parabole's Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PlayStation 3) review

The Concrete Jungle

 Controlling a character that maneuvers environments with the skill of the animal he is named by and a partner who you occasionally carry but is not a burden should have been magnificent, but in the grand scale only come close. The handful of homage from Journey to the West come from character names and destination. A girl named Tripitaka, Trip for short, is captured by a slave ship and manages to both escape and enslave a guy named Monkey with a headband that will kill him if he disobeys her. Trip's goal is to head west back to her home, Monkey is just there for protection.

By coincidence, Monkey is the most Agile, brutal fighter and protective ally Trip could come across. The majority of the source material is just a cosmetic coating on Monkey. He has a collapsible staff for melee that doubles as a blaster. A cloud he rides on, a headband, and a sash that resembles a tail.

During game play, Monkey is animalistic climbing, swinging, and bouncing from location to location which makes it sad to see him tamed in a manner of speaking. The camera has a hard time trying to keep up with him and the game seems to freeze him at times to adjust the camera angle. Any pro's and con's I can make can be explained by the three foot surfaces located around the game. At the best of times Monkey rushes up and vaults over it. At the worst, if Monkey isn’t close enough, he will roll. Climbing and hopping off the box is difficult in any other direction but one.

While in fights Monkey demonstrates how aggressive he is with just two buttons. During a fight, Monkey is his biggest enemy. He can roll into opponents or get stuck in combo's that will leave him vulnerable. There's one combat upgrade which can be deployed by a button press, which is a shame because what is shown could easily be done with a couple of button presses. Since Monkey can't go toe-to-toe with firing mechs, his ability to hide is a necessity. Even when vertical Monkey makes use of billboards and crumbling stones. The problem is that on land, when sliding into cover he will occasionally vault into the line of fire.

In the AI department, Trip is wonderful. She's is not the hunter-gatherer type like Monkey but she makes up for her vulnerability working behind the scenes. She maps the terrains, causes distractions and doesn't need to be held by the hand. Occasionally she needs to be carried through minefields, but I bet she smells nice.

Their relationship seems tense with the master-servant situation but also trying to get along with each other. The one who adds a so much levity to the mood is Pigsy. He is a portly fellow who is a old friend of Trip's father. Seeing how Trip filled out he tries to impress her by competing and teasing Monkey. He's a really funny character who despite his appearance is a match for Monkey's survival skills.

I want to say the story is great, but what I really want to say is that the characters story is great. Seeing them interact with each other and survive killer mechs is engaging. Their travels from a city in ruins that is nonetheless beautiful due to the overgrowing plant life to a mechanic swamp and metal scrap yard is a great setting. The characters banter and show emotions during obstacles and triumphs. The world is vibrant with color in a futuristic era with streamlined technology and the music is reminiscent of The Fifth Element.

From the beginning of the game there is nothing to reveal what has happened in the world of Enslaved. The player is left to figure out that some event caused the destruction of cities and collapse of civilizations. Mechs are somehow capturing people to take back to their base. By the end of the game there isn't a clear conclusion of what will become of the characters or the world they're in.

Frustrating as some of the game play mechanics are, the journey was rewarding. Monkey lived up to his name by swinging and leaping only slightly so gracefully. The Motion Capturing and the performance of the actors like Andy Serkis really showed the human connection. If there would have been a tighter concentration on the camera and combat, Enslaved might have been brilliant.

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