come on Monkey, let’s go.
Gears of War is a rhythm game. I’m slowly but surely lifting Portal 2 off of the glittery pedestal I’ve erected for it. Brink is everything I’ve ever wanted out of Team Fortress 2. And the Pokemon Dreamworld is losing its lustre.
But I’m mostly getting tired of buying these Palette Swaps lightweights beer. So today we’re looking at narratives.
More specifically — Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is turning out rather lovely.
I spend quite a bit of time waxing poetic about “interactive fiction.” But what the hell does that even mean?
Honestly? I don’t know. It’s a feeling.
A good storyteller keeps you right in the mix of things. For reasons I’l go into someday, CliffyB and the Epic crew drops the ball with Gears of War. It’s not their fault; they’re just kind of hung up on the Michael Bay phenomenon.
The trick is to ignore visual media. It’s counter intuitive, I know. But video games have far more in common with books than they do movies or television.
Consider this: even the shittiest book demands your full cooperation. The characters’ voices, the world they exist in; everything is brought to life by the neurons firing inside your skull.
Like Movies and Television, Video Games take much of the guesswork out of the equation. But being interactive beasts, they still demand audience participation — you’re pushing the avatars along, and with right pacing, the right cues, the right writing, the right atmosphere, their story becomes yours. And that’s where I dive in.
The Real World has long since bitch-slapped the shit out of my creative spirit, but down in the deep, dark recesess of my top-ten-chart riddled-soul lurks a storyteller. And that aforementioned soul still knows a thing or two about storytelling.
I’m of two minds when it comes to gaming. The first is cold, methodical. It’s the insect brain, the one that springs to life whilst I’m working through my healing rotation, or cycling through objectives on a level / map and brainstorming the best course of action. It’s the Nate that acknowledges AI scripting, and NPC triggers. Sprawling dungeons become a nest of vertices beneath a skybox, etcetera etcetera.
The other Nate is whimsical. The Nate that becomes the Gnome warlock or hulking space marine; traipsing through hallways, barrel-chested minion or double-barreled shotgun in tow.
At the moment, Enslaved has me in the sandals (or maybe I’m barefoot?) of Monkey,
aka Mr. Generic, muscle-bound alpha male. I’m guiding damsel in distress #37A (Trip) along on our hero’s journey.
But things are different here. The animation is solid — the look of rage on Monkey’s face as he tears through advesaries is pretty much fist-bump-worthy. The voice acting is near sublime; deliciously geniune notes of panic in Trip’s voice as she struggles for purchase on a distant ledge…
My heart races not for her safety (she’s a dick, I’ve decided) but for my own, as her chicanery has left my life irrevocably linked to hers. Just a few chapters in, and I’ve already adopted the characters as my own. Staying spoiler free (really though, the game is like a year old), but there are no “heroes” here. At least, not in the traditional sense. No anti-heroes either, if you get a chubby off of Gears and its bad-boy ilk. Just living, breathing, digital beings.
That’s a good sign.
Game-wise, there are kinks. Combat is a bit on the dull side — mash mash mash, dodge around, rinse and repeat ad naseum. But that’s cool, I’m having a riotously good time peeling back the layers of this particular hop-about.
tl;dr: Ninja Theory gives great tale.