Game Review: Enslaved: Odyssey To The West
Release: October 5, 2010
Developer: Ninja Theory
Available Platforms: Xbox 360 and PS3
ESRB Rating: Teen
Website: Enslaved Official Site
Ninja Theory is slowly becoming a developer to watch on my list of, well, developers to watch. First they brought us the beautiful and deadly PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword, one of the very first games I ever played on the PS3 that taught me exactly just how good games can look. The God of War lifted but nuanced gameplay, enjoyably evil villains and a fantasy epic plot put it as a front runner for my very early PS3 favorites list. Now we have Enslaved; the genesis from Heavenly to this game is easily understood: the visuals, the character animations, the voice actors most obviously. But Ninja Theory here has created a truly unique universe, where nature has engulfed our world after years of warfare and deadly mechs leftover from the fighting still roam free.
Enslaved’s most understandable and easily identifiable counterpart is Uncharted (with a few differences, for good and bad). You take the helm of prison escapee Monkey (who earns the right of that name wholeheartedly) who must transport a girl (a fellow escapee alongside Monkey) named Tripp back to her home, 300 miles to the west. Just to ensure Monkey’s loyalty Tripp ensconces Monkey’s head with a slaver headband. So if she is killed for any reason, the hacked headband will immediately excrete a lethal dose of chemicals and kill Monkey on the spot.
The game is essentially split down the middle between fighting and environmental traversing (and a few fairly simple puzzles). Monkey has a huge staff he uses to beat up mechs, and boy is it satisfying. You have a button for light, heavy, charged and ranged attacks. While not groundbreaking by any means, the combat is serviceable and wholly satisfying. Your staff also upgrades (Tripp can augment your weapon and health through collecting tech orbs strewn about the land) into a sort of laser shooting gun. And although it becomes a tad overbalanced later in the game, with the last rung of the upgrade tree giving it quadruple damage on mechs, it is just so satisfying to shish-kabob three mechs back to back with one penetrating plasma burst. Environmental traversal is pretty easy to swallow; all handholds glimmer indicating their grip and allow you to plan your route in a flash.
Exploding mech monsters, a sweet hoverboard used to chase down huge mechs kidnapping Tripp, and tight, exciting combat – this is all good. All awesome. But what makes Enslaved really and truly shine is the story (written by Alex Garland of the brilliant Sunshine and wicked 28 Days Later). It is so well thought out, acted and has such a fun ending that almost all problems I have with it as a game get thrown out. Actually “fun” may be a weird word to use, but honestly, I’ve never been so satisfied with such an open-ended denouement since the Lost finale. That, my friends, is saying something. The characters of Monkey and Tripp react so realistically and subtly to each other and are so fun to hear chatter back and forth, this dynamic easily become front and center of the game. I mean she is essentially his master, but there’s an obvious relationship brewing, how will that work out? It among other mysterious questions (who or what is Pyramid? Why are they trying to kill our heroes? What do they want with all the slaves in the first place?) act as the treat at the end of the string dangling in front of your face as you play.
The main drawback that I still can’t honestly figure out if I really agree with it being a drawback, would be the actual traversal mechanics. You know how in Uncharted, or even Prince of Persia, while you’re on a ledge and you think the next handhold is out to the left, but its actually underneath you? And then you fall to your death? In Enslaved, you can’t die. If you tried to jump out to that ledge you think is there, nothing happens. Monkey will literally not let go of a ledge unless he is pointed to the exact spot of the next safe ledge. This isn’t in particular my complaint (I really enjoy zooming through these segments Scot free, watching the beautiful environment fly by), but my frustration lies in the end game. The last three or four levels add fire traps to these segments. Okay not that big of a deal, we’ve seen that all the time before, right? Well, yeah, but in those games you’re used to dying all the time before. In Enslaved your conditioned to be chill and relaxed when guiding Monkey through these areas, but then I felt as if the developers realized it may have been too easy all along, and decided to add these evil, evil death traps to beef up the difficulty. And it’s really not hard particularly, just requires more waiting and timing. I just felt like i was being reprimanded every time I would die a fiery death (which happened annoyingly often). Like the developers were talking in my head and saying, “NO! No more free running aimlessly, time to be serious!”
Mitchel’s Final Say
Enslaved is breathtaking. If you were anticipating this game, you already picked it up and love it, as I do. It does not have much of a replay value (although at one point I have vowed to collect all tech orbs and masks) but is a very, very high recommendation to rent. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – in this Fall season of shooter filled store shelves and endless gunmetal gray graphics Enslaved is a breath of post-apocalyptic fresh air. And despite it’s faults, and because of the ultra-satisfying story, it’s truly spectacular in the end.