Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
If the apocalypse looks anything like Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, the end of the world can't come soon enough
- Beautiful art design, engaging story, excellent voice acting, combat is fun, escorting Trip through dangerous areas is a unique and fresh gameplay challenge
- Inconsistent frame rate, not much variety in enemies, final boss battle feels slightly lacklustre, Not many objects in most environments are destructible or interactive outside of scripted action sequences
Even though the classic Chinese novel "Journey to the West" has been relentlessly adapted back and forth across many books, TV shows, and video games, Ninja Theory's Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is an incredibly unique take on the iconic story. Supported by memorable characters, smart dialogue, impressive art design, and some downright gorgeous environments, Enslaved is a stellar action-adventure from the Heavenly Sword developer.
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Aside from the vividly detailed environments that teem with colour and light, Ninja Theory's pedigree is on full display here with characters that carry the game's plot extremely well. Of course, there are also plenty of great action sequences to be found in this tale, which is befitting and expected of the team behind Heavenly Sword. (Even the most casual gamer will probably notice that female lead Trip is a definite dead ringer for Nariko.)
Enslaved kicks off shortly after the main protagonist, a warrior-slash-drifter named Monkey, wakes up in a holding cell in a flying slave ship. Through the craft's P.A. system he's informed that he will be sent — against his will — to a new community safe from the various dangers of the post-apocalyptic future. It's not long before one of the other prisoners escapes, and after some quick sabotage, the ship is plummeting out of the sky, with Monkey desperately looking for an escape pod as pieces of the slave carrier fall apart around him.
After crash-landing in what used to be New York City, Monkey meets the ship's saboteur, a young tech-headed woman named Trip. Unfortunately for him, Trip has slapped a cybernetic slave's headband on Monkey, requiring him to follow her commands or suffer intense pain. As Trip explains, she needs a bodyguard to get her back home, and she can't traverse a city filled with dangerous robots without Monkey's help. Additionally, Trip warns Monkey that if she dies, the headband will also kill him, ensuring that no matter what, he's basically stuck with her.
While several video games have offered their own takes on escort missions and "odd couple" protagonists, Enslaved definitely does it better than most. As Monkey and Trip travel together, the dialogue between the two helps build an interesting and believable dynamic. Moreover, their relationship feels very natural and organic, which is greatly aided by the spectacular voice acting at work here. As the game progresses, character development remains at the forefront of the story, Monkey and Trip eventually realising that, like it or not, they need each other to overcome even the smallest of obstacles.
Protecting Trip is a refreshing challenge in itself due to some smart level design and solid environments. Monkey can climb anything with a foothold, beat down killer robots — or "Mechs" — and use his various weapons to do things that Trip can't. On the other hand, Trip is a technical genius, which means she can hack doors, scan areas for traps, and upgrade Monkey's equipment. Both of these characters' skill sets work in complete harmony, and you'll always be tasked with an interesting scenario that requires some degree of strategy. If Monkey's pinned down by Mech Turrets, Trip can use flashing lights to provide a distraction while he slips by. But Trip can't climb high walls or jump like Monkey can, often requiring you to find makeshift bridges or other means of safe passage.
In fact, Enslaved treats many of its levels like platforming puzzles, as most sequences require players to find the best route between Point A and Point B. While Monkey can't freely leap and swing from most anything in an environment like Assassin Creed's Altair — all the climbing sequences are context sensitive — the game does a good job at subtly nudging you along mostly linear paths. That being said, most of Enslaved's areas avoid repetition and predictability thanks to constantly changing goals and excellent pacing. Throw in a few collectibles here and there and you won't mind taking the occasional scenic route.
If anything, Enslaved has the good sense to introduce a new gameplay element just when things start to get a little tedious. In some areas, you'll have to snipe Mechs from a distance while Trip hacks a nearby door. In others, Monkey will have to race across a short distance in record time in order to save Trip from a looming threat. Most of the time you'll just have to charge headlong into a pile of Mechs and smash your way through the game's impressive rock-paper-scissors combat system. Make no mistake — Monkey is no Kratos, and without Trip backing him up, he's often incredibly vulnerable to certain enemies. Additionally, there are plenty of sequences where you can choose to avoid fights, but the game doesn't punish you for going "Rambo" every once in a while.
Not only does the gameplay hold up over the 20 hours of narrative, but Ninja Theory's amazing art design remains consistently impressive throughout. For a post-apocalyptic world, Enslaved shines with gorgeous landscapes, bright scenery, and colourful environments. It's a world where nature is slowly growing over the ruins of the modern age, and the levels all look incredibly vibrant as a result. Even though the graphics aren't close to perfect — the frame-rate noticeably chugs when too much action is going on at once, and environments are kind of static — the level of detail in the various locales is impressive nonetheless.
If anything, Enslaved's journey was over before I really wanted it to end. Regardless, the final conclusion was still pretty satisfying, even if the final boss battle didn't really live up to the rest of the game. Ninja Theory's take on the "Journey to the West" story is one that I'd gladly revisit, and novelist Alex Garland deserves a ton of credit for helping produce this adaptation. It's a really satisfying narrative that doesn't get bogged down in cliches or awkward plot twists, and thrives on a cast that's both interesting and memorable. Even if we never see Monkey, Trip, or Pigsy again (outside of some upcoming DLC), Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one tale that manages to stand high above several of its gaming, film, and literary counterparts.
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