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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Review

A memorable odyssey through a post apocalyptic world unlike any other

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When we think of post apocalyptic settings and locales our minds are implicitly drawn to images of barren wastelands or dilapidated cities enveloped in darkness. UK based developers Ninja Theory have approached a typically desolate portrayal of global disaster with an emphasis on beauty over traditional themes of bleakness and devastation. Enslaved is predominantly set in a future New York, where vegetation has reclaimed the urban sprawl of concrete and steel. Think the Hanging Gardens of Babylon more the Blade Runner, and you’re closer to envisioning Enslaved’s environmentally lush setting; though the skeletal remains of a once populated metropolis are still evident. Ninja Theory’s approach to a post apocalyptic game world is certainly refreshing, and acts as the perfect stage for a title driven by developing character relationships and an engrossing storyline. The fact that your surroundings demand such a degree of attention, provides momentum for the game’s strong narrative; for the most part making Enslaved a compelling experience.

Enslaved game

Ninja Theory have kept the cast list intentionally small here, and focused on the relationships between three main protagonists: ‘Monkey‘, whom you control ( an incredibly athletic orphan - hence the name - with unprecedented strength and unique combat skills), his captor/releaser, the seemingly vulnerable ‘Trip‘, and later in the game the lascivious but essentially likeable ‘Pigsy‘. There’s no real back story as to how the world has become the way it has; but the mechanized foes which inhabit it initially hint at a Terminator-esque uprising, leaving very little trace of human life. It’s beneficial with a game like Enslaved to only outline the basic premise of the story, as you’d really be doing yourself an injustice by spoiling the journey with foregathered information. Although influences are plain to see (the climax could well read like a page from a certain Wachowski brothers script); Enslaved is by no means an unashamed duplication of post apocalyptic existence depicted in cinema and alternative videogames.

Although it won’t win a stack of awards for originality either, the flourishing relationship between Monkey and the homebound female Trip is an endearing and enchanting one. The two are thrown together after escaping the flying ‘Slave Ship’ at the game’s beginning, and their initially reserved companionship (albeit slightly predictably) soon develops into something more meaningful. The two are bound together during Trip’s initial search for her father before the hunt turns towards an entity known only as ‘Pyramid’. Further discovery reveals this elusive anomaly to be connected to current state of civilization and human disappearance en masse. It’s a touching journey, and one that certainly inspires a sense of player/character bonding. When videogames attempt a degree of sensitivity the results can often be woefully crass and unintentionally embarrassing, but this genuinely isn’t the case here. The introduction of Pigsy injects a dose of humour, and although he’s a slightly contrived caricature, his blatant jealousy of Monkey and Trip leads to some welcome comic exchanges between the two males.

This sustained intrigue, to an extent carries the somewhat unadventurous gameplay of the title. The core experience is split up into two main mechanics; combat and platforming. You would have to use the term ‘platforming’ in the loosest possible sense however. Similar to say Uncharted 2, the sum of the actual challenge is no more than simply holding jump and the desired direction in which you would like Monkey to go. Falling to your death will be a rare occurrence as it is actually nigh on impossible to do so. Unlike a Tomb Raider title where miscalculated leaps of faith or a trusting a poorly rooted handhold will lead to an early grave, Enslaved will never force you into a scenario heavily reliant on trial and error. Shimmering pieces of masonry tactfully prod you in the right direction of your next jump, the only occasional hindrance occurring in the form of brief blasts of flame or jets of scolding steam. Traversing around from A to B may be a simple affair, but because of the sheer amount of climbing/leaping/swinging etc… you’ll be asked to perform; it’s thankful that the system isn’t clunky or frustrating, albeit it that it requires minimal skill.

Enslaved game

As you’ll be alongside Trip for 95 percent of the time, there is a certain amount of in-game interaction you’ll be required to instigate in order to progress. These tasks are again fairly simple: throwing her across a wide gap, assisting her up a hard to reach ladder or generally protect her from the many Mechs encountered throughout. But, this interaction is reciprocal and not strictly limited to a one way process. Via the use of LB/L1 you can access a command menu and call for Trip to aid you. Commands are limited but undeniably useful in their own right. ‘Decoy’ is especially effective when attempting to evade the attention of a turret; allowing Monkey to flank round the outside and perform a rivet shattering takedown, which often allows you to utilise its own machine gun against satisfyingly against ranks of prowling Mechs. The self explanatory ‘Run’ and ‘Heal’, as well as an upgrade shop make up the remainder of Trip’s helpful perks. Upgrades are accessed by collecting glowing tech orbs scattered around, and when utilised can power up Monkey’s temporary shields, ever reliable staff, or extend his health to give him an edge in regular battle scenarios. The simplicity and accessibility of Enslaved are integral to its charm. No farcical attempt at creating baffling depth or overtly complex character menus here. The core gameplay works satisfyingly and efficiently without stepping out of the game’s self imposed comfort zone; a notion that further extends into the combat system.

Monkey’s only weapon against the Mechs, drones and gun turrets that guard the landscape is his aforementioned staff. Although it may sound ineffectual, melee attacks can decimate steel, cutting through enemies like the proverbial knife through butter. Think of Kilick from Soul Calibur’s staff but designed to slice up robots and you’ve more or less defined your tool of destruction here. Once more, simplicity is the key to satisfaction and accessible playability. X/square and Y/triangle unleash light and heavy attacks respectively, chaining the two resulting in some eye catching combos. Inevitable defensive commands: block, evade and counter keep the action frenetic, and although simple button mashing will see you conquer the game’s weaker opponents; the tougher, shielded enemies will require slightly more tactical forethought.

Once charged, Monkey can unleash a blistering focus attack, a multi-hit ‘rage’ style onslaught that will be most beneficial when surrounded and/or outnumbered. The staff also possess long range capabilities as well as close quarters efficiency. An automatic enhancement early on allows you to switch the emphasis from hand to hand, to the rifle like characteristic of firing off bolts of plasma and stun shots, the combination of which will have to employed in order to eradicate shielded and otherwise unreachable Mechs. It has to be noted that the aiming whilst using the staff this way is somewhat fiddly and the sensitivity will take some getting used to. On the whole though combat feels meaty and gratifying, and although suffering from occasional slowdown during busy on-screen battles, predominantly runs fluently. There’s no real sense of mastery to speak of; once you’ve learned the strengths and weakness of the varying Mech types (the larger boss incarnations will require a little more prudent insight), combat is a straightforward, no-nonsense process. Following in the tradition of Enslaved’s simple yet sufficient platforming sections you’ll find nothing earth shattering here, but simultaneously nothing to wholeheartedly bemoan.

Enslaved game

Enslaved: Odyssey To The West is an exemplification of how to effectuate good storytelling in videogames. An intriguing world, captivating character interaction and some memorable moments essentially paper over what are simple and generic, yet satisfyingly playable gameplay inclusions. The lack of ambition in that sense can be forgiven due to the title’s sustained charm and fine scriptwriting throughout. If Ninja Theory’s latest adventure is anything to go by, post apocalyptic life may not be so doom laden after all.

Our ratings for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West on Xbox 360 out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Presentation
84
Ninja Theory's post apocalyptic vision dispels of the 'barren wasteland' stereotype. Beautiful foliage coated environments and fast paced, plasma strewn combat make Enslaved an aesthetically pleasing third person action title.
Gameplay
75
Nothing wildly new to thrill or excite, but what Enslaved does, it pulls off efficiently and with minimum fuss. Basic yet solid combat walks hand in hand with easily navigated Uncharted style jumping sections. Simple and sufficient.
Single Player
87
Intriguing narrative and well worked character relationships make this a journey to remember. Clocking in at around eight hours on normal difficulty, the game has a degree of scope for replayabilty due to its charm and accessibility.
Multiplayer
NR
None
Performance
84
Occasional slow down issues when engaging in larger scale battles do little to detract from what is otherwise a lovely looking game. Impressive environments and backdrops play stage to the predominantly smooth action.
Overall
84
The gameplay relies on tried and tested formulas, but familiarity in that respect shouldn't detract from what is an engrossing and enchanting title. In a market saturated with subpar writing and bland characters, Odyssey To The West is a notable exception.
Comments
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West box art Platform:
Xbox 360
Our Review of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
84%
Great
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is ranked #224 out of 1982 total reviewed games. It is ranked #28 out of 105 games reviewed in 2010.
224. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
225. Super Meat Boy
PC
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Screenshots

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
9 images added Oct 20, 2010 20:29
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