Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was released in October 2010 by Ninja Theory and Namco Bandai for the PS3 and Xbox 360. By all accounts, Enslaved should not be a good game. It has simple combat, climbing and puzzle scenarios and a very character driven storyline focusing on two characters.
It does very little new and seems to rip off a fair bit of material for gameplay from the Prince of Persia series. But, despite these complaints, Enslaved is actually very compelling. It is a beautiful game to watch, both the world and the animations, the characters are very well rounded, human, and have great chemistry, possibly even surpassing the Prince of Persia franchise in this aspect, and even if the gameplay is simple, it is still fun and evolves as the players progress.
Enslaved should not be a good game. But it is. It is a very fun and compelling journey…until the ending, where it all falls apart. Still, the journey is well worth checking out.
Journey to the West
Enslaved’s story is both very strong and incredibly weak. It is a modern re-imagining of the Chinese story, Journey to the West. Despite such a rich background, very little is done with this concept, outside of names, like the main character Trip and Monkey being taken from an ancient monk and mischevious spirit, and small appearances, like Monkey’s staff, helmet, and cloud. So, apart from appearances and the journey west, the two stories have very little in common. This, ironically is not the weakest part of the story.
That honor goes to the ending. Throughout the game, the story is explained well, through symbolism and interaction, giving the idea of an ancient war and a world that has moved beyond humanity. However, at the end, a horrible twist that makes no sense is thrown in which makes the entire journey seem wasted. And then the game just stops. Enslaved has a terrible conclusion.
Even so, the journey is phenomenal, mainly because of its minimalist approach. There are only three main characters and only Trip and Monkey really matter for the first ten hours or so. The interactions between these two is the heart of the story, as Monkey and Trip escape a slave ship separately, but are thrown together when Trip enslaves Monkey with a mechanical headband and enlists his help to take her to the west, going home.
Trip is wary and timid at first, while Monkey is brusque and understandably annoyed. However, they slowly grow together, with Trip becoming more confident and even a little ruthless, while Monkey becomes more compassionate. Their chemistry is fantastic, making characters really care about them. Sadly, this starts to peter off towards the end, when a new character degenerates the game into a bit of slapstick.
The chemistry of Trip and Monkey and their quest to the west is a wonderfully charming journey, even if it does go downhill towards the end and lacks a satisfying conclusion.
Climbing and Fighting
Gameplay is a mix of climbing/exploration and light combat. There are several cop outs when it comes to combat, such as regenerating health and shields which make gameplay a bit easier, but there are some great ideas as well. The HUD is beautifully implemented. It is explained that Monkey’s headband shows him health, shields, etc. and it makes it simple for Trip to put goals and obstacles in the HUD. It’s very well done.
Combat is lackluster to play but beautiful to watch. It’s more like a beat-em-up than anything. Monkey’s movements are fluid and he can string simple combos together easily, with a few power attacks to mix things up. It does degenerate into button mashing at times, save for occasions when enemies need to be stunned, but overall, is enjoyable.
There is an upgrade system, but it is pretty boring, only offering minor improvements to health and moves, without really changing much. Cover, stealth, and careful maneuvering is very important, as Monkey can distract or have Trip distract enemies and duck for cover when enemies start shooting. These sequences are very interesting, much more so than regular combat, as they require more thought than button mashing. Enemies are pretty bland, being different variety’s of human mechs, but the larger ones, like a huge dog mech, make for some nice changes like chases and crazy combat.
Climbing is boring. All the ledges shine so it’s impossible to get lost, the world is very linear, and only one button is needed for climbing, just go to a shiny object, press a button and there you go. Despite this, Monkey’s fluid movements and the beautiful world making climbing a joy to watch. It’s actually surprising how something so easy can be so satisfying. There are some small puzzles, but they lack any real complexity.
On the whole, controls are clunky and a little frustrating. The movements of Monkey and Trip are beautiful to watch, but often, combat is sticky, dodging is hard, and blocking is pointless. Climbing has a bit of delay to it and only works at certain points, being very linear. It’s unfortunate that there is such a lack of polish here since it could have made the combat and climbing more fun.
Beauty of Nature
Enslaved is beautiful, plain and simple. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world that is not gray, grimy, or dull. The world has been reclaimed by nature, full of sharp Green’s from plants, blue and rainbow waters, and eye catching colors. Coupled with the fluid and beautiful movements of Trip and Monkey, the game is a joy to watch.
The scale also changes drastically as time goes by, from expansive views of New York, to worlds built from destroyed mechs that dwarf regular enemies. Towards the end, right before the awful ending, the scale goes crazy, offering a huge world and environment, with so much going on in the background. It’s technically astounding. The effects are also beautiful, with explosions that look fantastic, energy blasts look really cool, and the water effects shimmer and shine.
Music in Enslaved is okay, but a little bland. Nothing that’s really memorable but it usually fits with the overall feeling of the game. Sound effects aren’t impressive but do the job. Voice acting is the best part of the sound design. Monkey sounds gruff and offensive, but grows into a more subdued role, still being feral and wild, but also more human. Trip’s voice actor really portrays the scared, but hopeful girl well and also grows throughout the game, becoming darker and more sinister. Even the annoying character met near the end, Pigsy, manages to amaze with his grotesque nature.
A Great Journey with a Disappointing end
Enslaved is the perfect example of how the journey, not the destination, matters. The game is beautiful to watch and while gameplay is kind of bland, it is still fun and amazing to behold. The character chemistry really makes the story work, which would otherwise be a bit boring and tedious. Sadly, the clunky, unpolished control’s, incredibly disappointing ending, and lack of any real conclusion hurts the game.
Enslaved is a fun journey that nearly anyone action fan can get into. Fans of great character development and moving stories will also enjoy this title. However, this game isn’t perfect. It is a surprise in how fun Enslaved is, but the end might leave a bad taste in people’s mouth. Still, if you can enjoy the journey, Enslaved is a great way to spend a few days.