Is it REALLY too much to ask a video game to have an actual ENDING that doesn't make you want to strangle the designers with the controller wires?
Sorry, had to get that out.
Moving on. Actually, let's backtrack to 3 days ago, where I was leaving Game Stop with a shiny new copy of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, a PS3 game based (very) loosely on a very old Chinese story called, ironically, Journey to the West. The book tells the tale of a Buddhist monk and his journey to the west (hence the title) with his three companions, one of them being the ancient and very powerful Monkey King. Also, a demon pig, but we'll get around to that in a second.
Enslaved tells the story of Monkey, a gruff, very strong guy who looks like a caveman crossed with a blond gorilla. The game is set in post-apocalyptic America, which is one of my favorite settings, complete with the overrun, skeletal cities and wastelands of junk. At the beginning, you've been captured by slavers but you escape and must get off the crashing slaveship before it goes down. From the very start, the game was intense and exciting, but as it went on, I found myself torn.
Things I liked about Enslaved:
-Beautiful visuals. The graphics and settings were gorgeous, no question.
-Good voice acting. I hate it when I have to put the game on mute because the characters all sound like they're reading from a script with hot pokers shoved up their butts. Enslaved actually had decent voice acting, even though Monkey sounded like every other gruff-yet-caring hero I've heard of.
-Good story. Up until the end. Which I'll get to in a moment. Beware of ranting.
-Fun. Yes, okay, Enslaved was fun. Bouncing around giant skyscrapers, fighting mechs, and surfing around on Monkey's "cloud" (think hoverboard, only circular) was a lot of fun. But it was skewed by the frustrating bits, which I'll discuss...now.
1. WHY CAN MONKEY ONLY GRAB THE SHINY GLOWING HANDHOLDS?!? This was the most frustrating bit for me. Here's this guy who can leap 30 feet in the air, grab a teeny tiny bit of pipe, and swing onto another bit of pipe like a freaking trapeze artist, yet he can't hop onto a 10 foot roof because "that's not the way you're supposed to go." I couldn't count the time I was under a ledge that held money or health or upgrade balls, and I couldn't climb a nearby pipe to collect them, because it wasn't the right one. Or I'd be stuck and spend 15 minutes running around trying to find the right bit of pipe the game wanted me to take to continue on, when there were literally dozens of other pipes and ledges scattered about. So the game felt very linear and restrictive, with only one path to take to the end despite the huge open world that they tried to set up. It's like the game was rapping you on the knuckles when you attempted to find another way, saying: "no, no, that's not the way we've outlined for you. Look at the shiny glowy pipe over there."
2. Game controls were rather sticky. Going back to the climbing/jumping/swinging bit; if you press the X button and the D-stick in a certain direction, Monkey is supposed to leap onto the next ledge/pipe/handhold/whatever. But every so often he wouldn't move because I wasn't pressing the D-stick the EXACT direction I needed to go, or he would leap back the other way. And in a game where climbing speed is very important, this got annoying when Monkey would just sit there picking his nose as the bit of pipe he clung to gave way with him on it, or when an enemy was blasting him with machine gun rounds and he'd leap blithely into their path. All the while I'm shouting: "jump, you idiot, jump! No, not THAT way!"
3. The game was also very unforgiving if you didn't grab every last glowey upgrade ball before you moved on to the next problem. Again, I couldn't count the times I'd be forced to leave a tasty cluster of upgrade balls behind while I dealt with the half-dozen enemies shooting at me. But when I tried to go back for them, the game wouldn't let me. And for an OCD gamer like myself who HATES leaving stuff behind, especially when its right across a gulf or a rooftop, taunting me, this makes me foaming at the mouth crazy. Again, going back to the Our-way-or-the-Highway rant, upgrade balls would often be in seeming impossible to reach places, only they shouldn't have been impossible for someone who can leap 30 feet in the air like a ninja. But, because the game had very strict ideas about the route you could take, this meant for a lot of annoying running around, trying to figure out the path to the prize that was right above your head.
4. Camera angles sucked monkey balls. Most times you'd have full control of the camera, able to rotate it and point it where you wanted. And other times, usually when you were climbing, the game would wrench it from you and fix it in a certain direction so you couldn't move it. You would try to rotate it to look around, and the game would say: "no, no, this is the best angle for this part of the story. We know best, trust us." This was especially obnoxious if you were trying to get a better angle on that cluster of upgrade orbs you left behind, and the game passive-aggressively refused to show them. "Well, you didn't grab them when you first saw them, so obviously you didn't want them very badly, did you?"
5. The ending. I think it was the ending that finally pushed me over the edge. All throughout the game, yes, I was annoyed with the controls and the restrictive nature of the game itself, but I kept going and was able to enjoy it because the story was so intriguing. The characters were great, and there were hints of a romance between Monkey and Trip, the tech-savvy girl he's helping. Their relationship was complex and sweet, and I even enjoyed the banter between Monkey and Pigsy, another character they pick up on the way. (Yup, there's that demon pig.) I wanted to know who was behind the mechs attacking humans. I wanted to know how the mechs came to be. I wanted to know why they destroyed and killed Trip's colony. I wanted Monkey and Trip to just kiss each other already. But then the ending came, and NOTHING was answered. The very last line of the game (spoilers; look away if you don't want to know) is Trip saying: "Did I do the right thing?" and then the screen goes black. What!?! You don't end a game like that, with more questions then you have answers to! Also, the game was very short; like 15 hours short. Which isn't a bad thing if there's re-playability, but that isn't the case with Enslaved. You play it through once, and there's no reason to play it again.
Overall, was it a good game? For all my ranting, yeah, I guess as a game it was okay. I had fun flinging Monkey around pipes and ledges, and there were enough original ideas to keep it new and fresh. If you can get past the linear and restrictive nature, and the game holding your hand through the whole story, you might enjoy Enslaved. Just don't expect to have any questions answered at the end. I suppose this means there's going to be an Enslaved 2, but I don't think I'll be buying it.
Not when Fable 3 is waiting for me to pick it up.