A JOURNEY THAT'S ONE OF THIS YEARS GREATEST.The ancient Chinese novel 'Journey to the West' as been retold in various forms or another over the past 400 years since it's creation, but it's a tale that continues to inspire many who look to create their own interpretation of the legendary story. Ninja Theory are the latest to attempt a retelling, with Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. What at first glance seems like a typical almost generic third person action adventure, turns into one of this years greatest gaming hits.
Enslaved is a tale told 150 years into the future, where mechs scatter a post apocalyptic earth and nature reclaims much of what was once taken from her. It's the story of Monkey, an agile nomadic loner and Trip, a tech clever but fragile young women who is desperate to find her way back home to the community and father she dearly misses. But travelling hundreds of miles across a dangerous unforgiving world requires help, so after a dramatic escape from the slave ship which as kept her imprisoned, she 'enlist' the help of Monkey thanks to an enchanted slave headband which intertwines both their lives, and their future.
One of Enslaved strongest points is in the tale it tells, wonderful artistic design and voice work that's up there with the best in the business helps create some of the most memorable character based interactions in the industry. Much of this is thanks to a sharp and often witty script penned by Alex Garland and the work of Andy Serkis, who with a talented motion capture team do a great job of creating such believable characters who display such defined emotion that it's hard not to be enslaved yourself.
While not as inventive or unique as the setting and story, the gameplay in Enslaved is more then capable of providing it's own thrills with it's solid if unoriginal God of War like mechanics. You play only as Monkey, who with the help of a multifunctional staff and a transport device known as the Cloud must protect Trip from the many deadly mechs whose sole purpose is the kill any organic life they come across. An upgrade system also features, upgrades are purchased using tech orbs which are found throughout the world of Enslaved, so be prepared to look in every nook and cranny.
There's more to Enslaved's combat then just button mashing, at certain points you'll be required to perform some AI co-operation with Trip. It's at these points that Trip's technical skills come in handy as she is able to perform tasks such as distracting turret mechs providing Monkey with safe passage in his attempts to clear the way of deadly robots. While these moments require some strategy, there not brain scratchers and even the games puzzles aren't particularly challenging. That said, Enslaved does feature a surprisingly pleasant pacing and the intriguing story keeps you hooked until they very end. Traversal plays a large part in Enslaved gameplay to, the agile Monkey climbs almost anything with ease, and while climbing is visually slick to watch, it is also super linear.
Monkey and Trip's journey is an eventful one, featuring some truly gripping action sequences and boss encounters. These are done is a smart and well realized cinematic manner, in the vain of say Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. There is an actual challenge to some of these moments to, especially the ones where you find yourself in control of Monkey's transport device known as the Cloud. While fun to use, The Cloud is generally over sensitive and on a few occasions a slight turn on the analog stick found me losing ground or facing the wrong way, often leading me to restart the whole sequence. Frustrating maybe, but there fun nonetheless and add a lot to the experience.
The world of Enslaved is a beautiful one, both artistically and technically. The game uses the Unreal Engine, and as you might suspect it suffers from the now all to common texture loading problems. These issues are still a frustrating feature of the engine, but it's one that's slightly more forgiveable when you see the game in all it's stunning beauty. It's one of the best looking games out there, with a great sense of it's own unique style that I can't wait to see more of. The same can be said for audio, which is solid throughout and a soundtrack that features some memorable orchestral moments, overall it's the flaws of the Unreal Engine that hurts a pretty flawless presentation.
I feel something should also be said of Enslaved vision of the post apocalyptic world, which is refreshingly different from the all to familiar image that's been seen in so many games over the past few years and one I'm personally sick of. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a captivating game, one that isn't without flaws. A solid combat mechanic plays second fiddle to a thrilling and wonderfully told story featuring some of the most intriguing and believable characters in the business. It's a visual treat, even with the flaws of the Unreal Engine ever present. With Ninja Theory now at work on Devil May Cry, here's hoping we haven't seen the last of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
SCORE: 5 STARS OUT OF 5.
Thanks for Reading, and Keep Gaming!
Follow me on Twitter: JosephBayliss