Review - Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
If you’ve read any of my blogs you’ll know that I am not too shy about admitting my love for Ninja Theory. This is only their second release, but that doesn’t mean that this developer doesn’t know what they’re doing. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a fantastic game with a few technical issues that barely hinder it from being a contender for game of the year. Its story is gripping and emotional; its mechanics are fluid and responsive; and it’s generally a blast to play through.
The story of Enslaved is set 150 years in the future where a now ancient war has torn apart society as we know it and humans live in scattered tribes or small villages. It is a little difficult to survive in this new world because of the mysterious slavers who are taking people away from these small communities and (you guessed it) enslaving them. The slavers do this with mechanical headbands that will kill their captives if they do not obey, and these slavers take their prisoners to a mysterious base in the west. No one knows who is behind this slaving process or why they are doing it, and if that wasn’t enough, the slavers use mechs to track down and capture these people and kill those who resist.
so these guys aren't very friendly
The story opens with Monkey and Trip on one of the slave ships before the two know each other. Trip sabotages the ship, and Monkey is able to escape. When the ship crashes, Monkey awakens to have been enslaved by a hacked headband that Trip has fixed to his head. This headband forces Monkey under Trip’s and will kill Monkey if Trip dies, so it is in everyone’s interest to get Trip home. She wants to get home; she needs his help to get there, and he doesn’t want to die.
The story alone is an extremely interesting and entertaining sci-fi adventure with some really great characters. At the beginning of the story, Trip and Monkey don’t care for each other. Trip feels guilty about enslaving Monkey. Monkey doesn’t really like Trip because…well, she did enslave him. Of course, by the end of the game they have grown to know each other a good bit more, and even become friends. Also, there is a character later in the story named Pigsy. I won’t ruin anything about his character just because some of the game’s best dialogue comes from Pigsy’s interaction with Trip and Monkey.
Can you guess which one's name is Pigsy?
There is also a great sense of humor to the game. It pokes fun at all kinds of things from 3D TVs to the limited knowledge of the people living in the world not to mention the interactions of the characters themselves.
The best parts about all of the story elements are these interactions between the characters both in the cinematics and the gameplay. There are many little gestures and eye movements that convey that these are real people with real emotions. It rivals Uncharted 2 in terms of showing emotional interactions between characters.
See, they do like each other.
Enslaved follows the formula set out by games like God of War, Prince of Persia, and Devil May Cry and involves an effective mix of combat and platforming which Monkey does while protecting Trip.
Now, I want to clear up immediately that this game is not one big escort mission. Trip never died on my watch, and she helped out most of the time. She stays out of harm’s way and even has a decoy that can get the enemies off of your back for a while. You will occasionally have to help her over gaps or up onto a higher ledge, but it’s all extremely manageable and only adds to the excitement of the campaign.
You only do this when it's necessary, and it's actually pretty fun.
During the game, you take control of Monkey, a tough, street wise handy man in a post apocalyptic world. He employs a retractable staff that can be used for melee or ranged attacks, an energy shield, and a good old fashioned set of fists. Combat is composed of light and heavy attacks against mechs who require different strategies to take down. Also, Monkey has the ability to shoot plasma and stun rounds from the staff to hit far away targets. The variation of melee and ranged attacks does a good job of keeping things fresh especially in the boss fights. You collect orbs from hidden areas or by destroying mechs and give them to Trip who can then upgrade Monkey’s equipment.
You'll go from this...
...to this pretty frequently.
The platforming is a truly rewarding experience in Enslaved. Monkey is named because of his ability to climb and clamber with ease and grace. Unlike Prince of Persia where little explanation as to why this seemingly normal man can climb like an animal, the player knows why Monkey can climb, swing, and scramble across the game’s platforming sections.
Woah, be careful.
OK, now you're just being ridiculous.
Monkey also uses what he calls “the cloud”. He can use this in certain areas of the game to float around on a hover board-like disk. These sections of the game feel amazing, and the cloud has the right amount of bounce and weight, and it just feels right to fly around on.
This was a big highlight in the game.
Enslaved is a great looking game…sometimes. The visual approach to Enslaved’s apocalypse setting is truly refreshing. The vistas of New York City taken over by lush vegetation and buildings collapsing from 150 years of neglect are truly stunning to see. Enslaved’s vision of post apocalyptic ruin is beautiful. However, there are certain problems with the graphics in game. The biggest problem is that it appears the game was rushed. Texture pop in is frequent, and frame rate will slow to a crawl in a few instances. Also, the game’s textures themselves were not quite up to standards of other PS3/360 releases. These graphical hiccups do not detract from the overall enjoyment of Enslaved, but they are noticeable, and it is quite frustrating to know that if Ninja Theory had been given a little more time to polish up the game, it would be an even more amazing experience than it is already.
This is stunning. The game just can't always keep it up.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a phenomenal experience. You may think you’ve played this game before because the mechanics sound familiar, but I can say with little doubt that you haven’t experienced it in the way that Ninja Theory presenting it in Enslaved. The game plays well and is a solid experience, has a great story with empathetic character interaction, and is overall an extremely fun game to play. It is refreshing to see a new approach to the post apocalypse and to see it shown in such an original way.