Enslaved: Odyssey To The West is one of the best games that you probably haven’t heard about this year. The game was developed by Ninja Theory, the developers that brought us the visually breathtaking and beautifully cinematic Heavenly Sword and who are currently working on the latest installment in the Devil May Cry franchise. With Enslaved, Ninja Theory does what they always seem to do which is capture all the elements that make this generation of games so successful while at the same time create something that is uniquely and distinctively different than what we expected.
Enslaved transports us ahead in time 150 years to a future in which a great war has taken place and the entire planet is a mere shell of itself. The human race is on the brink of extermination at the hands of mechanized robots whose purpose for existence has long since ran its course, but they remain because hunting and killing humans is all they know. It is with this backdrop that our story begins, our Odyssey To The West.
At the core of Enslaved is the “relationship” between the main character Monkey and a computer savvy hacker named Trip. Monkey is like the world of Enslaved: he is raw, he is violent and his primary goal is survival. Trip on the other hand, is just a girl from a little wind village that gets pulled into the fray. Neither character was skilled enough to get away from the slavers: a group of nasty people who capture what’s left of the remaining humans in order to put them to work. The game’s story begins on board one of the aforementioned slave ships as you watch Trip escape from her holding pod and beg her to free you too which she summarily ignores. It turns out not to matter as the havoc that she has wreaked on the ship’s computer systems causes your pod to be propelled across the ship and thus weakens it enough for you to escape. The ship is falling apart and there are only so many escape pods, will you make it to one in time?
The first chapter is used as somewhat of at tutorial to get you accustomed to the game’s movement and combat controls. Monkey’s movements are fluid and very natural although sometimes his momentum is a bit exaggerated which causes you to go in directions you don’t want to from time to time. The game is full of platforming elements as well that fans of games like Uncharted and Tomb Raider will be familiar with. When it comes to combat, Monkey has a nice variety of attacks which he dishes out through the use of his trusty staff. Monkey’s staff is a versatile weapon that most of the time you will use to deal an array of devastating combos to your mech enemies. The staff can also be used to deliver long rang plasma shots when it is not practical or safe to deal with enemies up close. While on the subject of combat, my only really issue is that after a while it starts to feel monotonous. I mean how many robots can you decapitate and kill in one sitting? In some of our favorite moments in the game, Monkey even gets to pull out his trusty “cloud” which a disc made of pure energy that he can throw down and surf his way around the environment. Sometimes the cloud is necessary to get Trip across tough terrain and other times Monkey uses it to take his combat abilities to a whole other level. The “cloud” was definitely one of our favorite ways to get around in a video game in a while, but don’t take my word for it try it out yourself.
As you come to the end of the first chapter after tearing through a ton of mechs and becoming comfortable with the platforming elements you met up with Trip at the last escape pod. Normally, Trip would be no match for Monkey and he would definitely take the pod but unfortunately Trip is already inside of the pod and you are…not. Suffice to say that this doesn’t turn out well for you as Trip launches the escape pod with you holding onto dear life as it rockets through the ruins of what used to be New York City and then ends up crash landing. You take a nasty fall and are knocked unconscious, but when you awake you are met with the curious face of Trip. Your first instinct is anger, you want to “break her neck” but as you approach her you are rebuffed by a pain in your head that is so intense it brings you to your knees. Trip explains to you that she has placed a “headband” on you, a control device that the slavers use to keep their captives in line. With her tech skill, Trip has modified your headband to force you to respond to her voice commands. To up the stakes just a bit more, she has created a dead man’s switch that in the event of her death will deliver a deadly burst of that head scrambling mumbo jumbo to you as well. At this point, she presents you with a very simple offer, get her back home and you can go free. As you might expect, nothing about this journey is going to be simple.
The core elements of Enslaved mostly revolve around you getting Trip from point A to point B safely, and then doing it again. Trip cannot fight but she is not totally helpless as she can protect herself by using a handheld EMP device to temporarily stun enemies which gives her time to escape. Ninja Theory took a big risk in making the game dependent upon you keeping a NPC alive and although it does not fail, I don’t know that it worked all that well either. They did a good job of not putting you in situations where it was ridiculously difficult to keep her alive (most of the time), but the fact that you have to babysit her the entire game definitely slows down gameplay.
With all that said though, having Trip around definitely has its advantages and it becomes apparent that Monkey could not survive this terrain without her. From a tactical standpoint, you can use Trip to distract enemies thus giving you time to flank and dispatch them that otherwise would not be possible. Ninja Theory does give you some flexibility in this perspective though, in most cases Monkey does not have to engage dormant mechs in an area, but how much fun would that be? By utilizing her advanced technical skills, Trip can also upgrade several of Monkey’s abilities such as Health, Staff, Combat and Shield. Then there is the use of the dragonfly camera which Trip can use to explore the game, find and identify hidden enemy patrols, and display important information such as weak points and possible “faults” that can make them easier to defeat.
The story in Enslaved is truly compelling with a few twist that you won’t see coming, even if it takes a while to get there. The game packs solid but not great controls, an awesome combat system that my only complaint on is the fact that it didn’t feature any quick-time events (QTE). By now I know that QTE’s are overdone but in a game like this I think that there are just too many opportunities to create a dynamic combat environment not to have them. The game also forces you to walk at random moments in an attempt to convey emphasis, though it just comes off as annoying. For the most part I like what they did with the camera angles because you get some really great perspectives, unfortunately too much of the time you end up with weird camera angles that there is no easy way to adjust.
The final call on Enslaved: Odyssey To The West is that it has an excellent story with a compelling plot and characters, an excellent combat system and decent controls and graphics. The biggest problem is that the gameplay is erratic at times and the pace of story could have been better. This game has definitely got us excited about what Ninja Theory could be able to pull off with the new Devil May Cry reboot, we know that the story will be excellent and combat will be awesome.
I wouldn’t call Enslaved a great game, but I would call it a very good one that is definitely worth picking up. For that we give Enslaved: Odyssey To The West 8.5 out of 10.
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