Not for everyone, but I like it.
For the sake of readability I've decided to indent and italicize all my asides and ramblings, feel free to ignore them if all you want is a review of the game.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is an action-adventure (that all encompassing genre that describes every game released since 1982) game developed by Ninja Theory, most notable for their previous release of Heavenly Sword, which I didn't play but have been lead to believe was hardly a sovereign nation of new ideas.
It's a game that I personally enjoyed, but with quite a few caveats. The (only) three characters of Monkey (the protagonist), Trip and Pigsy are fleshed out and interesting, and if you're willing to forgive it for sometimes forgetting the 'game' part then Enslaved is an enjoyable exploration through a well realised and unique post-apocalyptic world.
Let's start with a disclaimer: if you are someone who plays games purely for their gameplay, and don't believe that a game can be rescued by good story, style or charm, you will hate this game.
Combat is simplistic, with every fight being fought in the same way: dodge and hit. Enemy attacks will break you out of your attack animations before they connect, so it's unwise to attack while they are going through their routine, however you are all but invincible while hammering the magic dodge button. It's not as bad as that 2008 Prince of Persia knock-off though, where you literally were unable to attack while the enemy was going through its agonising Danse Macabre.
Enemies will occasionally block, requiring you to stun them, but that is as deep as the system gets.
There are four bosses in this game: one is repetitive, easy, three times as long as it should be and is probably repeated five times throughout the game; two are small variations on the token “dodge out of the way while he charges then wail on him once he's crashed into a wall” that I grew sick of right around Star Wars: Bounty Hunter (and grew to despise right around Batman: Arkham Asylum); and the last is simply a pain because it requires using your ranged weapon, which controls like you're using a twelve foot crossbow.
There is, to be fair, one part of combat that I enjoy. Commanding your AI companion, Trip, far from being a chore is actually quite strategically fun. Both you and Trip can draw aggro, allowing you to (for example) get enemies shooting at her while you platform over to where the enemies are, or for you to draw attention away from Trip so that she can... cower in safety? Trip is a better female character than most you'll find in games, but she's still frustratingly helpless sometimes.
Why are female characters so generally poor? The female characters gamers most remember are probably Samus (Metroid) and Aerith (Final Fantasy VII), but they were both personality-dry husks, which is admittedly better than ridiculous stereotype. Are there really no good character writers in the gaming industry?
Actually, for as much as I despised Final Fantasy XIII, for the ten hours or so I played it before telepathically breaking the disk with the power of my boredom I thought that Lightning was a pretty good female character. I'm sure Square Enix managed to find a way to screw up that character arc, though, not that I'm going to play more of that game to find out.
Also, that doesn't really count since Final Fantasy XIII is a movie that has you press up on the analogue stick and occasionally x, not a game.
There is one particularly fun scene which has you both trading aggro back and forth to allow you both to get from cover to cover, but sadly that's the only time that the system is used as interestingly.
The other half of this game is its platforming, which sadly falls down just as hard as the combat.
The handholds are all clearly marked, and Monkey won't jump unless he knows there's something at the other side to grab onto, so platforming in this game is less about timing or finesse and more about repeatedly pressing the A button while you move the analogue stick towards anything that looks vaguely like a handhold.
They do add in ledges and holds that crumble when you grab them, but because of the nature of the platforming there's no need to take your time or be careful, so I was never going slow enough that I noticed.
Near the end of the game they add various other obstacles which require you to time your jumps, but all this does is highlight how slow his animations are by making him wait an agonising half a second or so before he'll actually make the jump, which will often now be directly into fire.
The game also undermines its pacing and dramatic tension with one of the poorest implementations of collectables I've ever suffered. Experience orbs are scattered everywhere, encouraging you to go out of the way to look for them and leaving you zig-zagging and hopping back and forth to get them all while you're ostensibly supposed to be mourning a massacre or something.
One time you have to save Trip, and the whole sequence does nothing but surface the underlying game mechanic that there isn't actually a time limit and there's nothing to stop you from spending twenty minutes looking for every orb.
Now, it's easy to say “if it ruined your game so much then why did you do it?”, and that's really the problem with the orbs, they're your experience, and while you do get some from defeating enemies you never know whether or not you'll need that next upgrade.
As it stands, the game is not that hard and you could get through the whole story with no upgrades at all (although I do recommend regenerating health), so if you do play this game then just forget the orbs.
I'll ignore most of the technical problems, since none of them impacted my enjoyment that much, but it's worth pointing out that whenever the game attempts to use squad controls for anything other than 'Move', 'Stay' or 'Make Shiny Things' something within it snaps, with you shouting over and over again at your companion to throw a switch or move a boat or bingo before anything will happen.
Writing all these criticisms makes me question whether or not I actually liked the game, but no, I distinctly remember enjoying it a lot during my time with it.
One of the first things that hits you about the game is how gorgeous it is both artistically and technically, surpassing any other Unreal Engine game. It has a thoughtful colour palette, and is capable of rendering things in real-time than I'd never seen done well outside of cut-scenes before.
Faces are expressive, even if this doesn't really come into play until the final acts of the game when you meet Pigsy, whose interplay and light competition with Monkey leads to some of the funniest moments in the game (although there is a great moment early in the game involving the last surviving goldfish).
Monkey's character arc feels like it was drastically cut short, it feels like it was supposed to be epic about a man from the wilderness discovering everything that he thought he didn't need; but his transitions are far too abrupt, with his actions often being completely against what the Monkey of five minutes ago would have done or thought. Somewhere along the line they told the writer that this was a ten hour game, not a fifty hour one, and most of the script was discarded.
Personally I think Monkey would have been far more effective as a side-character, with Trip or a new character as the protagonist. Making the player character have any kind of feelings at all shows a lot of bravery, but there's a reason most main characters lack any identifiable personality, because it's difficult to project yourself into an avatar that you feel is wholly alien.
I think Dragon Age: Origins managed to balance this quite well, injecting your player character with enough of your personality that he doesn't feel inhuman (or in-elf or in-dwarf), and making the protagonist – or at least the character with the most important and interesting arc (Alistair) – a companion instead of your character.
The story is interesting, its end is unexpected, and its world is well thought-out and realised. If I had one criticism for the story it would be how it's told, I know I'm in the minority but I feel that using cut-scenes to tell a story in a game is cheating.
Imagine if you were given a book when you entered a cinema, and every so often they would pause the movie and lift the lights and tell you to read a chapter of the book, because the movie was unable to adequately convey the plot.
Cut-scenes are just movies within games, and while I'm all for interplay between different mediums of expression, what gaming needs at this point to be taken seriously is games that tell great stories, not games that have movies within them that tell great stories.
There are good and bad implementations of cut-scenes with the good feeling special while remaining short, and without feeling wholly seperate from the game. Enslaved does go into this category, along with games like Persona 3 (just), even if it doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of Mass Effect 2.
Bad cut-scenes are those that are like Final Fantasy XIII, which are jarring, annoying and long.
Valve seems to be the only company that agrees with me on this point, and if you ever want to know what I'm talking about with my whole hippy “games telling stories” thing then play Portal (which is still a great game three years later). That game has no cut-scenes, and its story is one that you wouldn't be able to appreciate just by watching the game being played, yet it still remains one of the most memorable stories in gaming.
However, Enslaved's story is still one worth experiencing, its vistas and set-pieces are some of the most impressive I've ever seen, and the (thankfully less reliant on cut-scenes) interplay between the characters is enjoyable enough that you probably won't even notice how middling the actual gameplay is until after you've finished it.