By William Shelton
Release Date: October 5th, 2010
Systems: PS3(Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Ninja Theory
Metacrtic Score: 80(PS3)
With the ever increasing likelihood that these next few reviews will be the last I do for this blog, I wanted to review one of the games I’ve wanted to play for a while. Too bad that game turned out to be a massive disappointment. At it’s absolute best the game was just boring, but the game rarely reached those heights. For most of the time I spent with this game the sheer incompetence of its creation made the entire experience tedious in ways I didn’t think it was possible after Uncharted 2 pretty much perfected this particular game play formula the year before.
Story wise things start off well: you, as the protagonist “Monkey”, make your way off a slave ship as it crashes only to have one of the other victims, a young girl named Trip, to fit you with a slaver obedience headband. She tells you that if Monkey gets her safely to her home she’ll let him go, to which he swiftly tells her that once he’s free he’ll break her neck. It’s about here where the story becomes insufferable. Monkey constantly reminds us and Trip on how he plans on killing her for what she’s done until he just…doesn’t anymore. While there is a point in the game where it makes some since to deepen the relationship between the two, they begin acting more friendly hours before this. I’m okay with the turn this story took; hell I was even expecting it. But these turns have too have some bases, and this just didn’t have one. And all of this before the game even introduces “Pigsy”, a gross character who I hated from his first appearance to the last time he appeared before I quit playing.
Not helping matters is how the game just keeps going on. There are three games worth of story here, all of which have been crammed into one. This makes each ark feel rushed while making the game as a whole feel over long. Most of the games plot points feel like there was a story outline the writers were following, but none of them knew how to actually write the story so they just used that outline as the final draft of the script.
While the story at least lied about possibly being interesting at the start, the game made it clear that this was going to be a dull experience right from the start. I made a comparison to the Uncharted series earlier, and with the sole exception of the combat here being more brawling based than shooting, it’s a fare comparison. The game play is divided into Combat, climbing based platforming/exploration and sections where the game forces you to slow down for story sections like the famous Tibet section in Uncharted 2, with the occasional set-piece or puzzle sprinkled throughout.
And all of it is infinitely more shit than in the Uncharted games.
I’m not sure if I can say the combat is the worst part of the game, but it is what you spend most of your time doing, so the depths of its mediocrity is what sticks out the most to me. Monkey has three primary attacks, light heavy and sweeping (as well as the ability to block and evade attack) and the game tries to ape the Batman Arkham games combat style with enemy color coding to let you know when to attack or dodge, but the games combat just does not have the depth to warrant this. I won nearly every combat encounter by mindlessly hitting the heavy attack until enemies went down, usually after two or three hits. Most deaths were due to the game not having any form of lock on, so I’d be swinging at a target that just wasn’t there while being attacked from behind. Not helping matters is how the sluggish and overlong the games animations are. Like way to many games when this was released there’s a prompt to use a finishing move for most enemies, and all of the animations seem like there were designed to pad out the length of each fight. Compound this with a noticeable delay for every button press and you have one of the worst combat systems I’ve played in a long time. And that’s before the boss fights.
Or should I say “boss fight”. Even those there are more than one, the first few are literally the same enemy with a few upgrades that I beat the same way each time: hitting it with a stun charge then waling on it until the boss got back up and then repeating the cycle. There was one boss near the end that changed up the formula, but only slightly. Instead of hitting it with a stun charge I shot at explosives. The lack of combat verity is depressing when you look at the enemy verity (at lest with the common enemies). There are several types of robotic foes for you to fight and in the hands of capable developers this would have forced you change up your strategy on the fly each battle. But It didn’t. I won nearly each fight the exact same way: hit heavy attack until it was over. I can overlook some flaws in a game if there is one aspect that really stands out, but there’s nothing like that here, so all the little annoyances just pile up while the big ones become increasingly more aggravating.
The exploration sections are just as bad. Even the simple act of walking from A to B is a pain as monkey would often start moving in the opposite direction as the one I was telling him to go. I could deal with this when the camera changed position, but this happened pretty much every time I tried to get Monkey to move. And again, that’s not where the issues stop. The platforming requires you to be in a rather specific spot in order to jump from one platform to another, and if there is no platform Monkey just sits there or stumbles. Platforms you can uses have a shine to them that’s meant to help you know where to go, but I found that this was either unnecessary due to the ease of the section or to underdone to be of any help.
My last issue with the game play is a major one, but it may just be an issue with my copy, so take this complaint with a grain of salt. Near the middle of the game there is a puzzle involving a windmill where you have to have Trip start and stop it in different positions in order to drop each sail. This part of the game gave me more trouble than any other part of the game as my orders wouldn’t go through. After having Trip stop the Windmill and getting on to finish the puzzle I often couldn’t get her to start it again. After trying off and on again for two days, constantly shutting off my PS3 and restarting the game I finally managed to get the commands to work and got through the puzzle with ease as it wasn’t hard to figure out. If that was an issue with my copy of the game, fine but if not that is unacceptable.
The one kind of decent thing about the game is how pretty it can be. Once all the textures have popped in (which an take a while) the games does have a rather nice look to it. The game is colorful and stylized which makes the rusted machines and abandoned cities overrun with foliage a pleasure to look at. But then characters start talking and all that effort is gone to waste. Monkey and Pigsy sounds like every other “gruff” character from the period, meaning they talk like they eat nothing but rocks, except when Pigsy whispers. Then he sounds like every “disgusting fat guy” character mumbling “you like that, don’t you” while watching a porno that I’m sure you’ve seen in some low brow “comedy” you probably didn’t laugh at. Not only does he come off as gross, but it almost sounds like he had two different people voicing him.
I’ve heard before that this was a retelling of the classic Chinese book “Journey to the West”. Having not read the book I can’t say if that’s true or how accurate it is to the source, but I can say that there is a film adaption on Netflix that was pretty fun to watch (though again, I don’t know how accurate it is as an adaption) and that I a much better use of your time that this shit storm would be. I can not think of a single thing this game does that hasn’t been done better somewhere else. Literally the only good thing I can say about this game is that it’s technically not broken to the point of unplayability. There are games I hated more. There are games that disappointed me more; but I cannot think of a single game I played that failed this badly on this many levels while there are so many better versions of everything it has to offer.