Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Dude’s on a ship locked away in some sort of pod-thing and a catastrophic event happens which frees him. He escapes, while the ship crashes and then has to fight bad guys. This nameless fellow also sees a pretty young girl while escaping the doomed vessel, but she clearly wants nothing to do with him and decides to take the last escape pod alone while nameless dude hangs on to the outside dear life. In broad strokes, some pretty standard fare told in grand dramatic fashion opens up the story of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
That pod actually crashes down inside a devastated, overgrown New York City and our protagonist blacks out. He wakes up with a sexy crown affixed to his skull by the same girl who didn’t want to help him out. This crown is actually a control device which Trip, the girl, has fashioned into one that’ll respond to her voice commands, enslaving Monkey (the dude). If her heart stops beating the crown will emit a charge that’ll also take you out so not only do you have to listen to her, you need to keep her safe. I kind of wish more games would use plot devices to explain game mechanics like this. Sure you’ve got a HUD and can always hear Trip’s voice, but Enslaved’s reasoning is that it’s all part of the crown’s influence on you. It’s a light touch, but helps keep you connected to the world.
The crown is basically a MacGuffin, providing just enough motivation to keep the plot moving along, but really being of little consequence at all. All Trip wants to do is get home to her colony which is about three hundred miles away from NYC, and Monkey makes it pretty clear that Trip’s gonna need to listen to him if she wants to survive the mech-covered landscape. Didn’t I mention that? No? Ok, yeah, the primary enemies throughout the game are robots that aim to take you down on sight. Why are they there? That’s explained through the plot, so I’m not telling.
In fact, the plot and characters are really what set this game apart from other character action titles. Ninja Theory’s attention to detail, combined with a script penned by Alex Garland (28 Days Later, The Beach), and the direction, mo-cap, and voice of Andy Serkis (Gollum from Lord of the Rings), really help define a believable and well constructed future world. Trip’s a young, naive girl with some tech skills while Monkey is the brute force, world weary traveller. Their interactions are right up there with the best in the business, providing some of the best banter and emotional conveyance you’ve seen in a video game. Think Nathan Drake and Elana Fischer from Uncharted 2. Yep, it’s that good. The biggest misstep in the campaign is the introduction of comedy relief mechanic, Pigsy. He’s gross, wants a piece of Trip, and tries to push sophomoric burp and fart humor way too much. At one point he actually says to Monkey, “Your hand is on my… penis,” and talks at length about “getting off” on mechs. It’s really unnecessary and honestly takes the game’s tone down a notch.
Parallels to Uncharted really don’t stop there though as you’ll spend plenty of time traversing the environment by climbing buildings and cliffs, interspersed with robot combat and mild exploration. The vistas presented throughout the story are beautiful and varied, full of vibrance and using a color palette that seems long forgotten in a world of brown and grey shooters. You’ll start off in an overgrown city, spend time in a mountain-top resort, and finally make your way to a barren wasteland. Here, the final battle culminates with awesome flair and an ending which, while being left open to some interpretation, is completely satisfying in ways I haven’t seen in a game be in quite some time.
Combat throughout the game is primarily melee focused with mild ranged mechanics thrown in for good measure. Your weapon is an extendo-staff that stores away nicely on one of your shield-producing gauntlets when not in use, and functions mostly like a hardened bo, capable of wide sweeps, hard bashing, and impalement. Your skills, health, and shields are all upgradable by finding tech orbs scattered around the landscape. Pro-Tip: Get the focus attack ability as soon as you can. Your staff can also be used as a gun of sorts, capable of firing damage or stun rounds towards enemies, but ammo is quite fairly limited so it should be used sparingly. Biggest problem with the combat is that while visceral, it’s fairly rote and doesn’t change much throughout the game. Trip’s primary purpose during some combat sections is to produce a decoy which will automatically draw ranged fire from the mechs for a set amount of time, giving you a window of time to take cover or dispatch them.
If there’s anything else Enslaved does incorrectly, it’s the blatant hand-holding and somewhat wonky camera. When entering a new area, Trip will usually unleash a dragonfly device, which flies around and outlines exactly what you need to do. Any piece of climbable landscape is extremely obvious, throbbing like a warning light attached to the wall, and 99% of the time there’s typically only one path to go without any danger of falling. Basically, just point the control stick at the glowy and hit the jump button. It looks great, but there’s usually no worry. The user control of the camera is touchy, and sometimes will get stuck in narrow spaces behind a piece of scenery on its own, obscuring your view of the action, or gets in too close so you can’t see what’s behind you. That’s particularly irritating when facing several mechs at once. It also falls into that old Resident Evil problem where it’ll change to a vantage point, forcing you to change direction on the controls.
Among a landscape peppered with generic fantasy and sci-fi, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West distances itself with a world full of interesting combinations of low- and hi-tech. Its compelling story told through strong delivery and acting from the characters provide a very Hollywood-esque feel absent from many games. If you’re into a focused, cool experience without fluff, Enslaved is for you.
Score: 4 out of 5
Dialog, character animation and interaction, and story are all at the top of the game.
Beautiful, vibrant, and varied world.
An ultimately satisfying finale.
The camera can really get screwed up and never feels quite right.
Way too much hand-holding.
Originally posted at Evil Avatar.