Review: Enslaved: Odyssey To The West
Enslaved: Odyssey To The West is Ninja Theory's next title after their debut PS3 exclusive game Heavenly Sword. The studio shows a lot of promise, but has not yet made their mark on the gaming world. Was Enslaved the game to do it?
- Worth The Time?Yes, mostly because of its story and characters.
- Things LovedThe main characters, the compelling story, the simple yet enjoyable gameplay, the smooth and fast platforming, the cinematic action sequences.
- Things HatedThe lack of moves and variety, the graphical and technical hiccups, the short length of the single player campaign, the rushed ending of the game.
- RecommendationDue to a lack of replay value and the short length of the single player, a full price purchase is perhaps not advised, but a second hand buy or rental is definitely on the cards.
- Name: Enslaved: Odyssey To The West
- Genre: Action Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox360
- Developer: Ninja Theory
- Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
- Price: R546-599
- Reviewed On: PS3
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is Ninja Theory’s newest title, and their second attempt at winning fame after 2007’s Heavenly Sword, a good PS3 exclusive that unfortunately missed out on being great as well as becoming financially successful at retail. The concept of Enslaved is undoubtedly intriguing, and perhaps that is what would initially draw someone to this title. Now, laying this game to rest after having played through the entire experience, it’s easy to say that Enslaved is pleasantly surprising but, unfortunately, also sadly disappointing.
Enslaved is set 150 years in the future, in a post apocalyptic world where the result of a massive global war has driven man almost to extinction, leaving the world infested by killer robots, who seek to wipe out what’s left of humanity. In the game you take on the role of Monkey, who at the beginning wakes up imprisoned in a slave ship that is about to crash. However, both he and a woman named Tripitaka (Trip) manage to narrowly evacuate the ship using an escape pod. A crash landing leaves Monkey unconscious, and when he awakens he discovers that Trip has placed a slave headband on him, which forces him to follow her orders and binds him to her so that if she were to die, he too would lose his life due to a lethal dose discharged by the headband. The opening to the plot is simple, in that Trip needs Monkey’s help to return to her home, which is miles away and he has no choice but to help her. However, things inevitably become much more dangerous as Monkey and Trip venture off on their journey through the dying land.
The story is perhaps the best aspect of the game, and it’s easy to get lost in the world of Enslaved and the journey of Monkey and Trip. The characters are well portrayed and interesting and they develop throughout the game. What makes the experience more compelling is that Enslaved presents a duo, Monkey and Trip, that the player can relate and become attached to. Trip’s inability to fight and frightened nature makes the player feel needed within the story, and it plays with your emotions when Trip cries for your help or explains, sometimes childishly so, about how something scared her. Some might see Trip as a nag or an annoying wuss, but we feel that it’s extremely welcome for a change to not have an action girl for a sidekick who goes around murdering everything without even needing you to care about anything other than how much of her skin you can see beneath her virtually non-existent armour. Trip’s character hooks you into the story, as does the character of Monkey, and her need for Monkey’s brute strength and protection, as well as her being able to command him at will, really makes the plot gripping before you even consider the overhead story.
Rarely do you see such a good match in gaming, especially in that their contributions to the game add value rather than irritation or flaws. Trip does not constantly need protection and neither does she frustratingly get whacked around by enemies resulting in you having to always watch out for her. Instead, aside from set points in the game, she will avoid combat, hide, scan the area for you allowing you to see enemies, vantage points and plan your way forward or she’ll head on an alternate path to you. Ninja Theory has cleverly weaved Trip’s involvement in gameplay into the mix, in that aside from protection against enemies, she’ll need your help to get across a jump that is too far, or in case she maybe needs help climbing a ledge. You’ll also be able to use and guide her too, for solving puzzles, purchasing upgrades using acquired experience orbs, healing you and distracting enemies. Overall, the duo just work in the game, and Trip actually adds a great deal of value to the game, both in gameplay and story.
On the note of gameplay, Enslaved is pretty simplistic, perhaps too much so. It’s enjoyable, but it’s also limited, which is where the first major issue with the game comes in. Basically, you’ll play as Monkey and progress through linear levels filled with puzzle solving, platforming and action and cinematic sequences. All are well and good, but combat is perhaps a sore point. Monkey’s staff is the primary tool for combat, and you’ll use it to bash mechs to pieces as well as Monkey’s brute strength for violent takedowns. The combat system may be simple and really enjoyable, but it lacks variety and remains practically the same throughout the entirety of the game. There are very little moves to purchase, and over and above the fact that few of them are really good, they are mostly abilities rather than actual new combos and moves – such as counter attack or following up an evade with a quick strike. It would have been nice to see more variety in combat, because in its current state it may be fun, but it soon adds to the level of repetitiveness you’ll experience.
When it comes to platforming, Monkey is quite the agile character. He is able to jump far distances – although the jump button turns into a roll when you’re not at a jump spot – speedily climb poles and leap from one climbing spot to the next all too quickly and freely. While it certainly makes platforming fast and fun, it does however result in little input from the player other than rapidly tapping the jump button. Perhaps this is more due to the design choices of the game in that platforming is generally easy and mostly the same throughout the game, apart from a few sections where traps are involved or time is limited. The puzzles featured in the game are for the most part easy going and serve as nice distractions, with you having to command Trip to do things like operate levers and mechanics in order to get through.
It just seems that while there many great ideas in Enslaved, the overall repetitive nature of the game, mostly due to the lack of variety in combat and platforming, ultimately reduces the entertainment factor. Fortunately, there are some special gameplay sections in Enslaved to break up the norm, such as when you’re able to use Monkey’s ‘cloud’ device, which basically serves as a little vehicle that enables you to travel fast, ride on water and jump larger distances. It also makes its mark by allowing for exciting chase scenes and boss fights, but unfortunately we just wished that ideas like these were used more throughout Enslaved to add freshness and excitement to the game. Or perhaps, for instance, if the cloud was used more often and in more ways. Essentially, the point here is that Enslaved has the right ideas and has solid gameplay, but it just needs further expansion of its concepts and more depth.
It’s evident when playing Enslaved that the game took inspiration from Naughty Dog’s worldly famous Uncharted series, and this is no bad thing, because ultimately it’s a great source to draw ideas from when it comes to crafting a cinematic action experience. Enslaved performed really well in this regard, and there are some fantastically designed action pieces that will only further draw you into the game. These are credited by the game’s beautiful design, art style and visuals. The characters also definitely deserve a mention, as they not only look very impressive and are voiced excellently, but also exhibit fantastic animations and facial expressions. It’s just unfortunate that the game suffers from some graphical glitches and technical hiccups, in that on occasion you could fall through the floor, or go through a solid object, and there are certain areas where the graphics just look weaker overall in comparison to the rest of the game. The soundtrack in the game mostly presents itself in the background, and it doesn’t really go out of its way to make itself heard, even in tense situations. Still, the music provides a nice backdrop to the more gentle or sad situations in the game.
It will take you round about 8-10 hours to complete the main story of Enslaved, and unfortunately there isn’t much to go back to once you’re done, and this leads me to what is perhaps the worst thing about the game: the ending. There is such a large and exciting build up to the game’s ending, but it’s so rushed and abrupt that the result is almost insulting. The end feels inconclusive, as though a couple of large, dramatically important cutscenes were inexplicably removed. Furthermore, the ending hardly even screams ‘sequel’, because it’s just too vague or, more appropriately, it’s sudden and leaves things hanging without enough closure, never mind stage-setting for a future game. It’s sad, because the story really is gripping and has an air of mystery throughout the game, but the ending just doesn’t contain enough substance to conclude the compelling tale. Let it be mentioned that it’s not a horrible ending and neither does it nullify or break the entire experience, but it does, however, end up disappointing and making the story feel incomplete.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West has a lot of greatness lurking underneath its flaws. If you give it a chance, its gripping narrative, likable heroes and simple, yet enjoyable gameplay will inevitably draw you into the exciting cinematic experience it has to offer. It’s just unfortunate that its shortcomings prevent it from being truly great, or something a whole lot more. Still, there’s plenty to like and learn from Enslaved, with regards to fusing compelling storytelling with fun gameplay, and it’s undoubtedly here that the game shines.