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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Review

by on October 12, 2010

Game: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Developer: Ninja Theory

Publisher: Namco Bandai Games

Available on: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (reviewed on PlayStation 3)

If you have been a PlayStation 3 owner for a good few years now then the probability that you’ve played Ninja Theory’s previous title, Heavenly Sword, is quite high. Released back in 2007, it’s fair to say, the game divided opinion amongst gamers across the globe. The game looked amazing and played well enough, but it was only five hours long. As a result, most gamers thought Heavenly Sword was a case of too much style and not enough substance, a statement which was very hard to argue with.

After a three year hiatus, Ninja Theory have returned and brought with them a brand new IP, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. With this new title, can they get the balance between style and substance right? Can they provide gamers with a high quality action-adventure game? Read on to find out.

STORY: Set 150 years in the future, in a world where humans are all but extinct, the story of Enslaved follows the exploits of two characters known as Monkey (a brute of a man) and Trip (a beautiful tech savvy redhead) – more on them later. Mechs are the dominant species in the world of Enslaved and they roam the post-apocalyptic lands in a bid to fulfil their only goal, enslave (or eradicate) humanity.

A slave ship is where the events of Enslaved begin and where we first meet the games protagonists. Monkey and Trip are prisoners on-board the ship, but their luck is about to change. Due to a malfunction, the ship crashes in post-apocalyptic New York and they both manage to escape. Well, Trip escapes; Monkey can’t get to an escape pod so he just clings onto hers and hopes for the best!

Surfin' USA!

After they “land” in New York, Monkey wakes up to find Trip has fitted a slave headband on him and, well, he isn’t happy. The scared Trip explains (read: demonstrates) the headband allows her to control him and if, for any reason, her heart stops beating the device will discharge a lethal dose. As Trip quite nicely puts it in the actual game “if I die, you die”. Her reason for doing this? She wants Monkey to help her get to her people, a community a few hundred miles outside of New York. If he succeeds in doing this, she will deactivate the headband and he will be free to go. As expected, Monkey agrees and their epic journey begins.

Simply put, the story of Enslaved (despite a strange ending) is fantastic and this is primarily down to the two main characters. Monkey and Trip are two very believable people. Sure, they have their flaws and weaknesses, but that is what makes them so interesting and unique. The way their relationship develops throughout the game is superb; almost movie-like in its execution. During the first couple of chapters Trip is commanding Monkey to do certain things, but later on in the game she is asking him. All this happens naturally, it never feels forced or fake in any way whatsoever. Playing as Monkey, you will soon forget about the “she dies, you die” factor and genuinely begin to care about Trip. It sounds crazy, but the level of characterisation is that damn good.

GRAPHICS: The good folk at Ninja Theory are well known for their top notch graphical work and Enslaved is another fantastic addition to their portfolio, quite possibly the best yet. As with Heavenly Sword, Mr Gollum himself (Andy Serkis) performed the motion capture for Monkey and it certainly shows, as he moves around very fluidly and realistically. The same can be said about all other characters in the game too, whether they be human or mech.

The lovely Trip.

However, the standout visual/graphical aspect has to be the facial animations. Ninja Theory did an amazing job with Heavenly Sword in this respect, but they have bettered their work in that game by quite a margin here. You have to see them in action yourself to realise how amazing they are. They literally bring the characters to life and make them even more believable than they already are. Whilst Monkey’s facial animations are great, it’s Trip who shows them off in the best light. The way she portrays her feelings/emotions through her facial expressions is so realistic. Are they the best facial animations in any game to date? The answer would have to be a resounding yes.

Apart from the animations (facial or otherwise), as a whole, Enslaved looks great. There might not be much going on underneath the hood compared to graphical powerhouses such as Uncharted 2 or Gears of War 2, but the visual style certainly makes up for that. It’s actually quite refreshing to see a post-apocalyptic game using colours other than brown or grey. Hooray for colour!

Unfortunately, there is one let down this department though. In the latter half of the game, during some of the more frantic battles, the frame rate takes quite a hit. It doesn’t stumble to halt or anything, but you will definitely notice the drop. It can make some combat sections quite annoying, which is a bit of shame really.

Now, that's one dog you don't want to mess with!

SOUND: The music that accompanies the gameplay in Enslaved is excellent and adds an epic feel to the on-screen action. It would be fair to say there is a certain movie-like quality about the score, which should come as no surprised seeing as it has been composed by the highly talented Nitin Sawhney.

The voice work is also very impressive and highly believable. Both Monkey and Trip sound exactly like you think they would. Although most of their audio boils down to “clink”, “clunk” or “clank”, even the mechs sound great. That’s right folks, great sounding mechs. Don’t get too excited now!

GAMEPLAY: Even though no one particular aspect of the gameplay in Enslaved is supremely deep, everything comes together to create a highly enjoyable experience.

The combat is based around a basic two button melee system where Monkey uses his staff to unleash his wrath upon the mechs. Our hero can use his staff at long range too, as it has the ability to shoot out plasma or EMP rounds. The former will hurt the mechs, whereas the latter will stun them for a short period of time, so you can attack them without any bother.

By collecting orbs you can “purchase” upgrades to the staff as well as new moves, which is nice, but it lacks any real sense of depth. Saying that though, Enslaved is no mindless button basher. Resorting to this tactic will only get you so far before you start dying. As the enemies begin to vary, you will have to start thinking about when to attack and when to dodge or block. For example, some mechs will have shields and attack from long range whereas others will get up close, looking to catch you out with a few melee attacks.

Monkey trying to distract Trip while she "works"

For the most part, as Monkey, you will have to deal with the mechs without any help, but when you eventually come across a tricky (combat or non-combat) situation, Trip is there to help you out. The technically skilled redhead can be called upon to act as a decoy, allowing Monkey to flank a group of mechs or sneak past a turret and eventually destroy it. This works really well and, as Monkey, you can do exactly the same to divert attention away from Trip when she is trouble. Using a hacked robotic dragonfly (that’s right, dragonfly), Trip can also alert you to any hazards in the environments, such as mines.

Monkey also eventually gains access to the “cloud”, which is basically a cool little hover board. Disappointingly though, he can only use the device during specific sections of the game. Apart from the cloud riding, the combat based gameplay is broken up by a few on rails sequences and a couple of simple puzzles. However, the main way in which players are diverted from the combat is the very basic platforming. It works well enough, but it provides no real challenge at all. You literally just move from point A to B by pressing the jump button and pushing the analog stick in the direction you need to go. It is almost impossible to fail or die because if you jump in a direction you are not supposed to, Monkey just performs a forward roll. It is totally understandable why Ninja Theory have designed these sections in a such a way (to avoid frustrating deaths), but the platforming would have been so much more satisfying if there was some skill involved in the process.

Aww, such a gentleman that Monkey!

LONGEVITY: An average playthrough of Enslaved should last around 10-12 hours, no matter what difficulty level you are playing on. The game is well worth going back to again, even if it’s just to collect any masks you may have missed or to unlock a few trophies/achievements.

VERDICT: Whatever way you look at it, Enslaved is one high quality action-adventure game. It combines fantastic visuals, memorable characters, a great story and enjoyable gameplay into one very enticing package.

Due to certain issues it falls short of true greatness, but this is still one title every self-respecting gamer should play. Potentially, Ninja Theory have something rather special on their hands here. Let’s hope they can build on the foundations that have been laid and deliver us something truly amazing with Enslaved 2.