Monkey, despite the name, is the ultimate beat-em-up character. The genre traditionally relies on a trio of styles, the all-rounder, the speed, and the power. Monkey is all three, a enormously tenacious brute bashing away at surviving mechs of a war long past. How Enslaved generates his ferocity is through simple, non-disorienting camera tricks, a slight judder here, a quick edit there. It may even slow down on the final hit of a screen clear, showing the insanity of the splashing sparks and the adrenaline on his face.
It is a brilliant, simple fighting engine, one that never loses its appeal or forcefulness, even in those sections where enemies tend to fall from upper levels like rain. That’s rare, as much of Enslaved is focused on two things: spacing and pacing. The level design is such that encounters are spread out, typically limited to few enemies as well. This in turn pushes the pacing, keeping Monkey and his forced partner Tip moving through a devastated planet.
Monkey is/was a slave, actually controlled by Tip as they traverse a future Earth, continuing to crumble after a war, mechs continuing an onslaught. Why they still fight is the mystery of this survival tale, the ending creating an otherworldly explanation for everything that is mind-blowing and nearly unpredictable.
The focus remains on survival on a staggering scale, Tip mostly helpless despite looking much like the girl from Heavenly Sword, and if she dies, so does Monkey. Their interactions are wonderful, Monkey brilliantly performed by Andy Serkis. He has personality, not just one based on humor (which the game has too), but drama and caring that give him life along with his partner.
Much can be made for the plaforming of Enslaved, the idea certainly borrowed from Uncharted or the later Tomb Raider titles. Not all is what it seems, the simple act of jumping from a wall notch to a pipe generating a sense of familiarity until it is pulled out from under the player as the world has finally had enough. There is a constant feeling of decay amidst this beautiful, colorful world, New York now saturated with more plant life than concrete.
Enslaved’s controls are careful, too much so in reality. Avoiding frustration was an obvious focus, but in turn creates a character with a mind of his own, rather ironic for a slave with his brain under fire from Tip. Monkey doesn’t always jump when you need him to, saving the player from falling to their death which is a small irritation when exploring, devastating in tight quarter action or when timing is crucial.
Even when it is frustrating, Enslaved makes up for it. A level inside an amphitheater contains the constant presence of a hulking mech-dog, sitting below as Monkey traverses the scaffolding above, the machine waiting for a chewy meal to munch on. This is where you appreciate the forgiving controls; falling here would only result in a break of pacing and agonizing death sequence for a character that is growing on the player.
Few of the levels feels superfluous, this trek across the country littered with meaningful, fresh content, mostly in open, breathtaking environments. Sadly, the game boxes itself in by the end, layering the switch-flipping mission objectives on thick and repetitiously, adding about an hour of game time that seems wasteful.
Thankfully, what the final boss lacks in difficulty, it makes up for in sheer scale, the battle requiring an entire level’s worth of platforming, smooth shooting and a full metal-smashing skill set. Following that is a thought-provoking epilogue, where the characters are freed from an idea, slavery and a forced way of life. It is as jarring, special and surprising as they come, a way to leave these characters victors, yet still vulnerable.
Enslaved is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence. This game can also be found on: PS3.