Review – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

You are Monkey, a captive aboard a huge flying ship being taken to the Pyramid where you will be turned into a slave. In an explosive opening level, the ship crash lands in post-apocalyptic New York, which has been devoid of humans for the past 150 years and as such, is a little overgrown. After being knocked unconscious from the impact, you wake up to find yourself enslaved anyway, albeit by the slightly friendlier Trip, who just wants to get home. And the journey begins…

Enslaved took me by surprise. My first impression of it (from a TV commercial) was that it would be a typically generic 3rd person actioner, but then I tried the demo and was immediately intrigued to see the rest of it. It’s an engaging, simply told story of two people journeying across a hostile world, with platforming sequences mixed with bursts of intense combat, and the odd cinematic chase sequence. I truly lost myself in it and was a bit disappointed when it all came to an end – not because it’s too short, but because I really wanted to see more of this world.

Theres some cool cinematic moments, such as when this bridge collapses under your feet.

And why not? This is one gorgeously realised world, with consistently beautiful environments being one of the game’s strongest points. Throughout the 14 chapters, you’ll find yourself traversing a range of locales, all of which have been intricately designed and are full of detail. The earlier stages of the game sees Monkey and Trip exploring New York and you’ll recognise familiar landmarks which have all been given the post-apocalyptic treatment. Everything is either overgrown with vines or is rusting away after years of neglect. The Unreal engine can still produce gorgeous vistas with huge draw distances, and for the most part the game looks stunning. The odd texture pop-in here and then don’t mar the experience all that much.

The platforming is reminiscent of Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia, but is a lot simpler than both of those games, which I found slightly disappointing. Each ledge Monkey can grab onto glimmers so you can always see where to go next, and rather than skilfully aim at each one, Monkey will generally only leap one way: the right way. If you try to jump somewhere where he can’t go, he’ll simply hesitate and shake his head. This is useful in a sense that you don’t very often die during these platforming segments, but it strips away much of the challenge which makes the aforementioned games so appealing. Still, it’s hard to complain when the animation is so fluid – Monkey’s movements were all motion captured by Andy Serkis (possibly the most experienced person on the planet with such technology) and the efforts show for themselves. Monkey also has a hoverboard called a ‘cloud’ which he can surf on during a few areas which is really fun, but only used in a few select parts of the game.

The 'cloud' is rarely used, but oh-so-fun

When you aren’t clambering to the next checkpoint, you’ll often find yourself fighting the game’s main enemies, the mechs. These also show off the game’s strong animation, and are satisfying to fight, on the whole. Monkey uses an extendable staff which detracts when not in use, and he has a small range of melee attacks. Combat generally involves smashing up robots until they explode, but some of them have faults which can be utilized to trigger an awesome finishing move. Hit a robot enough times, and a prompt appears to hit a certain button, which triggers the spectacular death animation. The staff is also capable of shooting projectiles, which come in 2 forms, 1 which stuns the enemy (useful for taking down shields), and another which deals damage. Generally, shooting is handy for harassing enemies that are too far away to engage in melee combat, and I didn’t find it particularly useful until the later stages of the game. As a result I didn’t bother to upgrade it all that much – you can collect orbs throughout the game which Trip can use to upgrade various things, such as giving Monkey more health, or making his combat moves a bit better. Its a simple system, and gives you a decent incentive to explore the environments that little bit more, as a lot of the orbs are hidden in secret areas and hard-to-reach places.

As far as sidekicks go, Trip falls into the rare category of “useful and not annoying”. She is capable of providing backup in combat situations, but she cannot fight at all. Hitting the left-button brings up her command menu, and you can use her to help in various ways. Her ‘decoy’ will distract ranged enemies causing them to focus their bullets on her, while you make a run for the next bit of cover. You can then use your own distract move (Monkey shouts ‘hey!’ and waves) which gives Trip time to safely leg it over to you. You can also carry her around on your back, so you know for definite she’s safe, and often you’ll need to throw her to unreachable areas so she can knock down a ladder for you to use. Unlike so many other sidekicks in games, Trip is rarely a burden, and since shes the only other human you have contact with for the majority of the game, this is a relief.

Escorting Trip through a minefield.

This is in no small part thanks to the excellent voice acting and condensed script. Many games make the mistake of over-explaining everything and having the characters talk too much, but Enslaved is a game that knows when to shut up and let you get on with it. The engaging story is played out in brief cutscenes with almost no convoluted cringe-worthy dialogue, and instead lets the characters have little quips in-game, a bit like Unchartered 2. That is another game Enslaved can be compared to, though it lacks the overall polish of Naughty Dog’s sprawling achievement. Still, the fact that it evokes such a comparison is to Enslaved’s credit, and any minor complaints can and should be overlooked in favour of the many things it gets right.

Some minor blemishes on an otherwise very entertaining game include the odd sound glitch – often I’d see an explosion on screen but for some reason wouldn’t hear it. And one time during a cutscene when Monkey was fighting a particularly large robot bad guy, said bad guy was invisible, with Monkey seeming to float along punching and beating up thin air. These quibbles are very rare though, and as I said, easily ignored. I really enjoyed Enslaved. As a game that I’d never even heard of until seeing an advert for it on TV, I assumed it wouldn’t be worth paying attention to. But I have a soft spot for these sort of games, and would easily rank it up there with the likes of similar titles as the newer Tomb Raider games and the strong Prince of Persia series. Enslaved brings something quite unique to the 3rd person platform action adventure table, and its very welcome indeed.

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