Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Review

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one of those nice surprises you didn’t see coming. It appeared at the top of my review pile in a shiny case that I knew nothing about. Going in with a blank slate, the opening cinematic confused me. I had no idea what was going on, only to become more confused when the shirtless protagonist began jumping around a plummeting airship. At that point it seemed appropriate to consult Google, where I learnt that Enslaved is loosely based on “Journey to the West” – a Chinese novel dating back to 1590. However, it’s not all ancient history, rather a modern revival of a story most players won’t even realise exists. Even with such rich history, it would be easy to overlook Enslavedas it’s drowned out in a sea of readymade franchises and cash-in sequels, but then you would miss one of the highlights of 2010.

Enslaved is set in a future where humanity has all but doomed itself. Once prosperous and great lands have been relegated to ruins as mankind fights for survival against a race of all conquering robots. The aforementioned opening cinematic doesn’t do much in the way of explaining the tumultuous situation and leaves you to put the pieces together after making it obvious that humans haven’t fared well in combat against the mechs. You play as a protagonist too cool for both a shirt and a real name – but if he must be called something, he prefers Monkey, presumably in reference to his freakish climbing skills and independent upbringing in the wild. After escaping the clutches of a slave ship, Monkey finds himself bound to a special headband that leaves him captive to a girl named Trip. She attached the device to intertwine their fates and demands that Monkey help her get home. As long as Monkey is wearing the headband, Trip is his master to the extreme that if she dies, so does he.

Enslaved achieves what most games can only dream of. It delivers a compelling narrative, driven by characters you actually care about. It tappers off somewhere in the middle, but recovers nicely and delivers a gob-smacking ending. At first Trip is in prime position to become the annoying damsel in distress that needs babysitting from start to finish. That’s a common path in video games and leads to the development of characters you hate with a passion. Those type of characters give you little motivation to protect them through thick and thin, besides the knowledge that you will be forced to repeat the level if you betray them. Trip becomes so much more than that. She’s useful and full of surprises that compliment Monkey’s raw prowess. It’s hard to imagine caring for a character that took the protagonist captive in the first 15 minutes under selfish motivations (women, amirite?), but she becomes central to the enjoyment of the the overall story which was co-written by Alex Garland of 28 Days Later, The Beach and Sunshine fame.

Interacting with Trip becomes critical to the success of the gameplay. Using her tech-savvy skills to distract enemy mechs allows Monkey to sneak past and position himself better to eliminate them. Likewise, Monkey can distract mechs when Trip is in their line of fire. At anytime the player can order her to move, stay or operate nearby machinery – used in puzzles – but with the exception of the latter, she normally makes the right decision on her own. Intense escape situations she requires Monkey to carry her, making use of his more athletic build. His muscular frame is put to good use throwing Trip across or up to ledges that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reach.

Platforming is where Enslaved really moves in the right direction, as Monkey is constantly tasked with finding alternate routes around inconvenient obstructions. His twists and turns showcase impressive climbing skills and it’s not too hard to see where Ninja Theory picked up his nickname. The platforming mechanics are very simple and only require you to jump in the right direction. It is stylish acrobatics at its most simple. There is almost no risk of mistake as Monkey will automatically only jump to an appropriate position. It’s great fun to play through, but platforming enthusiasts might not sit well with the lack of danger.

Similarly the puzzle elements are kept fairly basic. Most require Monkey and Trip in two different places to operate a piece of machinery. Controlling Monkey and yelling commands to Trip, the onus is on the player to make the right decisions for both characters, but most are kept straightforward. Like any good platformer puzzle, they require your attention at first, but once you grasp an understanding for the individual mechanics, it’s just a matter of going through the motions. That’s hardly a negative, though, as Enslaved was never meant to be a brain-teaser, so there is no need for elaborate puzzles that have you trolling the Internet for answers.

Combat appears basic at first, but as you upgrade Monkey’s skills you learn the ins and outs of his abilities and the best methods to employ against different types of enemies; although, that’s ultimately a result of repetition. Using an energy charged staff in combat between platforming, Enslaved reminds me of Star Fox Adventures, at least at a basic level. They both have very similar combat, with light and heavy attacks between blocking and evading enemy movements. At range, the staff transforms into a firearm and is able to launch either a lethal or stun blast. These are both far more powerful than direct close combat, but Monkey only has a limited supply and must use his firepower wisely. Power-ups become more devastating towards the latter half of the game, making Monkey not only enslaved, but empowered with his somewhat magical staff.

The biggest gripe with Enslaved comes at the hands of its dodgy controls. It is hardly noticeably during platforming, but as soon as Monkey hits the ground he loses reflexes. He takes longer to react and sometimes movement, on the whole, feels very disorientated shifting from automated platforming to running around. To an extent this is alleviated when the player gets their bearings on the ground, but the controls just aren’t as tight as they should have been.

The aging Unreal Engine still looks good with the great artistic direction of Enslaved, some minor background textural issues aside. The character models are distinctive and the post-apocalyptic world is surprisingly vibrant and colorful. Unfortunately, there are some ugly framerate issues. They are fairly infrequent, but they are there nonetheless.

The sound effects are good, but it is the voice acting where the audio shines. Every word is fantastic, due to the quality of the actors and the dialogue which come together in a neat package. The story of Enslaved goes beyond its cut-scenes into the conversations between Monkey and Trip in general gameplay. Most developers fill in the time with useless banter, but Enslaved keeps you listening attentively even when you are focused on completing a task. The awesome soundtrack rounds out the audio package with a memorable score.

The Final Verdict

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was a pleasant surprise for me, and one that I fear will slip under the radar for many. Its core gameplay, both platforming and combat, is kept fairly simple, but coupled with a fantastic narrative and character development, it’s one of the most engaging games this year. It is not without its problems, but Enslaved is a fun unique single player adventure in this time of cash-in sequels and online dominance.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds Review

Marvel vs. Capcom started out life as a simple, yet insane, hybrid fighter, designed to captivate the mindless Western audience who had an infatuation with button-mashing over actual skill. After an overwhelming reception Stateside, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 upped the challenge for more serious players, and it too proved to be popular. Then a decade passed and there was nothing. It’s a long time for hype and anticipated to build, but Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds has finally made it into the hands of gamers.

A complex fighter – Marvel vs. Capcom 3 continues upon the foundations laid by its predecessor, an immensely important fighting experience last generation, and has obviously learnt from its mistakes. The gameplay is deep, but reminiscent of 2D games from days gone by. It’s a lot more like the Street Fighter of old than anything we’ve played recently, and fans will adore it for that. Having said that, the two fighters are very different, so don’t go in expecting otherwise. The fluid character movement knows what it’s trying to achieve, with simple controls that might initially confuse fighting veterans. On the surface, immediately simple moves appear shallow, but as you uncover a new layer of depth, it becomes apparent that there’s so much more to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 than your mind can comprehend. It’s an insane, hectic fighter than remains true to its roots while offering a simpler control scheme.

Fans will love the insanity – Marvel vs. Capcom 3 remembers why the game was so popular back in 2000. It’s an insane fighting concept, that borders on ridiculous, with intense combos and bright, flashing lights that rival the seizures given by crazy Japanese games shows; in fact, there’s a warning for this at the beginning of the game. There’s always something happening in the heat of battle, made even more enticing by the prospect of your favourite Capcom and Marvel characters either teaming up or becoming bitter rivals. A decade may have passed since the last instalment, but the enthusiasm to consume the bizarre world of Marvel vs. Capcom is still going strong.

Simpler controls with deep Combos – It’s somewhat of an oxymoron, but Capcom has tried to incorporate fairly simple controls with a vast roster of complex combos with the new Simple Mode. It does away with buttons for punches and kicks, and replaces them with the more user-friendly light, medium and heavy attacks. The devastating hyper combo is now mapped to one button, instead of a string of complex sequences, and the same can be said for special attacks; the whole control scheme has been streamlined for better and for worse. While it’s certainly much easier to play, but not master, characters do lose several of their special attacks as a direct result in Simple Mode.

X-Factor – Everyone loves having X-Factor, and MvC3 is no exception. Entering the new X-Factor mode, by simultaneously hitting the action buttons, makes your attacks more powerful and restricts chip damage. Furthermore, in this three-on-three fighter, X-Factor is more powerful if you have fewer characters remaining. It adds an unprecedented level of tactical depth, and can often turn the tables on a battle that looked to have a clear victor.

Less characters are more & they look superb – One of the biggest changes to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is the reduced character roster. It’s been downgraded from 56 to 36, but for good reason. In MvC2, a handful of characters dominated proceedings. This time around, each character is on an even keel. While the roster is diverse with unique characters that have their own niche abilities from the worlds of Marvel and Capcom, it has found a balance that the past games were lacking. The extravagant world of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is brought to life with stunning visuals that immediately immerse the player in the hectic gameplay. There’s always something crazy going on, which can be hard to follow at times, but it’s been brought to life with amazing comic-inspired visuals.

Online is key – Online play is conclusively the most important feature, and fortunately it works well during the heat of battle. You’d be hard pressed to find success heading directly online, but once you’ve completed your apprenticeship with the single player game modes, it’s time to take it to the masses. Online matches run well, especially with evenly match players, with minimal traces of lag to be found.

Lack of longevity – Unlike other fighting games, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 will struggle to hold your attention for more than a handful of weeks. Besides the story, there are mission and training modes, but these will hardly keep you occupied. The simple control scheme means there’s no need to spend hours training, and missions start to feel dull and boring halfway through. The training mode, however, is actually fantastic, with seemingly infinite scenarios that can be set-up and practiced. It just isn’t enough on its own with a below-par mission mode.

Multiplayer is lacking – Online multiplayer may be the key, but outside of fighting, it gets boring fast. It’s like watching paint dry when you’re waiting for your turn in a lobby while others duke it out. It doesn’t do much to better the online experience of Super Street Fighter IV, and does away with most of the secondary features that made it such a compelling online fighter; if that’s what you’re looking for, stick with Street Fighter IV.

The Final Verdict

Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds is a fantastic hybrid fighter that deeply engages its audience into a hectic world of combos and bright flashes. It’s more welcoming to button-mashers than Street Fighter IV, but will take just as long to master and doesn’t quite offer the same stellar online play. Having said that, it won’t disappoint long-time fans and offers the same insane gameplay they’ve been waiting a decade for.

PS3 Eagle Eye converter Review

When it comes to first person shooters on the PS3, there’s an enormous range to choose from, most of which feature a single player campaign mode and a online mode. When plodding along at your own pace through the single player campaign, the dual analogue controls are more than adequate, but when you verse the world in the online mode, it’s whole different ball game. There are players online that live, breath and crap dual analogue control perfection; head shots and multi kills are standard issue for these guys. How do they get so good you ask? Simple, practice! And many hours of it. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for investing hours into developing a skill set to rain dominance in the FPS world, but what about the rest of us that just pick up a controller now and then to have some fun? If we don’t keep putting in the game time, then our once semi-mastered skill set slowly diminishes like that rippling six pack you had when you were playing footy every day.

Option A: is to keep on practicing, option B: use a control system that many of us are familiar with and use all the time in our daily lives. That’s right the classic keyboard and mouse configuration and to avoid feeding the trolls I will openly admit an analogue still is more precise for fine tuned movements than the W,S,A,D keys. However when it comes to precision aiming the mouse is still the king, ask any PC gamer and they’ll back this up until they are blue in the face. Controller pros and cons aside, there is a solution for those that want to carry over the keyboard and mouse to their PS3. Thanks to the generous folks at HDCM we have the Eagle Eye Converter for the PS3 to test out, this device allows you to plug in a standard keyboard and mouse into the PS3 console.

The Eagle Eye key mapping software

To get yourself started with the Eagle Eye Converter you first have to map the Playstation’s control pad buttons to your keyboard. This is a pretty straight forward process, load up the provided software program located on the packaged 8cm CD (make sure you have an optical drive that supports this small disc size) to a Windows PC. You can either run this program straight off the disc or copy the entire program onto your PC for future edits. At the bottom of the Eagle Eye Converter there’s switch where you can select either “program” or “play”, ensure that switch is selected to “program” and the plug the unit into any USB 2.0 port. Let windows find the device and you are ready to start mapping the keys. The Eagle Eye Converter has the option to hold two different maps so you can set the unit up for multiple game types. To help jog your memory with which buttons do what it helps if you have game manual with you to refer to, and to keep things familiar I pretty much mapped the keys to simulate the most common control layout of your average PC FPS game. Every single button on the DS3 can and must be mapped to the Eagle Eye Converter; in addition to the standard DS3 buttons and directional controls, you get four different combination slots that you can program macros for. Even if you don’t want to use this feature you still have to assign a key to all four of these combos. As you can see from the above screen shot there’s no option to map the right analog stick and that’s because the Eagle Eye Converter automatically defaults the mouse to this part of the controller. Once you have completed mapping out your keys just select one of the two key maps and hit the “send to device” button and you are ready to go. This process may take you a few minutes but once you have set the Eagle Eye Converter to suit two of you most commonly used control layouts it’s pretty much a case of set it and leave it.

With the Eagle Eye Converter programmed with your desired key maps just plug the USB connection into the PS3 console, then plug in a keyboard and mouse into the allocated USP ports at the front of the unit. Once you fire up your PS3 console the keyboard and mouse will be defaulted as the player one controller. The Eagle Eye Converter comes with a generous amount of cable length measuring in at roughly 4 meters long, this gives you ample distance to comfortable set up your keyboard and mouse on a coffee table away from your TV screen. When in game I was surprised on how fluid the mouse movement was in relation to the crosshairs, movement was accurate with barely any noticeable lag. The Eagle Eye Converter really came into its element when I dove into the game options and wound the view/look sensitivity right up. Since the Eagle Eye Converter has a limited compatibility to only standard PC peripherals don’t expect super high performance like you’d get from high end PC gaming accessories. What that basically means is that you can forget about plugging in something like a Logitech G15 keyboard or a X5 Sidewinder mouse because 9 times out of 10 it won’t be recognised by the Eagle Eye Converter unit. On the keyboard side of things, each key stroke is dead-on accurate, with the response time that you’d get from a standard DS3 controller. If that’s not enough for you, there’s a turbo function for each controller button. The downside to using a keyboard for PS3 games is when you are prompted to press a specific button for something like a quick time event, for example when something like “press square to not die a horrible horrible death” pops up on screen you have to stop and think which key is bound to the square button.This isn’t a problem with the Eagle Eye Converter it’s self more of an obstacle the end user has to overcome on their own. With enough practice you’ll be familiar enough with the designated keys that you have mapped out. At the end of the day using the Eagle Eye Converter to play FPS games on a PS3 will give you more accurate control, but if you have grown accustomed to using the DS3 controller then you may as well stick with what you are good at.

As mentioned earlier in this review, PC gaming keyboards and mice will not work with this unit. In addition to this, many wireless accessories will not work. I did manage to get a Microsoft wireless keyboard to work perfectly, so it’s a bit of a hit and miss with any accessory that’s not your run of the mill generic USB version. All of this information is clearly stated on the packaging and on the provided software. This may be a problem for a PC gamers that only have high end gaming accessories but these days you can pick up a good quality USB keyboard and mouse for a few bucks. Priced at 59.99AUD it is very good value and is a great alternative to something like the FragFX which is hovering around the same price bracket.