This last week was Chinese New Year in Taiwan, so that meant no school, so no classes for me to teach. I'm not really interested in travel right now, as I've only recently hit a point where I don't owe money to anyone, so I'm not in a hurry to blow my money on train tickets and hotels on the busiest travelling days in this part of Asia. So, what did I do?
MUSCLES! (I worked out for 2-3 hours every single day)
Also, video games.
Writing this on Sunday night, the last day before I go back to work tomorrow, my spoils of Chinese New Year are thus:
Zelda: Skyward Sword - 100% Completion!
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - Finished on Very Easy (Just wanted to experience the story...)
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - Finished on Normal
L.A. Noire - Started, currently playing
Of these games, I think I was probably looking forward to Uncharted 3 the most, yet it is the one which left the smallest impression upon me. Maybe after Uncharted 2 being one of the greatest gaming experiences I've ever had, anything short of that in the third one fails to sink in. There was nothing in it as amazing and exciting as the opening scene from Uncharted 2, nor any level as memorable or exhilarating as the moving train sequence, either.
I really enjoyed Skyward Sword, for many reasons I can get into later (a full review is most likely forthcoming), but strangely Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was the game that captivated me the most. On reflection, I agree with a lot of the points that Michael Abbot mentioned in his thoughts on the game (http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2011/01/enslaved.html) but I don't share his overall opinion.
In Enslaved: Odyssey to the West you play as man named Monkey who has recently been captured by a slavers' airship in the future, and after making his escape he is forced into slavery again by a fellow escapee who wants him to help her escort her back home. The setting appears to be hundreds of years or so into the future, after a war has left the world in ruins, but with a brilliant twist that makes this game much more appealing a world than any Fallout game, or similar game set in an apocalypse. You play in a variety of locations (most notably post-apocalypse New York City) which, devoid of a populace, have been reclaimed by nature in every nook and cranny. There is a special kind of feeling of running and jumping through abandoned, crumbling architecture while surrounded on every sides by colorful greenery and nature.
The main antagonists that monkey will face are a variety of combat droids, and unlike other games with close-quarters melee combat, the camera sits just as close to Monkey as it does during the exploration, instead of taking an overhead view of the action. This aspect of the game, which can allow for your enemies to fit in cheap hits on your back has been justifiably noted as an annoyance that takes away most people's enjoyment of the game, and I must admit that at first I too found it odd. However, there is a counter for this: though this is a limiting factor in the fights, it also added for me a greater degree of excitement and investment in the battles. As Monkey pounded away at the enemies in front of him, in my heart I was pleading with my adversary, "Blow up now! Blow up now! They're right behind me!" After a successful and stressful fight, the camera often shows your final hit breaking through the enemy as it crumbles into pieces, with a close-up on Monkey's strained and enraged face.
Due in part to my own involvement from the camera being right up in the action, as well as the brutal nature of Monkey's fighting style, I found myself getting more into each of the fights in this game than any game in a long time. Right now I wonder, what would it be like to see Kratos this close, to watch him really putting every bit of himself into the fight just the way Monkey does... It's a nice thought for me.
My last thought on the game I talked about in my Twitter.
"Playing Enslaved is like playing God of War without a protagonist who is unchallenged." I don't care how many swords Kratos digs out of his chest, or how many times he has to climb out of Hades after dying again and again. Nothing in any of those games has made me feel as triumphant as frantically busting up the mechs in Enslaved.