I’ve been buried up to my neck this week in CODBLOPS and Kinect, so I missed a couple of pieces (one in the Guardian and one in Play) in which people bemoaned the fact that Enslaved: Odyssey To The West hasn’t sold very well.
There are any number of reasons you could use to explain why Enslaved crashed and burned, but in the end, its failure to shift units is a combination of factors. First off, as bizarre as this may sound, there were the reviews to consider. It’s true that the game generally received a very positive response from critics – its metacritic score currently sits at an 8.2, which isn’t too shabby. But read between the lines and you start to see, that however positive the reviewers are, they can’t help but point out that Enslaved is a game with rather a lot of dreck in it. Oh, they might gush about the game’s production values and praise it overall as “an experience”, but sift through what they say about the core gameplay aspects and a checklist of complaints emerges.
1) The game is 8-12 hours long.
2) There are no modes beyond single player (this by the way, isn’t bad in an of its self, as single-player adventures don’t necessarily need a multiplayer to increase their worth. However…)
3)… the combat is unchallenging, repetitive and pretty much combo-free. This means the game’s replay value is severely diminished…
4)… and the fact that many reviewers point out that you fight the same opponents over and over again doesn’t help the replay value much either.
5) The gameplay away from the combat is pretty repetitive too. The platforming is devoid of any challenge at all and progression through the game is over-scripted.
6) There’s an RPG element but it’s incredibly thin.
So summing up, it sounds that while Enslaved may look and sound fantastic, the game part of the actual game is severely unchallenging, repetitive, shallow and – given its lack of replay value – quite short. So why, in spite of all of these issues, did it received such glowing reviews? As best as I can make out, Enslaved’s critical acclaim is due – at least in part – to the fact that it’s very different aesthetically from the usual fare that’s shoveled into gaming retail outlets. This aspect of Enslaved can’t be understated. It is, visually and in terms of its soundtrack, a unique and compelling piece of work. When you consider how over-used the post-apocalyptic setting is in both games, television and films these days, Enslaved stands out as a shining example of breathtaking creativity. This makes Enslaved the sort of game that attracts evangelists, and by that, I mean people who will champion its cause. They will point to things such as (in this case) the gorgeous visuals, amazing soundtrack and the Hollywood talent behind the voices, acting and story which strengthen the game’s overall aesthetic value . And it’s true that Enslaved looks like no other game out there at the moment, but looks alone aren’t reason enough to invest in a game.
Mind you, all (or nearly all) of the people who reviewed this game, didn’t have to pay for it. In fact, they don’t have to pay for any of their games. They have access to all the current consoles and can flit from release to release playing and critiquing because, as obvious as it is to say so, that’s their job. So it stands to reason, then, it’s easier for them to forgive Enslaved’s weaker elements and recommend it as a unique gaming experience. It’s a little harder to do that when you’re looking at release window which contains a number of Triple A titles and then having to make a decision on which ones you want to buy, your bank balance permitting. What are the odds that you’re going to take a chance on a sumptuous, but slightly flawed and short game with no established pedigree over releases from established franchises that you know you will enjoy? And this brings me neatly to the other reason Enslaved probably didn’t do very well in terms of sales.
Enslaved is a brand new IP which didn’t exactly receive a massive advertising push. Sure, you saw adverts for it during its release window, but was it anywhere nearly as heavily promoted as say, Red Dead Redemption? No. No, it wasn’t. Enslaved’s publicity has all but disappeared from the public eye now – just a month after it came out. Adverts for Red Dead Redemption are still plastered all over the place, except now they’re having to share window space with Medal Of Honor and Call Of Duty: Black Ops.
Lack of promotion can sound the death knell for a new IP, but when you combine that with the fact it was released at a highly competitive time of the year, Enslaved looks like it came out of the traps with a bullet in its hind-quarters. Now combine that with the fact that critics, however positive they were, slated it for ropy mechanics, lack of depth, repetitive combat and paucity in length and it starts to become clear why it didn’t sell very well.
(As a side-note, the best quote I heard about the game’s drawbacks were summed up succinctly by the inimitable @ashtonraze when he said; “I’d have preferred it if they’d just made the movie instead!”)