r_matey's Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Xbox 360) review

When conventional meets unconventional

 " A great example of talents from other fields lending their skills to create a great cinematic experience. The game play is solid but neither extraordinary or innovated. Enslaved is a fun low frustration experience that will wow you with its art and world.But it comes down to just a journey and nothing more."
 
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Xbox 360
Time Spent: 1 play through (no DLC)

    Just looking at Enslaved it is hard to tell what the game truly is. The art style is the most unconventional part about it. The color palette is all over the place, with its earth tones, warm colors, and neons cranked to almost the highest saturation; it feels like something you have never seen before. The theme is a a mix of different genres where it is a sci fi setting but nothing is practical and falls more into fantasy. But lifting the surface of the game and you will find a very conventional designed system under the hood, with mechanics and you have seen and done before. With its combination of unique art style and tried and true game play how does Enslaved come together? Is this the next generation of peanut butter and chocolate, Scooby doo and The Harlem Globe Trotters or is this more like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito in the movie Twins? Well the short answer is, it won’t make you rethink your stance on contracting Diabetes like peanut butter jelly but the two contrasting aspects makes the journey feel like a “treat”to play through.

      The story is very basic in nature. The game is inspired/based on the Chinese novel “A Journey to the West” (also inspired the Japanese anime/manga Dragon Ball, fans will easily spot the similarities while playing). You play as Monkey, a simple man who literally has the mobility and posture of a primate. A George of the Jungle type character without the awkwardness of learning human reproduction. The refreshing part, he is simple and stays in that context, he is not simple like a space marine who lost he wife, daddy issues, corrupted back story, etc., etc, etc.,. He is a guy who you really don’t need to know his back story just that “he rolls with the punches” which lends itself well to a linear video game. Your counterpart is Trip, a female tech specialist that brings the main motivation of the game and has some trust issues. The beginning of the game starts with an escape from a slave airship that brings the two characters together but gives the upper hand to Trip. During the escape Monkey is left unconscious and gives Trip time to facet a slave headband to him which gives her the ability to communicate or kill him anytime. Kinda like a really terrible friendship bracelet that can also keep the hair out of your eyes. Trip has a home she needs to get but needs Monkey’s strength to survive the wilds. Did I mention it is set in post apocalyptic New York City and its main inhabitants are killer robots? Well it is, plus many more locales as your progress through the story. There is a greater story tying into the world but it is only hinted at and finally revealed at the end. On paper the game’s story is decent, but the game can really shine during the in game dialog sequences between Monkey and Trip. Andy Serkis gives a great performance as Monkey and the team behind it do a great job in capturing it. It sets the bar higher for Video game animation.
    Enslaved revolves mostly around platforming (a la Prince of Persia 2008), melee combat , and lite shooting. Spiced up with collecting, leveling, and some unique sequences. Yes it is actually as it sounds a video game. The platformin
g is as straightforward as it comes. You jump from point to point and its all designed based. There isn’t a free form jump only when it is programmed to leap to the designated spots. In the very beginning of the game this can seem boring and just an act of hitting the jump button with move until you reach the destination. Over time the game has the freedom to make the places you are traversing that much more grandiose without the frustration of falling to your death over and over again because it is almost impossible to walk off the edge. Of course the game adds challenge with timing by the end, but it is the freedom of viewing the environment around me moving with the speed of a monkey man that makes it an enjoyable act rather than just a task of hitting a button over and over again. Of course Enslaved has it’s own design moments here and there one. One of those being its cover based moments against projectile enemies. Your character hunches down and moves from cover spot to cover spot looking for the sparse amount of ammo. You never stick and you have a agile nature. It feels like the American Gladiator’s event Assault, famous for its bad ass tennis ball gun. The game adds enough elements or rotates to keep your interest over time. The boss battles are actually fun and a welcomed challenge. Trips element to the game play is one that can give you choices at time, a consideration for her traversal through the environment, or a hint system that can help lead the way. It is not a escort mission and the parts were you need to keep her safe are brief. She is a complimentary companion who is needed to keep you company in this ghost town like world.
    Art style seems like a main motivator for the creation of this game. This being my first introduction to a Ninja Theory project, it seems like visual style is something they want to solidify and put a water mark on their craftsmanship. Their use of color, texture style, effects, and animation all seem very unique to their direction. Of course some of the environments can be mucky and typical in nature. The introduction of the game brings you into a ugly dirty loud green yellowish airship. But over time you thrown into a beautiful blue sky setting. It is at these high points that can be just as enjoyable to watch as it is to play. Even the little things like eyes are some of the best in video games reflection and effects as well conveying the emotion of the characters. The lighting is superb and can really show what the Unreal Engine can do with the lights turned on. One of the stranger things are how significantly worse the rendered cut scenes are in contrast. Yes it has artifacting like any comprised video but the assets and quality across the board are lower. The nice thing they are used in transitional sections or in place of a load time. 


     The game for the most part has a smooth pacing from the beginning half. Around the third act things become a bit rougher with the rotation of game play and narrative. You are introduced to Pigsly he is the embodiment of the third wheel. He changes the dynamic between Monkey and Trip and just plan gets weird at times.Try and and spot the most awkward moment in video games this year with the use of the P word. Things do pick up at the fourth act and there is a great game play crescendo nearing the end. The epilogue is something that comes from left field, content wise and the way it is portrayed. But it is something I accepted and a fitting end for a game finding a personality.

    Enslaved is a very solid game at the end of the day. It is straightforward 8-10 hour action adventure title. There isn’t much of a reason to replay it but there is down loadable content coming. This a rental for the most part but this would be a perfect time for Namco Bandai to put out the the DLC for a free future release to motivate people to go buy and not resell the title. The title falls a bit short from greatness. Should this titles be overlooked? I would say no, the journey with Monkey and Trip is a fun enjoyable trip worth your time. 
4 Comments
Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

8-10 hours?  That's it?  That ain't worth $60.  People
need to quit buying short games for high prices &
maybe they'll get the message to add a little more
meat on the bones.

Edited by MonkeyKing1969

A well put review.   
I think there need to be games like this; my sister can't play a games like DMC or Bayonetta despite being interested in such games.  She doesn't have time to fuss over the 'punishing enemies' or 'missed jumps' that set her back by five minutes to the last save point.  She wants a fun, interesting game that poses a challenge she can deal with after work or putting the kids to bed.   
 
Games like this MUST exist for gaming to expand; my sister shouldn't have two choices: play more Wii Sports or get punished by games that ask way too much.  Enslaved is a bit of middle-ground that needs to be there as a rung up the gaming ladder.  Who says the next rung up from casual games needs to be kicks to the face?

Posted by r_matey
@Lind_L_Taylor: 
 
I hear ya Lind, but this really isn't the game that has the base mechanics for a prolonged game. But it is a great excuse to check out cheapassgamer.com and pick it for 10-20$ down the road. But if you are looking for a really meaty game, check out Valkyria Chronicles 2 that is a 70 hour campaign with post game content as well plus multiplayer.
Posted by r_matey
@MonkeyKing1969: 
 
That is a great point. It  really is a great game to introduce people too. It's pretty, low frustration, and not embarrassing to play  (sorry  Gears of War ).  I am playing Castlevania LoS right now, and it is the complementary of this game. It is needlessly frustrating, difficult, and ill paced. I am still enjoying it, being a Castlevania fan but it is a chore to play through. With Enslaved I will at least have a fond memory. Castlevania ? The frustration might be too high to have an over all enjoyment.

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