A journey the everyone should experience
I’ve always felt sorry for Ninja Theory as a developer. Making a critically beloved game, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, that failed to attract the attention that it so rightfully deserved. But alas now it sits in the bargain bin gathering dust because it tired to be a new IP at a time when undeserved, reiterations of the same game, cough CoD cough, sell millions of copies and games such as Enslaved struggle to break even.
For the few of us that actually played this under the radar hit, the experience was memorable and one cannot help but wonder as to why such a great game would do so poorly. Perhaps it was because new IPs are extremely hard to market or because it released during the busiest time of the year, no one can truly tell why one game flops and another files high.
The story of Enslaved revolves around Monkey, a capable warrior in a post-apocalyptic future, and Trip, a fragile young girl stranded hundreds of miles from her home. After the pair barely survive escape from a slave ship, Monkey awakes to find that he has been secretly fitted with a slaver’s headband that will administer a killing shock to him if has captor dies. Trip’s terms for Monkey’s freedom are simple. Safely guide her home and he will be let free.
Thus begins their journey together and their complex relationship that over the course of the game develops and evolves to the point where it becomes almost real. The two start to care for each other and even when Pigsy, you guessed it half man half pig, appears and threatens to come between the two, their relationship only strengthens. But hey you can’t blame the guy for trying.
It’s the games use of performance capture that truly steals the show as when it’s produced so well and matched with Hollywood acting and fantastic writing talent, the results show, as they make Enslaved an emotionally engaging experience that causes you to care for Monkey, Trip and even Pigsy. The story certainly is gripping and thankfully the gameplay is also as it frequently switches between close quarters combat and environmental platforming.
Platforming isn’t what one might initially expect though and I can’t really call it platforming at all. It’s impossible to miss a jump, Monkey will refuse to jump unless in the correct position, and is an act of exploration instead of a challenge. Those who want something more in the style of Prince of Persia will be disappointed, as it’s overly simplistic nature serves only to break up the action throughout the game. The spectacle on offer is amazing however and I never grew tired of watching Monkey flow from jump to jump and perform a wide variety of fancy flips and acrobatics. Trust me, he earns his namesake.
The melee combat involving Monkey, equipped with a futuristic electric staff, is a much more challenging affair and consequently much more satisfying. He has a wide selection of moves including a healthy dose of both strong and light attacks, blocks, counters, dodges and combos which can all be pulled off easily in any situation. For the most part the game also does a good job of slowly introducing more powerful enemies into each encounter ensuring that it never becomes stale to fight off a batch of fearful foes.
With Monkey also having access to a hoverboard, that’s used sparing enough that it never feels overused, and an upgrade system, that grants him an increase to his health or shield or new abilities for combat, the gameplay is certainly a well crafted experience and one that succeeds where many games fail. Never overusing one aspect, constantly changing at all the right moments, and the pacing is excellent and is yet again the question arises, why didn’t this game sell?
Ok, I’ll be honest. The gameplay isn’t perfect, there are some minor issues, as there are some noticeable frame rate issues and the occasional difficulty spike that can cause a period of frustration. The overly simplistic platforming may also be off putting for some but personally I enjoyed it, a break between combat was necessary and I found it to fill the void quite nicely.
Although it may appear to be an entirely original tale, Enslaved is actually based on the classic Chinese tale Journey to the West and takes several narrative concepts from that and places them into it’s own post-apocalyptic setting. Or so I’m told, I’ve never actually read Journey to the West and although the whole post-apocalyptic setting has been done to death in video games, Enslaved manages to bring all it’s elements together: the well written story, great characters, a unique art style and several larger than life action scenes and combines them into one spectacular game. Games like Enslaved are rare. Not because nobody bought it, which is true, but because it manages to tell a well written story in a convincing manner and has the gameplay to back it up. Very few of us experienced Enslaved but one things for certain. I’m glad I did.