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Endgame: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

November 20, 2010

[as ever, “Endgame” posts deal with game endings. there will be spoilers, and in Enslaved, those spoilers are biggies. please don’t yell.]

Enslaved badly projects its “twist”.

Pardon me for invoking the name of M. Night Shyamalan for a moment, but he did have a few reasonably decent films before he choked on his own ego. One of the reasons The Sixth Sense was so effective as a film is for the mere fact that it is his debut. We didn’t yet know that he was the M. Night Shyamalan, who never met a twist he didn’t like. While people will tell you now that they could tell that [OMG SPOILER_ALERT] Bruce Willis was a ghost [/OMG] from the fifth minute on, it wasn’t really that clear at the time. The mood of the movie was so somber and desolate that it was just as valid a hypothesis that Bruce Willis’ apparent non-interaction with anyone other than little Haley Joel was simply a stylistic choice. Everyone in the movie is a little detached, even if poor, sensitive Bruce is the only one who’s cut off to that extent.

Monkey, the avatar of Enslaved, is forcibly fitted with a helmet that forces him to do the bidding of Trip, the female lead. Throughout the game, we see flashes not of the world we are playing, but of a world that looks consistent with our own — a 21st century existence with flashes of suburban paradise. At least, it looks something like paradise when we compare it to the broken-down versions of recognizable landmarks (with the constant, looming presence of giant robots) presented in the game.

Of course, we know that somehow these flashes are going to figure in to the endgame — we just don’t know how.

[the real spoilers start here, by the way. this is your last chance to flee.]

Look, I liked The Matrix, too. It was a fun movie, but it was not really that deep. Okay, the reality we think we know is different than the real reality, which, when you think about it, could just be part of some computer simulation of reality, programmed in another reality by some indentured servant of a hostile alien being looking for a toy. I mean, if you start imagining this stuff, you go down the wormhole pretty quickly, but the movie itself was not that deep.

That it is repackaged in Enslaved and presented to us as if it’s supposed to make us really think at the end of the game is a little insulting. Once the last wave of evil mechs done be blowed up reeeal good by the suddenly noble Pigsy character, Monkey and Trip invade the big glowing pyramid in the middle of the desert and encounter, um, Pyramid, a sentient being who is apparently making life better for thousands of “slaves” who he is feeding with his memories of a better world. After first enticing Monkey with the appeal of such a world, Pyramid is violently killed by Trip (seems she’s still holding a grudge a few hours after she found out that Pyramid’s charges killed her father and most of her friends). This frees the slaves from their altered realities, inviting the obvious question of whether they’re better off being forced to experience the “true” reality of their situations.

But then, WHAT IS “TRUE”?

Enslaved was a fun little game. Most of it was pretty lightweight, with some nice banter between the two main characters and a teamwork-driven dynamic that supplemented the gameplay more than it took it over. It is a game that wears its influences on its sleeve — Ico, Prince of Persia, God of War, Tomb Raider — and it was easy to get caught up in a narrative that never really got all that much deeper than a revenge tale. Ending the game by turning the whole thing into a too-shallow think piece clouds one’s perception of the rest of the game, which was surely the intent to a point. Still, by projecting for the entire game that there was going to be a reality/time-bending twist, the impact was reduced. Trip forces everyone to take the red pill, and game over.

What would be interesting now is DLC that focuses on the chaos resulting from Trip’s decision. Sure, continuing the story in a case like this is always a risky proposition, but now that the “slaves” are “free”, one could see a Lord of the Flies-style mass character study being an interesting direction for the tale to travel in. Unfortunately, announced DLC so far apparently concentrates on the lightweight, delving into the backstory of Pigsy and leaving the thinky inclinations of the game to its “twist” of a conclusion.

One wishes that the developers could have made a commitment to either a think-piece or a lightweight action romp. By trying to have it both ways (and they do try, valiantly so), they miss their shot at a truly satisfying story.

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