Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Review: Dishonored

Despite what any paid reviewer will tell you, the stealth genre is practically dead. Most of the old guard have degraded into action games with maybe the odd stealth segment or some minor stealth influence – the biggest offender being Splinter Cell: Conviction. Ugh. That's not to mention the fact that Metal Gear Solid 4 was more concerned with boring you to death with 30 minute cutscenes than actual stealth gameplay. Worst yet, I'll probably be collecting social security checks by the time Thief 4 comes out. But there's always hope. Meet Dishonored, a product by Arkane Studios... who brought to you Dark Messiah Of Might And Magic (which is a pretty good RPG if you ask me). But whilst being marketed as a stealth game, you can play this as either that or an action game, and unfortunately, the action route is significantly better. Not that the stealth route is bad because it's still playable, but playing it like an action game is undoubtably a million times better.

One thing I didn't like is the story. Corvo is the royal protector of the empress of Dunwell. But after he returns from a trip elsewhere to find out a way to stop a plague that's killed half of Dunwell, he finds out that the empress had been assassinated and her daughter got kidnapped – and to top it all off. he got framed for it. From there, he has to take revenge on them while rescuing her kidnapped daughter. The story's biggest strength is its lore. As you explore around the city, you'll find various sidequests, books, journal pages, notes and audio files laying about that will tell you more about the background of where you are and what situation you're in. However, when it comes to the present and future, it's not quite there. Revenge is often a good beginning point for something bigger, but Dishonored sticks with it throughout the entire game with maybe a twist towards the end. Said twist is... pretty bland as the characterization beforehand is virtually non-existent and the delivery felt like it was written on toilet paper after the writer ate McDonald's.

There are two endings that you can acquire – one is attainable through playing the game as a sneaking pacifist, and the other is attainable through killing a lot of people. It's all calculated by your Chaos score, which is determined by how many people you kill. If you're going for the good ending, you'll pretty much need to avoid detection and the urge to kill any plague victims (yeah, apparently there's a plague going around Dunwell), but if you want the bad ending, eh, go nuts. Having said that, even the multiple endings aren't good enough to get you to play again as there's just nothing to them that makes them worth watching outside of... well, them being endings, I guess. Even then, both are quite abrupt and basically amount to “game's over guys, go play something else now”, rather than actually concluding the experience. Neither of them are even a “see you next game” kind of ending – just “Jack and Jill went up the hill aaaaaand Jill came tumbling after, the end, good night”!

The idea is to do a series of missions in each of Dishonored's nine big levels for you which involve finding and killing certain targets. You can go about these by either either sneaking around, or getting in there and going postal with your powers. As a stealth game, it's got all the right ideas, but not exactly the right execution. The levels manage to give you plenty of options as to what path to follow without so much as alerting a dust mite, and given their sheer size, there's a fair amount of level to explore. The only real reward is just not getting spotted – no conversations to overhear or super secret weapons to find. Just alternate routes. Still, it at least gives you an option, so it's not all bad. However, what is all bad are the enemies. Simply put, the enemies' AI is ridiculous. If they are in your line of sight, you're most certainly in theirs and there's no way to tell if there'll be one behind you or not due to the lack of a radar or a light gem.

To make things worse, regardless of whether you're skulking in the dim and dark back alleys or running in the middle of a sunny town center, you'll be spotted if there's an enemy anywhere near you. There's no sense of lighting. To you, there are light bits and dark spots; to them, it's all one light so it's irrelevant whether you're in darkness or you're under a spotlight. To compensate, if you're behind cover, you're basically invisible. Add the fact that their footsteps are quieter than Britney Spears's dietician, and let's just say that the enemy AI in regards to stealth is not very good. The only other real advantage you have here is that you have a power that lets you see through nearby solid objects so you can see enemies and where they're facing, but since that requires mana, you can only use it so much and for so long. It is rechargable though – keep that in mind. Due to all of this, if you're going for a pacifist gameplay, expect to reload your last save about as often as the average human blinks. Also expect some frustration. It's a shame because the levels actually lend themselves to be good for sneaking and from a fundamental standpoint, it does function. But going for a pacifist playthrough is where you'll see the majority of the problems.

Thankfully, this game is also playable when you're more violent and it's actually a hell of a lot more fun. If you still want to implement stealthy measures, it's easy enough to sneak up on enemies and slice their throats as long as you can find places to hide behind. But no, you want to be the ultimate badass, don't you!? Yeah, of course you do - the game's mechanics accommodate towards that style anyway! See, even if you get spotted, not all is lost, because you can simply use your magical powers or your weapons (either your guns, crossbows or your retractable sword) to take down the guards. That... is not good stealth game design. Combat is supposed to be discouraged, either because you're frail and wouldn't last five seconds in direct confrontation, or you'll have enemies on your ass if they find dead bodies! But in Dishonored, you can fire a tornado to blow guards away, slow down time, teleport right in front of them, shoot them with a pistol and summon plague rats to feast on the dead bodies – mind you, you'll need to find runes throughout each level in order to even unlock them and even more runes just to power them up, but they aren't too hard to find if you explore. That's not to say that Dishonored is terrible – Christ, I even said that it's a hell of a lot of fun at the beginning of this paragraph, but it really goes against stealth gaming conventions when combat is not only a lot more satisfying than sneaking, but that sneaking only really nets you an Xbox Live achievement or a PSN trophy. Oh and I guess there'll be less enemies in later levels if you don't go postal, but let's be honest, you'd want to kill a bunch of enemies, wouldn't you? Exactly!

The elephant in the room here are the graphics – god, this game is ugly. It wants to be cartoony, but it comes across looking like something from an early PS2 game. From rampant screen tearing to some jerky animations, lag and some very low resolution textures, not to mention that the FOV slider is a joke because you don't have much peripheral vision even with the slider up past 11, and there's nothing about this game that's technically any good except for the fact that... well, it at least functions.. The character models are all uglier than Quasimodo, as everybody seems to have disfigured or just plain weirdly shaped heads and faces. Look, I understand that we all need to go our own way, but after looking at games like Borderlands 2 and New Super Mario Bros U, Dishonored doesn't even do the cartoony style any justice. It just looks ugly. Not ugly enough to make you want to kill it with fire, but certainly ugly compared to its competition and not even remotely good looking on its own terms.

The sound design is pretty hit and miss. What misses is the music. I guess the idea is to create suspense with the tunes being more in the background, only to get more intense during confrontation, but in all honesty, it does nothing except for existing. It never really conveys any suspense, it doesn't really sound foreboding and it can never excite you, maybe except the final boss theme. Said theme actually does make the fight fairly exciting due to the louder, faster composition. However, everything else is bleh. The voice acting is where it hits home, though. Generally speaking, everybody is voiced in a way that at least helps you to care for the story despite its bland premise and just as bland writing. Everybody at least sounded like they wanted it to work and because of that, there's a decent amount of conviction put behind their voices. Not quite academy award winning, but it's good enough regardless.

Dishonored really wants to be a stealth game, but given all of the cool gadgets and weapons that prove advantageous in combat with no real incentive to sneak around outside of some forced moral elements, it's more appealing to play as Corvo the powerful sorcerer, master of the universe, and son of god. That doesn't make it a bad game, but what it does become is a flawed game that favors one style well above the other. That, and marketing tends to be pretty dishonest anyway – I guess I was just starved for a good stealth game in this day and age. Making things worse is the uglier than sin graphics and the lack of a compelling story. Really, where Dishonored hits the mark is its level design and how you utilize the tools you're given to turn the levels into bloodbaths. On that behalf, it's a good game as what it does right more than makes up for the lackluster stealth mechanics.

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: Spec Ops: The Line


If you've played through Medal Of Honor 2010 and found yourself going “man I like this story but it just feels like a poor man's Call Of Duty”, then Spec Ops: The Line is your motherfucking savior! Now, if you've never heard of the Spec Ops series, basically, it was a series of tactical third person shooters where you and a squad of people had to complete objectives. I suppose you could say it was Ghost Recon before Ghost Recon. But for whatever reason, what was scheduled to have come out in 2002 for the PS2 was cancelled and we hadn't heard from the series since... until now. Not only does Spec Ops: The Line breathe new life into the series, but it's also a pretty damn good game – just not for the reasons you'd expect.

The story is what sells this game. It details the horrors of war as you, Captain Martin Walker, are sent into Dubai, alongside a small recon team, to investigate what's been going on in the wartorn city. I mean, it would appear that the vicious sandstorms were the reason that Dubai got like this in the first place, but when Martin and company make their way there, boy oh boy, were we wrong. Rather than the whole bro tier action hero shit you see in many modern shooters, The Line opts for a more horrific take on war where everything is already fucked up and everything you do will only make things worse. Whether it's worse for you, your team, your nation, Dubai or even the entire world, it doesn't matter, because we're already in a world of shit; it's just a matter of how much you wade through to get to the super secret treasure at the end of the road.

With this darker take on war, the story becomes rather intriguing as you'll need to make various moral decisions – save the citizens or continue on your merry way, for instance. Nothing about these are black and white because no matter what, things are bound to get worse. This is war, not tea time with the Teletubbies and certainly not Rambo. Saving people won't necessarily make you a hero, especially if it gets you killed, because nobody wants you here in the first place – why else would they be shooting at you? The further along you get, the more morally reprehensible you can become, simply because the situation has worn on your psyche. You, the player, know not to do those decisions; it's in your conscience not to do them, but as Martin Walker, it isn't so easy, especially if a few deaths means the saving of thousands more, or the satisfaction of having killed those who have wronged you. There are plenty of questions that you'll be asked throughout the game and you'll need to weigh the pros with the cons. Save a few lives, or kill said few lives because what's a few more bodies, eh? We're rescuing a batallion of our own soldiers – fuck everyone else!

I'm willing to assume that the question on your mind is “but what about the actual shooting”. Well, you'll be grateful to know that it works out quite well. For the most part, it controls well enough – moving, running, getting behind cover and shooting is easy enough, although sprinting and getting into cover are mapped to the A button – that is to say, you'll sprint by pressing it once and get into cover by pressing it twice while near cover. In some senses, it feels like a one button clusterfuck, especially whenever you're in a more chaotic situation towards the end and you need to get into cover only to end up sprinting. The B button isn't immune to this either, as it lets you vault over cover or use a melee attack, depending on how close to cover you are. Beyond that, I have noticed that the movement is a little stiff. It's not too stiff, but it is noticeable when you're not quite moving as fluidly as other third person shooters' characters do. So really, the controls aren't quite there, but they're bearable as commands to at least respond they way they should. It's more of a matter of a few moments during the heat of battle where it can register the wrong command and get you killed.

But yeah, this is a cover-based shooter through and through – you run through linear levels, duck into cover, pop up and shoot enemies down. The weapons are what you'd expect from this kind of game with pistols, machine guns, shotguns and the odd rocket launcher, and the enemies are also what you'd expect, being guys that shoot at you from behind cover or rushing up to you. The basic idea is to run through sections of Dubai (that are really linear, but the level design is about on par with Half Life 2's in that it's just linear enough to be more linear than it appears, which helps to immerse you into the experience that bit more) and duck behind cover before your head gets blown off, and pop up every now and again to pop theirs off. It's not like I'm dogging the game for that because it's better than it appears. Outside of some instances of the whole “one button clusterfuck” thing I was talking about before, it's playable enough to go through and even fun at times, even though it really shouldn't be fun. Perhaps it's the killer instinct in me talking, but when you're given a decent array of enemies to take down and guns to take them down with, there's just a certain satisfaction in mowing them down what may appear to be impossible odds... the feeling of being John Rambo kicking ass and taking names, even when I shouldn't be such a vicious murderer.

That's not to say it's 100% what you'd expect from this style, though. Martin can't take anywhere near as many shots as Marcus Fenix – particularly if you're playing on the hardest difficulty mode, Martin can only take a couple of shots before taking a permanent residence underneath the sand, so you have to be a bit smarter with your approach, which can be tricky when at times, it feels like you've actually been ambushed. No, it's not some silly scripted event; it's the enemies being placed in locations you don't quite expect them to be placed. So in that sense, Spec Ops is a bit trickier than your average cover shooter, which is a rather freshing thing to have in this day and age.

You're also given a couple of squadmates who can keep you covered. By pressing RT, you can command them to either shoot enemies or blow up wherever/whatever you're aiming at. That, or they can chuck a flashbang to hopefully get you out of a sticky situation. Other than their, their AI functions... pretty damn inconsistently. On one hand, they can gun down enemies when necessary and back you up, and they often have the sense to duck into cover. On the other hand, they love to get in your way at times and do fuck all to help you, just sitting there with a thumb up their ass. Meanwhile, the enemy AI is consistently functional in the sense that they occasionally pop up from cover and shoot at you, maybe throw grenades at you after a while and perhaps just run up to you and hit you with the butt of their guns.

The graphics aren't the best in the world – there are some pretty weak quality textures that look like something out of a launch title for the 360, or even a late PS2 game! Not to mention that there's so much pop-up that it's really distracting. It'll take a few seconds for the crappy textures to load up, and believe me when I say that during cutscenes, it will do everything in its power to take you out of the experience as it's pretty much the elephant in every single room. It also ruins a lot of set pieces, which already look rather underwhelming as a result of low quality textures and particle effects. I will applaud it for having a color other than brown and gray... and that, my friends, is dirty yellow! But really, the colors are surprisingly varied, and what's used helps each object stand out in their own ways. The sand effects are also rather impressive as, although it doesn't look anywhere near as good as what's found in Uncharted, they feel like they have just the right amount of layers for the severity of any given sandstorm. It's also used for the sake of tension, like they may or may not be enemies behind them and I think that's a nice touch. Hey, look at this – a military shooter has more tension than the last two main Resident Evil games.

The sound design is actually pretty damn good. It uses rock music to lure you into thinking that it's going to be your usual shooter, though to be fair, it does pump you up and really get you into killing enemy soldiers, so it's not like it fails in that regard. Then gives way to more sombre acoustic tracks to drive the point home. It really sets just the right tones for what it tries to achieve and for that, it's a grade A fucking soundtrack. The voice acting is also really good. This is probably Nolan North at his best as he manages to make Martin seem like a generic soldier whose brain eventually fries to a crisp due to the horrors of war, and everybody else's voice actors also really get into it. Because of this, it's very easy to get absorbed into the story, which is really where the game shines.

It's easy to write off Spec Ops: The Line as a game with a great story carrying mediocre gameplay and graphics, but doing so will ensure that you'll be missing out on quite a lot. The story is what makes the gameplay work out the way it does. You're killing all of these people who are shooting at you, but it's not like you're shooting them because the government said so; you're shooting them because they are shooting you and you need to survive to see the end of your rescue mission! It's not necessarily entertaining; it's gutwrenching, unnerving and overwhelming with its heavy handed themes and excellent storytelling, all of which only serves to keep you coming back to see where else you can go with this situation. War is hell and we've taken a permanent residence there – might as well get used to it.

8.5/10 (Great)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm

Fuck me, there are so many Naruto games out there that it's hard to figure out where to start. More to the point, it's hard to figure out which ones are actually worth buying, because a lot of them are pretty similar. Well, you could just buy all of them because unlike with Dragon Ball Z, there aren't any outright stinkers or anything like Budokai 2 and Legacy Of Goku 1; just some outright mediocre games and som good games. Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, fits comfortably in the mediocre section mainly because of some oddball mechanics and decisions that just make me wonder what was in the air at CyberConnect headquarters that day.

If you don't know the story of Naruto, it goes a little something like this – 12 years ago, a powerful demonic nine tailed fox was on the loose, ready to unleash hell. Fortunately, the fourth Hokage was there to subdue it and seal it inside a newborn baby. So 12 years later, that newborn baby has grown into Naruto, the hyperactive knuckleheaded ninja to end all hyperactive knuckleheads. He manages to graduate from the academy and becomes a certified ninja... a low ranked one, but it'll do for now. From there, he goes out on missions with his teammates, but something up in the air smells funny as there's evil afoot. Ah well, he and the rest of squad 7 – Sasuke, Sakura and their leader, the ever so badass Kakashi – as well as other characters this game doesn't give a shit about (don't worry, Shippuden in general doesn't either) are on the case!

Now, the problem the anime suffers from in terms of storytelling is the overuse (almost self-indulgent usage) of flashbacks and monologuing, which doesn't necessarily make it unwatchable but it does slow things down considerably and does feel heavy handed more often than not; this game does the exact opposite by condensing it so much that you pretty much have to have watched the show before you can give two shits about what's going on in this game. To put it simply, it's just text that gives a basic description of what's happening. Outside of the last battles of each arc, there are no cutscenes to get you into it. Why? The older games had cutscenes and they were on fucking DVDs – this is blu ray, motherfucker; it can store five times as much data. I might also add that this game cuts out one arc entirely. It doesn't seem like a big deal because it does have the other major arcs, but this particular arc was meant to help set the mood not only for our fledgling ninjas but also the viewers – that is to say, being a ninja isn't all that glamorous and that there's plenty of hardships to endure, like being treated as a weapon and witnessing the deaths of your comrades. It's clear that this feels more like a cash in than a legitimate effort and the excuse of there being millions of Naruto games to play instead is at moot point because this is the first one to be on the PS3. Not everybody who owns a PS3 also owns a PS2. Even if they do, this could very well be their first game!

It's also indictive of the amount of effort put into this game, which is split into four different styles – a sandbox-y overworld, fighting, jumping through trees and running up trees. Getting this out of the way, the latter two styles are fucking terrible. When you're tasked with jumping from branch to branch, the idea is to avoid branches that stick up vertically while trying to touch the shoe icon so you'll blitz through the forest faster. Usually, you'll either need to go a certain distance or try and catch something like a dog or a small toad. Each of these segments are interchangable and not even all that interesting to begin with. I get that that's how they travel in forests, but come on, this doesn't need to be in a game unless it's a platformer or if it was a hell of a lot better developed.

When it comes to running up trees, you just need to avoid trunks that stick up out of the ground and get to the top of the tree. Not only are the shoes here to help you run fast, but you can also get access to techniques that'll either let you through trunks for a limited period of time or items that you leave behind, hoping that opponents (if any) will run into them and set off an explosion. I don't even know why this was put into the game – in the anime, it was just an exercise that Naruto did because he had to learn how to control his Chakra (source of energy to perform special techniques known as Jutsu) before they had to fight one of the bad guys. Here though? Oh wait, that arc was cut out of this game! So really, it's a classic case of variety for the sake of variety because they had no confidence in the sandbox and fighting segments! I might also add that each of the arcs are split into parts, and each part cosists of either tree jumping, tree running or fighting. The last arc does cut down on that, but you pretty much fight this one guy as four different characters before the big match that pretty much ends the original series (it mercifully doesn't cover the filler arcs).

But then, I can't really blame them for having no confidence in the sandbox segment – it isn't really that well developed. You don't really interact with any of the buildings here, nor do you have anything else to do besides main and side missions. There's literally fuck all to do in the village besides collect scrolls to purchase items for battle and some support moves. Said support moves can be useful in battle if used correctly, but the problem is that not a lot of main missions even give you the option of having support characters. Side missions do quite a bit, but... well, let me put it this way – to access a side mission, you have to find somebody in the village, talk to them, open up the mission menu and select that mission, and then you have to find that person in the village and talk to them to initiate it. Main missions, though? Eh, you can just open up the mission menu and select them... it's like “why bother” unless you want to get the side missions done.

Then you start fighting and... man, what's this feeling I'm having? Is it... is it fun? Is it the feeling of knowing I'm not just wasting my fucking time with underdeveloped and unneeded dog shit? Yes, yes and – you better believe it – yes! Unlike the older games which were on a 2D plane, this one is on a 3D plane, meaning you can make full use of a circular arena. But that's just the beginning. Fighting seems to be simple as you have a a jump button, an attack buton, a button that either charges Chakra or lets you use a special attack when you press it and the attack button right afterwards, a blocking button (which is also a makeshift dodge button if you press it just as you're about to get hit), a button that unleashes a few shurikens (ninja stars) and two support character buttons, but you also have to keep in mind your support characters which can, if used at the right time, set an opponent up for a combo attack and/or just fuck them up. Before battle, you can select what support attack they can use, which range from combos to one strong attack. If you have the right attacks and the right timing, you could turn a potentially losing battle into a winning one! That's really about as complicated as it gets because beyond that, a string of attacks with only two Jutsu at your disposal is all you have. Speaking of which, you have one Jutsu that's like a more powerful attack, and another that's really powerful, but using the stronger Jutsu of the two will then result in a button pressing duel. Basically, you press more buttons that appear on screen than your opponent does in order to pull it off for massive damage. If the defender presses more buttons though, they can simply dodge your attack and you've just used up half your maximum Chakra.

It might not sound like a big deal because you'll be like “oh well I can just recharge my Chakra”. Well, opponents have a tendency to jump around a lot and fire rounds of shurikens, only running in for a combo attack every now and again. Shurikens are weak as piss, but they can interupt you if you're charging up your Chakra, and the same thing applies to your opponents, so a jumping shuriken barrage tends to be a good way to interupt their Chakra flow whilst staying on the move. It's a matter of picking the right time to charge it up, and thankfully, it also charges up if you land hits on them. Really though, fighting is pretty simple, but unlike everything else in this game, it's the good kind of simple – the kind that's easy to pick up and play because it's not only simple, but it's also fun. It's easy to learn and the earlier fights are easy enough to let you learn the ropes, and as you get further and deal with tougher opponents who move around more often and make smarter usage of Jutsu and support attacks, you're prepared enough to take them down (if not lose at least once).

But hey, CyberConnect had something good going on here, so what's the catch? Oh not much, just conditions that sound more like an arbitrary means of making shit harder than it has any right to be. This is found more in the side missions, though it does sneak into some of the main missions (and I'm not just talking about the optional conditions either). These include “use Jutsu 3 times”, “get a 15 hit combo” and “use support characters 4 times”. I suppose some of these can make things more interesting/challenging and some of the others can at least force some experimentation, but really, it just feels like a cop out because they can't come up with different AI for individual fighters and/or different fights.

The game looks pretty good though. The cel shading gives you the feeling that you're playing key fights in the anime as it's all bright and colorful, although the 3D animation pretty much buttrapes the substandard 2D animation often found in the series as it flows like a calm downstream river (that, and they actually fight for more than 10 seconds at a time without yanking the animation budget because IT'S EXPOSITION/EXPLANATION TIME). There isn't much else to really say about the graphics besides the fact that at least there's authenticity – yeah, I remember them doing this fight in this forest or inside an arena. Still looks pretty good, which is what matters the most.

Now, one thing I absolutely love about the anime is the music. It was either upbeat, suspenseful, blood pumping or even sad when the scene calls for it. The game, on the other hand, seems to have this stock music that doesn't pump you up. It sounds more like elevator music. Oh, and while the anime's music is catchier than a cold, I'd be hard pressed to remember even a 2 second loop of any given song from this soundtrack. The voice acting is at least faithful to the anime as they seem to have each characters' actors/actresses – too bad there aren't many opportunities to utilize them because the story is told mostly in text format.

Bottom line: There's so much superflous bullshit in Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm that it makes you wonder if they were confident enough in the overall design of the game. A lot of what you're given is hideously basic, underdeveloped and a general waste of time. The story was hastily retold so that it could give context to everything you do in this game, but it might as well have just said “Naruto is fighting Gaara, believe it” and it'd give just as much information to you as each beginning mission text does. Despite my constant bitching though, the fighting is fun to do and it is pretty well executed. Really, it's just bogged down by all this filler content that you just wish would be better developed and flow more cohesively with everything else, or at the very least, be something resembling fun or even worth your time.

6/10 (Above Average)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Review: Enslaved: Odyssey To The West

At times, I find myself cleaning up my excess inventory so that I don't look like a loser who has more video games than friends – that, and trading in PS3 games will reduce your next JB Hi-Fi DVD/video game binge by about ten bucks a pop. Very rarely do I give them a chance to plea their case, but Enslaved was a special game for me... a special kind of shit that doesn't quite smell like what I'd be used to, and it kind of looks different too, but... well, you know where this is going, so I'll talk about it a bit more formally. Enslaved is the kind of game that only really has one thing going for it, two things that have a lot of potential to make this game good, and a bunch of crap that just sticks to the wall and stinks up the joint.

In the future, most of humanity is wiped out by robots and nature has taken over. Okay, so far, so good. But then comes some sort of doomship, which is apparently a slave ship. But never fear – the badass known only as Monkey manages to bust out and... well, he attempts to escape, except most of the escape pods have already left the ship. There's one left, but some chick named Trip escapes in it. Never fear, as Monkey, the most badass video game character known to mankind, holds onto the pod as it drops about a quadrillion feet down onto the ground. But because Monkey is such a badass, he survives (barely, but he survives nevertheless). Trip likes a man who has nice big, rippling muscles that survive death defying stunts such as falling so many feet from the air not even god knows, so she installs a head piece that'll kill him if either she dies, they're too far away from each other, or if he leaves the toilet seat up. Given that Monkey could most likely survive a 2-on-1 handicap fight against Bruce Lee and a Bengol tiger, I guess you can say Trip's found the only method that can actually kill Monkey – what a smart chick. And hot. And... kind of a bitch now that I think about it. You can tell she doesn't like Monkey for his personality – she only likes him because even a punch right across the face from Captain Falcon would only deplete a small portion of his hit points.

Oh and there's some shit about mechs and how Trip has to head home so they journey to the west or some fucking bullshit nobody actually cares about because the story is so wafer thin that you can see right through it. The ending sucks harder than a Taiwanese hooker as it concludes jack shit and actually only serves to ask even more questions, but fuck it, this is a more character driven experience than anything. Despite my embelishment of Monkey's actions, he's not a likeable character and neither is Trip. Monkey is a meathead whose only positive characteristic is his Herculean strength, while Trip is sneaky and manipulative, although she's quite a tech wizz as she can hack into pretty much anything technological. In fact, the only likeable thing about the characters are how their relationship develops. It first starts off with Monkey only helping because he has no choice, but over time, he grows to like, even love her, and the feeling is reciprocated. I only wished that they were actually likeable – so much effort was put into characters that are unrealistically selfish and otherwise bland for survivors of some apocalypse. Halfway through, you meet another character and... oh wow, a likeable character! Why? Because – and get this – he has a personality that you can actually enjoy! Now, I don't know why he's so fucking fat, unless he always lucked out when his tribe or whatever had to eat each other and he hogged all the bodies for himself, but hey, he has a sense of humor that's enjoyable to be around! What's not to like about him... unless he smells bad...

What makes it suck is how unfulfilling every moment of gameplay really is. The platforming in this game not only took a few classes in the Uncharted school of platforming – quick, climb up the conveniently placed rocks – but for fucks sake, you can't even die! Monkey never misses a beat on those ledges. He will ALWAYS make it to the next stone or chasm or whatever because he's Monkey! He's a badass motherfucker and you mustn't forget that. Ever! To forget is to realize that the platforming and what it's really there for is like what happens in the Ninja Theory headquarters while they think of ways to unfairly deprive us of 60 buttfucking dollars because god forbid these jokers can actually make a game with good gameplay! I mean, if you want to know their true intentions, look no further than the puzzles and the chase sequences – the puzzles are just long, drawn out tedious lever puzzles that slow down the game and end up having less logic the further along you go; meanwhile, the chase sequences have you chasing something on some disc board and, unless you have no hand eye coordination, it's so easy to get to the big robot that kidnapped Trip. I suppose if I must spell it out for you - The chase sequences are just there to show off the pretty graphics while the puzzles are either easy or complete bullshit. Guess what they put more effort in?

Now, to be fair, there was a legitamate attempt at a combat system, which is fine by me because that's what you did more often than not. Sure, the enemy variety wasn't big and the attacks list is smaller than the Vita's sales figures, but with that came a more realistic (well, psuedo-realistic really) combat engine and really, every decision made here at least complimented one another. The enemy variety was necessary – you have your generic grunts, big guys, shield guys, big guys with shields and gunners. The combat list is a necessary response with a combo attack, a vertical attack, a charged attack, a sweep and two sorts of plasma bullets (attackers and stunners).

This is the kind of thing that'd work if Enslaved had deliberate pacing or, at the very least, was made by a developer who knew what they were doing. I mean it's not like either of the Batman Arkham games are teeming with variety or anything, and it seems like they have similar strengths too! But alas, Enslaved's combat doesn't give it much opportunity to have anything bounce off of themselves. Instead, it just feels like a mediocre hack and slash game that wanted a slice of that God Of War pie without making any effort to be as brutal or over the top as it, or even remotely fun for that matter. It always feels like it's just going through the motions, like in case they can't shoehorn some crappy puzzle or "cinematic" chase scene or if they're looking for ways to fill up time, it's like "oh there are now waves of enemies". Parts like that especially piss me off because it shows how wafer thin combat really is. There are only basic strategies like using stun plasma bullets and/or wailing on them with the combo attack, and since you're fighting so fucking often, it wears you down. A few scenarios try to be interesting by having enemies in different positions and having a good arrangement of enemies to try and dick you over, but those are far and few between – at other points, the lack of commitment behind execution of the combat engine shows like disgusting zits on a pair of E-cup titties.

It's a shame, because the game at least looks good. There's some pixellated textures offset by some blurry ones, and lag is immiment, but beyond that, it looks brilliant. The landscapes of this post-apocalyptic world look convincing. There's plenty of green and while a puking analogy would seem fitting, no, it actually looks rather serene. Whether it's the forest you start in or the city you eventually head towards, it looks so peaceful after the obliteration of most of mankind. The city is appropriately ravaged, with mossy, rusty metals and moldy old buildings. It really does feel like you're there and it's not some fucking desolate, radioactive wonderland either, which is what really stands out about this game. The animations are also rather smooth, especially the facial features. The emotions on their faces fit their dialogue and tone of voice, which helps to bring the story to life despite the actual story's insipidness.

Speaking of voice acting, the characters, mediocre as they are, have ace fucking voice actors. Each of the emotions conveyed by them is not only appropriate, but they're conveyed so well that they manage to really draw you into the experience! The only minor nitpick is that Monkey is a bit tricky to understand sometimes due to Andy Serkis's accent, but if people can stomach the Irate Gamer, then you should be fine with this. As for the soundtrack, it's mostly ambient pieces, though when it gets loud, it manages to make for some epic music during fights. Nothing really memorable or anything, but it's got decent enough ambiance and that's probably enough when it comes to soundtracks from this generation to be considered passable.

There is potential to be found in its story as the characters' relationship is very well developed, but the characters themselves are mostly unlikeable and the story itself is an afterthought, especially that disaster of an ending. There's also potential to be found in its combat, but it becomes an insipid chore the further in you go. That's it. There's more time put into its story and set pieces than the gameplay and it shows. Enslaved is more interested in jacking itself off and because it's got such a small dick, nobody else can give it a whack. Avoid this like Square avoids making progress on Final Fantasy Versus XIII.

3/10 (Bad)