Thursday, September 20, 2012

A non-WoW post

I while ago a game called Journey was released to generally hyperbolic reviews and I felt compelled to purchase a PS3 to play it. Journey was an amazing experience, and afterwards I spent a few dollars on some other games I had heard about but previously had no means to play, such as Flower and Shadow of the Colossus-- and I also found a version of Lumines made specifically for PS3 that was still utterly subpar compared to the PSP version released seven years ago. Man, that game has aged well.

Um, where was I? Oh, but since that first week or so, I've barely touched our PS3, and our semi-permanent couch guest has become by far the primary user of the machine, which may be related to our lounge room having over time mysteriously evolved a stack of PS3 disc games. One of these games is Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, which I felt compelled to try out the other day, having heard enough about it from various sources to think I might enjoy it.

The art design is just amazing, the highlight of the package in my opinion. Ruined husks of skyscrapers have been overtaken by a jungle of lush greenery and the sun is always shining brilliantly. This is a post-apocalypse I can get behind-- a really refreshing take on what is usually such a depressing setting. I'm only at Chapter 8 or so and have met two characters so far-- Tripitaka is a bit of clich├ęd girly girl, but I love the enigmatic Monkey. I understand the characters were acted using performance capture [a la Avatar, Planet of the Apes, etc] and the developer has taken full advantage of this. I've been really impressed with the performances, and how much emotional nuance is conveyed non-verbally.

The game is concerned largely with jumping, clambering and various other feats of athletics, with a healthy dose of melee combat and smidge of shooter-ey stuff to break it up. The SO remarked that it looked extremely reminiscent of Assassin's Creed and Uncharted, but I haven't played either of those-- the gameplay reminded me most of Prince of Persia.

I admit I nearly stopped playing this game early on due to how janky the controls were and how often this can interrupt the flow of movement. Basically it's because the game wont let you jump unless it's already figured out where you are going to land. I assume this is to get rid of any annoying "leap of faith" trial and error gameplay [as this genre is usually rife with it] and it also works to prevent you from accidentally walking off a cliff, with Monkey coming to a screeching halt at the edge if you so much as try, but unfortunately no automatic distinction is made between bottomless ravines and two metre drops, and it can be incredibly frustrating when you just want to hop down from a small ledge but the game wont let you do so because that particular jump hasn't been programmed into the level.

Overall I just feel like the levels are a bit too scripted and linear, and traversing them feels unfairly restrictive. I was pretty disappointed when I found that the most efficient method of tackling the clambering sequences is just to spam my X button and waggle the stick around in the general direction I think I should be going rather than actually looking for the next hand hold.

I suppose this is true of all modern 3D games, but I never felt like I could see enough of the environment at once. There is no way to zoom the camera out, so when exploring an area I feel like I'm spending far too long just waving the camera around just to see what's around me. This level of zoom persists during combat as well, and though it's nice to have a clear view of the melee action, this means that any enemies which you are not currently hitting are completely off screen and once one is dealt with, you need to then slowly pivot the camera around to see the other which is about to attack.

The combat is what kept me interested though. I've never been a big fan of brawler-style games, but I'm glad I took the effort to learn this combat system. The enemies tend to be varied and each type needs to be dealt with in a slightly different way. I almost didn't mind the few occasions where the game blatantly threw wave after wave of enemies at me in a single area which I had to beat before the obviously visible exit door would display the context trigger that let me open it. Many areas are set up to allow you to bypass combat completely and but disappointingly this option is only present arbitrarily-- in other areas you will find another inactive exit door passively suggesting you go back and kill all the enemies like you were supposed to.


Maybe my memory is off but I always understood that the PS3 was a graphical powerhouse capable of high-end HD graphics. Playing this game I was immediately struck by how shockingly low-res it was, and the frame rate dipped regularly.  Have games themselves evolved so far since this console's release that 1080p is no longer possible, or was the PS3 never all it claimed to be to begin with?


That ended up a bit more like a game review than I intended. I hope I didn't sound too negative because I really am enjoying the game. I criticise because I love.

And I suppose I will award this game my highest score-- two stars. **

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