this. I appreciate the argument and respect it, but that wasn't my experience at all.