Originally posted on Oct 20, 2010
Three years after the release of the Playstation 3 exclusive Heavenly Sword, Ninja Theory has returned with the multi-platform game, Enslaved: Odyssey To The West. Unlike their first game which was a hack and slasher, Enslaved is an action adventure platformer.
Like a lot of games out nowadays, Enslaved takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. You play as Monkey, a muscle bound, acrobatic man who fights to survive in this harsh world. He must have screwed up along the way because the game begins with him restrained in a metal pod inside of a giant airship full of slaves. A young girl named Trip manages to free herself from her pod and during the mayhem that happens afterwards, Monkey also escapes. Trip and Monkey manage to leave the airship but as the name of the game implies, Trip makes Monkey her slave using a headband that controls people. If Monkey doesn’t listen to Trip’s orders, she can inflict pain or kill him using a device that controls the slave headband. The headband is also attuned to Trip’s heart beat so if she dies, Monkey dies too. Trip promises Monkey that if he can get her home, she will free him.
Why would Trip need anyone to get her home you may ask? Despite the fact that she is a genius when it comes to technology, she is just a regular person and this world is full of man hunting robots called (cleverly enough), Mechs! The reason the world is in its current state is because the humans left their military decisions up to the Mechs and they decided that the best way to win wars was to blow the hell out of everything in sight. The human population was severely depleted but the Mech population is thriving so Trip needs someone strong to fight them and to get to places she normally can’t. While not a willing participant at first, Monkey is definitely up to the task.
Monkey and Trip must work as a team in order to survive and move forward. You aren’t called Monkey because of some poop-throwing fetish; you are as nimble and fast as the little primates. Monkey can jump from ledge to ledge, climb up, down and even swing from poles. For the most part, the platforming in Enslaved is very fluid and easy to control but you’re not given complete freedom. Monkey cannot jump whenever he wants. He can only jump if you’re near something you can jump over or jump onto. This doesn’t work all the time however and sometimes you will be there pressing jump and Monkey will just do a roll. This happened more than it should have. If you’re climbing up a building and holding onto a ledge the game will not let you jump anywhere but to the next or previous ledge. This keeps you from dying but it was also kind of frustrating. I know the game is called Enslaved but I wanted more freedom, even if that freedom would end in me falling to my death which never happened once due to the restrictions of the platforming mechanics.
Besides acrobatics, Monkey is also a capable fighter. Armed with metal gloves and a staff, Monkey can kick some serious Mech ass. You can fight with the standard light and heavy attacks. You can also block or dodge out of the way of attacks. The game does not have any pre-programmed button combinations for combos so you can go ahead and button mash when it comes to fighting. Some enemies have shields so you will have to change up your strategy a bit when dealing with them. Holding the light attack button will cause your staff to glow and if you hit a shielded enemy with your glowing staff the shield will come down, leaving him open to your best button mash attack!
The staff also serves as a ranged weapon. You can fire plasma shots or stun shots. Plasma shots deal direct damage to Mechs and you can deal more damage by shooting them in the head. The stun blast is good to stun and leave enemies vulnerable to your attacks but they are also good for taking down enemy shields as well. There are certain moments where you have to use cover and take enemies out from a distance. It feels like a third person shooter during these parts. To add some variety to the gameplay, there are also certain moments where you can use a hover board to traverse dangerous areas or to get away from angry bosses. Sadly you cannot attack while on the “cloud” as Monkey calls it.
You also control Trip by way of commands you can give her. You may be a slave but you are the battle-hardened person here and Trip wisely listens to you during heated moments. Trip is not a liability during battle and will not be in danger for the most part so there is no need to worry that this game will become a giant escort mission. There are some moments when Trip is in danger and you must rescue her but thankfully she stays alive just long enough for you to show up and save the day. You can command Trip to come to you or heal you from afar. She can project a hologram that enemies will focus on so that you can move safely from place to place or so you can sneak up behind them. Trip can also upgrade your abilities.
It seems like upgrading is a mandatory thing in all games now and not just RPGs. You collect red orbs scattered throughout the world and that fall out of defeated Mechs. You can then use these orbs to upgrade your shield, health, staff and learn new combat techniques. Upgrading is pretty easy and you’ll want to do it every so often after you have collected enough orbs.
Enslaved is a stunning looking game. It runs on the Unreal Engine but it doesn’t look like it for the most part. Unlike a lot games set in the post-apocalyptic future, Enslaved’s world is a wonder to behold. A ruined New York City may be uninhabited by humans but life abounds. Skyscrapers are covered in plants, birds fly in the skies and deer live both in and out of ruined buildings. Even a polluted swamp is incredible to look at. The colors really shine and it’s nice to see a destroyed world that has colors other than brown and gray. The world of Enslaved is absolutely gorgeous and you will find yourself stopping just to admire the vistas. There are some minor issues with textures popping in here and there but this is the Unreal Engine we’re talking about after all. It’s something that is inherent in the engine but as I’ve said, this happens very rarely and will not pull you out of the experience or cause you to mess up during crucial moments.
The camera changes from fixed to free. While platforming, the camera is almost always fixed but while you are running to your next destination or engaged in battle, you have full control over it. The parts with the fixed camera were well done but there are times when the camera stays in one angle and makes it hard to see everything around you. I don’t see why they needed to do this since all of the objects you can interact with glow, letting you know you can interact with them. If you need to know where to go next, just look for something that glows or has an icon over it. This is a minor issue but if you want full control of the camera all of the time, this can get a little frustrating.
What wasn’t frustrating was the story. Once again, Ninja Theory has excelled in terms of storytelling, voice acting, characters and facial animations. Andy Serkis (Gollum from the Lord Of The Rings films) once again brings his talents to a Ninja Theory game. He is the motion capture artist and voice of Monkey and is also the director of the game. Mr. Serkis is very talented and his contribution to Enslaved helps to elevate the game. Thanks to authentic voice acting and highly detailed facial animations, you’ll really be immersed in the world and characters. The story is simple but engaging and you will root for the characters to make it through alive. This is high quality storytelling at its best.
Enslaved: Odyssey To The West is a great game and most shocking of all…an ORIGINAL independent property. It’s based off an ancient Chinese story but it is just loosely based off of it. In a sea of sequels, it’s refreshing to play such a fantastic game that doesn’t have a number after its title. There are some minor flaws here and there but overall, it’s a solid title that fans of action adventure games or fans of character driven stories should not miss out on.
Flashback Reviews are basically HD remasters of reviews that I did for my old site (CoolStuffTheBlog). I’ve tweaked the reviews a bit but for the most part, they’re the same ones that I originally wrote.