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Review: Enslaved, Odyssey to the West

Saturday, December 4th, 2010 by

Enslaved has the all the key ingredients to being a great game with a gripping story that will largely go unnoticed. In the midst of a shopping season packed with big-name sequels, is this new kid on the block worth putting your money down?

Regardless of any skepticism you might have, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is surely worth your time.

You take on the role of Monkey: a lone brawler with a knack for staying alive in Enslaved’s mech-infested dystopian wilds. Captured and kept prisoner on a slave ship, an opportunity to break free arrives when another slave frees herself from her bonds, inadvertently releasing him also. As Monkey scrambles to escape before the vessel crash-lands, his path becomes entwined with hers and he is bound to her by a controlling mechanism, an unwitting servant. Monkey must help Trip get home, whether he likes it or not, and their path is rife with danger.

Enslaved is, first and foremost, a great tale. It’s a little on the short side, but feels perfectly paced despite all that. It’s also equal parts platforming and fighting, neither of which are especially challenging but exciting nonetheless. The platforming portions of the game are almost always a series of simple jumps that demand little to no skill. It’s really okay, though, as they weren’t designed to pressure you so much as they were put there to be flashy. Granted, there’s little sense of danger when you can’t fall or don’t need to time your jumps, but it’s still fun and looks great as you help Monkey clear giant gaps and scale impossible heights.

Fighting is pretty straightforward and, while initially simple, eventually blossoms into a more strategic and rewarding thing as you collect weapon upgrades and augment your abilities. Enemies are varied enough to stay interesting and most combat scenarios require some thought to get through proper. Enslaved is less interested in making you struggle than it is in making you want to see the story unfold.

AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE
The Most Beautiful Wasteland: Rather than drawing on the clichéd landscapes of established post-apocalyptia, Enslaved portrays an Earth where nature has flourished in the absence of man. Much of your journey will be spent in vernal cityscapes where steel wreckage is entwined with lush and beautiful scenery. The reds, greens, and clear blue skies are pleasing to the eye and in stark contrast to the calculating mechs that hunt you tirelessly. This juxtaposition makes for a great aesthetic, one that compliments Enslaved’s desolate mood quite nicely.

Expressive Characters: Monkey and Trip are convincingly human and the many cutscenes where they interact are fantastically done. The motion capture and facial expressions stand out as believable and excellent. Not only that, the voice work is top notch and watching the characters’ relationship develop is often just like watching a good movie. Perhaps the greatest reason to play through Enslaved is getting to know the protagonists and understand their motivations.

Engaging Story: Enslaved’s narrative doesn’t dwell on explanation. It constantly moves forward, giving you just enough information to make your own conclusion about the events leading to the fall of man. In fact, most of Enslaved’s backstory is delivered entirely through implication. And that’s not a detriment at all, considering Enslaved’s story manages to always stay poignant and hooks you like any good book. With characters this interesting in a world this unforgiving, you’ll constantly want to know what happens next. From start to finish, Enslaved has a great and theatrical flair for urgency.

Cathartic and Brutal Combat: Monkey is a highly animated combatant, and while battling mechs may feel simplistic at times, it’s all forgiven when Monkey deals the killing blow and his face flashes onscreen; a visage so feral and determined that you can’t help but feel a little brutal yourself. Many of the takedown sequences are exciting to watch and produce a satisfying sense of victory.

OUTSTANDING FLAWS
Technical Mess: The biggest culprit in hampering your enjoyment of Enslaved are its technical shortcomings. The graphics are wonderful but always feel too ambitious due to persistent screen-tearing and noticeable frame rate chugging. It’s the biggest blemish on an otherwise solid game.

Questionable Controls: Battles can sometimes feel a little out of your hands due to drawn-out attack animations and input delay. You can certainly adapt to it, but out of the gate it will feel strange and even after you’re accustomed to the controls, combat will still manage to feel clunky at times. Some tighter, more responsive controls would have been appreciated.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West succeeds in grabbing you from the start and holding you until its exciting, but strange, conclusion. It’s a winsome accomplishment and developer Ninja Theory has done something really good here. It might not have the marketing muscle to get the kind of attention it deserves, but those who do take a chance with Enslaved are sure to get their money’s worth. The captivating story will drive you on, always, and the characters will earn your sympathy and concern. With so many things done right, we can only hope that this is the beginning of a world we can revisit in the future.

We feel our scores are accurate in reflecting a game’s general satisfaction of play but understand that some might prefer to see a more detailed explanation of our rating system. Click here to learn more about our game rating methodology.

About the Author

Mark A. Brooks uses the A. initial in his name so as to seperate himself from the teeming legions of other Mark Brookses (there are at least 65,000 in the state of Michigan alone). Keep up with him on twitter, because why not. @unoriginalG

Mark A. Brooks has written 643 posts on Delta Attack
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  • Markham Asylum

    Awesome. Sounds like the first Avatar movie: though lacking in some areas, it promises great things to come.

    I’m intrigued to play this game, especially for the story. It seems like story is the first thing to suffer in many games these days.

    Fighting a bunch of clockwork bastards reminds me of Maximo vs. Army of Zin, which is one of my favorite PS2 games. If you’ve never played it and your PS3 plays PS2 games, I would strongly recommend it.

    Enslaved sounds solid. I’m putting it on my list.

  • mulletsaurus

    I enjoyed playing it. I was initially drawn to it by videos I’d seen of Monkey and Trip interacting, which seemed really fantastic. I’d put it on par with Uncharted, although it (appropriately) lacks the comedic appeal from that series.

  • Markham Asylum

    Nearly two years later I finally get a chance to play, and I just finished it. I agree with everything you stated here, except for the technical issues. I don’t know if it’s just 360 vs. PS3, but playing it on the 360 had very few instances of either framerate chugging or screen-tearing. But yeah, everything else was spot-on for my experience: an engaging story with unapologetically fast pacing; great character development, facial expressions, and voice acting; and platforming and fighting that didn’t require high precision like Prince of Persia, but also didn’t feel as though you were just hitting a few buttons and watching the game play itself.

    Enslaved is one of the best games I’ve played in the past 4 or 5 years. I’d give it a 90.

    • Mark A. Brooks

      You might consider the Uncharted Trilogy, then – it has the same human quality to it. The first one still holds up really well.

      • Markham Asylum

        Perhaps, but I also like the fantasy setting of Enslaved. I did play the first Uncharted for about an hour, and though it’s definitely well done, it pretty much felt like Tomb Raider with a dude.