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Archive for January, 2011

Sadly not Enslaved to Quality

Posted by nfinit on January 29, 2011

I could go on at length about my depths of disappointment in Ninja Theory’s action/adventure/platformer/third person shooter/Andy Serkis simulator Enslaved (and I assure you I will), but I can sum up my feelings for this game thus:

The sequel would have been amazing.

Sadly that sequel was not meant to be. Namco has since sworn off western development.  Enslaved itself became a bargain-bin darling a month after it launched.  Which is all the more frustrating as the basic foundations for an good videogame are there.  But  the things Ninja Theory got wrong, they got very, very wrong.

Behold The Nanny State Platforming Experience

Enslaved’s platforming is unique in that there’s no platforming involved at all.  There’s no pixel-perfect jumps for your character (Andy Serkis’ fine performance as “Monkey”) to perform; no daring leaps of faith as you shimmy from one ledge to another.  Enslaved’s platforming is built around handholds.  Sometimes they’re presented as conveniently placed pipes or chunks of bulging masonry, or unreasonably hard-to-reach access panels.  Or sometimes just highly suspect handles protruding randomly from the environment.

I’m not actually upset at this design.  If it were put into a game where you were encouraged to explore your could lead to a lot of interesting moments where you find your own way through a level by exploiting the game’s geometry, a la Assassin’s Creed. But Enslaved doesn’t let you explore.  There is one path as you move from handhold to handhold.  Furthermore it’s impossible to miss a handhold– the game simply will not let you jump if you’re not aimed at the next handhold in the sequence, even if you see another handhold you know for a fact Monkey is capable of reaching.

Not nearly as dangerous as you’d think

Platforming in Enslaved usually breaks down to Monkey reaching out in random directions as the player mashes the jump button, desperately hoping to find the next valid handhold.  This mechanic is slow and clumsy and teaches the player that the only things worth looking around for are is shimmering edges of an usable handhold.  In any sane platforming game a new area is an invitation to exploration– in Enslaved it’s just something you endure as you wander around trying to start the handhold sequence.

This could easily be made into something that worked, provided Ninja Theory were willing to allow the player to actually fail at a platforming segment.  Open up all the available handholds and encourage the player to explore and abandon the tightly scripted gameplay model that ensures every player will encounter 90% of the game’s content.

Enslaved’s platforming is something you stumble through between combat sections.  That’s problematic, as the combat is also horrible.

Devil May Cry.  (And So May We).

Like any fan of Hideki Kamiya’s Devil May Cry series I was deeply concerned that Capcom had tapped Ninja Theory for the franchise reboot, a decision seemingly based entirely off of Ninja Theory’s name and not their pedigree.  There was nothing present in Ninja Theory’s aggressively mediocre 3rd person brawler Heavenly Sword  to indicate that the company should be entrusted with Devil May Cry.   I came into Enslaved knowing about its particular platforming problems, but I hoped to gain some insight onto what we could expect out of Ninja Theory’s take on Devil May Cry.

The future does not look promising.

Don’t let Monkey’s cool practiced demeanor with the quarterstaff fool you. He’s about to die.

Enslaved’s platforming is clumsy and mash-happy at the worst of times, but Enslaved’s combat is like that all the time.  What’s worse, the  combat is quite difficult.  Whereas you have to go out of your way to find a fail condition in Enslaved’s platforming sections, death awaits at the most basic of Enslaved’s many combat encounters..

Enslaved’s combat isn’t mashy in the fun, cathartic Darksiders sort of way where you could just randomly alternate between strong and weak attacks and make neat stuff happen.  Quite the opposite.  It’s mashy in the way where Monkey doesn’t respond quickly enough in any encounter and you’re never sure what result you’ll get out of any particular fight.  Fighting in Enslaved is clumsy and slow and largely ineffective.  Combine this with a recalcitrant camera and an utter lack of a lock-on targeting system and you wind up with the most frustrating, un-fun combat experience imaginable that doesn’t involve an MMA pay per view featuring Herschel Walker.

Quality Assurance Not Assured

Here’s a litany of other issues with Enslaved that I can’t be bothered to go into length dissecting as I’d rather be playing Bayonetta instead:

* Enslaved may have the worst camera ever devised.  And brother, I know bad cameras.  I played Ninja Gaiden.  Enslaved gives you a camera that will fight all attempts to move it into position.  Want to search around the level looking for upgrade orbs?  “Fuck you”, says the camera “I’m going to firmly affix myself to six feet behind you for no apparent reason”.  Getting lit up by a machine gun somwhere off screen?  The camera thinks it’s far more important you stare at this handhold instead.   Want to pan the camera down so you can see if the ledge your standing on is a valid drop-down point?  No, the camera would much rather you pay attention to the painstakingly-crafted ruins of midtown Manhattan.  The Enslaved camera is a fucking asshole, and if you were to somehow meet this camera in real life you would gladly suffer whatever legal proceedings would take place after breaking its nose.

* The hover board is without a doubt the most fun part of Enslaved.  It’s unique in the world of platforming adventure games, it feels empowering to use, and you could easily see how something along these same basic lines could make a Sonic game work in 3d.  Sadly you only use it a handful of times and the game’s logic never bothers to explain how or why you’re allowed to use it.  In fact there are areas where you cannot access the hover board only to have the hover board at your disposal moments later when you use it to enter a scripted chase sequence.

This! Give me seven hours of this! Sega please….aww, screw it.

* Enslaved has more random texture pop-in than a Mass Effect 1 playthrough operated by someone on a three-day meth bender.  What’s worse, texture pop-in will show up during cutscenes Ninja Theory had to know were plagued with pop-in.  I recall an instance where Monkey finds himself in the ruins of a ballroom, with the camera fixed lovingly on a long shot of a disco ball, a scene no doubt meant to contrast the lush ruins with a glimmering relic of ancient technology.  This would have worked wonderfully had the game not required five seconds to render the disco ball properly; as if it were a castoff piece of level geometry from Mario 64.

* Sometimes the game will autosave after an mid-level checkpoint.  Sometimes the game will autosave after a cutscene.  Sometimes it won’t do any of these things at all and the next time you turn on the game you’ll find yourself at the very start of the level.  It’s impossible to tell as the game gives you noindication of when it’s performing a save.  Heaven help the player who happens to turn off the console during one of these mysterious, unseen autosave events.

* Enslaved is roughly six hours long; but there’s an upgrade system and an achievement for collecting all possible upgrade orbs.  However, there is no New Game Plus system present, meaning there’s no encouragement to play through the game a second time, provided you were masochistic enough to engage in such self-destructive activity.

* I cannot explain the depths of my loathing for this game’s ending without spoiling it.  Instead, just imagine all the most disappointing bits of Matrix Reload.  Then, find or create an open wound and rub road salt into it.  Then you’ll be somewhat close to my experience with Enslaved’s ending.  The emotional trauma induced by Enslaved’s ending is inescapable without psychotropic drugs and/or repeated visits to a mental health professional..

Wait, There Was Something Good Here?

So I started this by saying that Enslaved’s stillborn sequel would have been amazing, and if you’ve read through all this it sounds like I’m ahypocrite.  After all, this game fails spectacularly at the two things an action/adventure game needs to get right– exploration and combat.   But I played through Enslaved in three sittings over two days.  Something had to be there to keep my attention for that long.

Enslaved may not be a fundamentally good game as much as it is a fundamentally good experience.  Enslaved’s level design and art style make tooling through it’s lush desolation an enthralling experience.  Up until the final five minutes the story is decent enough, and the characters are fantastic.

Assassin’s Creed is the best example I can provide.  The first Assassin’s Creed was a dire game.  It was repetitive, the combat was atrocious, and the platforming elements, although fundamentally sound, were not enough to carry the rest.  But the sequel was amazing, a legitimately great game, and all it took was an overhaul to the combat system and a greater variety of stuff to do.  The basic foundation was fine.  All Resident Evil games prior to 4 are also good examples– sometimes all it takes is  fine-tuning one core aspect of your game to turn what is a frustrating gameplay experience into a true classic.

Turning this basic idea into an awful videogame was actually quite impressive and ranks with efforts such as Mirror’s Edge and the final five minutes of Battlestar Galactica.

So should you, the intrepid reader, play Enslaved?  Absolutely not.  I inflict such horrors to myself to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, and now I have no reason whatsoever to be interested in the next installment of Devil May Cry.  Ninja Theory may be excellent at building characters and worlds and atmosphere, but they may not be capable of making a good videogame.  Even as a b-level videogame experience like Deadly Premonition, Enslaved falls short.  There’s entirely too much promise to Enslaved to be enjoyed on an ironic level.


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Wallet Abuse Friday 1-7-11

Posted by nfinit on January 7, 2011

Get Fit with Mel B
Developer: Deep Silver
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: PlayStation 3

The most damning aspect of Move and Kinect is that no longer can you relegate stuff like “Get Fit With Mel B” into the Wii ghetto and move on with your life. No, now this thing is sitting there next to Red Dead Redemption and Vanquish and other real video games, cheapening everyone in the process. But mainly me.

I don’t even know what Mel B brings to the table aside an endorsement from a woman that I want very badly to kick my ass

Let’s see what the official website has to say for itself:

Good Game

Get Fit with Mel B is arguably the best overall fitness game on the market. Unparalleled graphics and replayability.

—DieHard GameFAN

Yeah, y’know, because DieHard GameFAN is your go-to source for news and opinion on sports and fitness products.


Get Fit with Mel B is the best option out there for getting fit with a video game.

—Universal Gaming Database

Okay there’s no way the “Universal Gaming Database” actually exists, right?


So not only did Deep Silver submit a review simply to procure a pull quote for their own game, they couldn’t even be bothered to give their own game five stars. Deep Silver could have pulled this exact same trick with Giant Bomb’s editable database and gave themselves a Giant Bomb endorsement; although that’s assuming Giant Bomb wouldn’t issue a cease and desist within twenty minutes of publishing said pull quote.

The real loser here is, as always, DieHard GameFAN, who’s now been reduced to being mentioned in the same company as The Universal Gaming Database, Gaming Props, and The Totally Gaming Network. Also in wholly unrelated news, my blog at Big Red Coat is totally available for pull quotes! All I require is a modest monetary reward. Or free games. Or Taco Bell coupons.

(Also it’s entirely possible this game was actually a launch title for Move and should not be in this edition of WAW at all. Sometimes is weird like that; stuff will appear in it’s database and not disappear for months despite launching in twelve different territories across all major platforms. To be perfectly fair I just wanted to post pictures of Mel B and take potshots at Dave Halverson.

Lost in Shadow
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Konami
Platform: Wii

The PS3 is getting fitness programs; the Wii is getting third party games I want to play, Pete Carrol is taking a 7-9 team into the NFL playoffs and the President of the United States of America is a an open fan of Micheal Vick. It’s a weird world.

What’s not weird, however, is the idea of you buying Lost in Shadow. Like right fucking now. Put down your laptop or iPad or whatever, give Best Buy forty bucks, and come home with one of the most inventive and charming 2d platformers to come along since… well since Epic Yarn two months ago, but that’s not the point!


Stop being an asshole! Give Konami your money right now! Do it before Hudson remembers they used to make Bonk games! OH GOD TOO LATE

Look, the point is, Hudson has killed before and will kill again. They need to be rewarded for good behavior as much as they need their offices firebombed whenever they release a new Bomberman game.

Also how does it work out that the Wii wound up with the strongest lineup of 2d platformers since the early 90’s SNES? Super Mario Brothers Wii, Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Waggle, A Boy and His Blob, Cave Story and now Lost In Shadow.

Yet somehow Team Meat decided that this was the one platform they couldn’t sell Super Meat Boy on. I mean, I’m usually not one to complain about third parties abandoning the Wii as it’s hard to blame a dev for not wanting to compete against Nintendo on their own platform when XBLA is sitting right there, but it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t some sort of way to sell Super Meat Boy on the Wii given the fact that it’s become the go-to system for retro-themed games this console generation.

Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Osborne House
Developer: Frog Games
Publisher: THQ
Platforms: DS

One of the interesting– well, not interesting. Let’s say “neat”. But “neat” doesn’t mean anything, either. Okay, one of the things I’ve found out while doing WAW every week is that there exists this strange cottage industry of Nintendo DS adventure games; usually based on IP that’s long since passed into the public domain, but all roughly the same; based around a series of rote puzzle mini games loosely tied around a central narrative that only old people and very shy children who’ve spent too much time in the company of old people could possibly enjoy.

While it would be very easy for me to dismiss Mystery of Osborne House as another of these by-the-numbers adventure titles (provided you can even fairly call these “adventure” games without horribly offending the memory of Full Throttle and Grim Fandango), I’m stopped short– With the popularity of Professor Layton, perhaps Frog Games was inspired to create something with verve and artistry instead of an excuse to give retirees another six solid hours of pipe puzzles.

And with that you think maybe Frog games is trying this time– after all, that’s not just good art; that’s an actual art unique art style. Maybe Frog Games finally gets it, maybe they’re willing to pull these poor lost proto-gamers fromotheir comfortable, quilt-lined shells and–


(while we’re on the subject, we’re all in agreement that the mini games in Bioshock/Bioshock 2 were the only interesting pipe maze games, right? There’s something to be said for the tension created when you know if you fuck up you’ll be on the receiving end of a rocket-propelled grenade. Maybe this is the sort of thing Frog Games needs to expand into; providing hacking mini games to other developers. God knows Fallout 3/New Vegas could benefit from an hacking gameplay mechanic that didn’t involve trying one letter combination and immediately backing out and restarting if you didn’t succeed on the first try)

Developer: SouthEnd Interactive (Not to be mistaken for SouthPeak Interactive)
Publisher: Microsoft Gaming Studios
Platforms: XBLA

I’m trying to get into IloMilo but it just seems way too complicated for it’s own good. There’s a lot of mechanics to keep track of in 3d space and the way the two “ends” of each puzzle operate as you bring Ilo and Milo together was difficult for me to get my mind around during the demo. But I rarely “get” this type of game, so don’t let my inability to enjoy IloMilodissuade any of you; it’s obvious the developers loved making this game and that warmth permeates everything about IloMilo. If super-cute 3d puzzlers are what you’re into it’s hard to find a better example on XBLA at the moment.

Developer: TastyPlay
Publisher: Beatshapers
Platforms: PlayStation Network

So I don’t want to say that a downloadable title on PlayStation Network validates Move as a gaming platform, but–


This looks very much like an actual videogame.

The fact that StarDrone also exists on iPhone sort of harms this argument; it’s hard for me to believe that any sort of waggle integration is justifiable if the game isn’t built from the ground up to exploit motion control. But still, I get very much of a Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved feel from StarDrone, and Retro Evolved was pretty much the best (and only) argument for Xbox Live Arcade for months after the 360 was released.

(also, if you’re Nintendo, aren’t you concerned that this thing came out on Move three months after it’s launch instead of on four years ago on the Wii? How does Nintendo keep letting this sort of thing happen? I miss the evil Nintendo of old that would have simply left a Wii Dev kit sitting on Beat Shaper’s doorstep along with a note explaining how many copies of StarDrone they should expect to sell in order to pay it back.)


KINGDOM HEARTS RE:CODED is probably the last thing on earth I want to talk about that does not actively involve bowel movements

VENETICA looks suspiciously like the first instance of an HD videogame someone might want to pay actual money for in 2011.

GHOST TRICK is something you should buy but probably won’t because you’re a jerk who hates good things.

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