STAFF REVIEW of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Xbox 360)

Monday, November 1, 2010.
by Adam Dileva

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West   Box art I somehow didnt really know much about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West before it came out and it wasnt even really on my radar until I saw it in stores either. Luckily, it was assigned for me to review and the more I read up on it the more I became intrigued about its lore.

Boy was I pleasantly surprised. Enslaved is developed by Ninja Theory whose last title was Heavenly Sword so I was unsure whether to expect something like their previous game or not. The team has seemed to grow since their last game and as an overall package, they easily outdid themselves.

Enslaved (for short) is actually based loosely on a classic 400 year old Chinese novel named Journey to the West. Obviously this is their take on the novel and is actually set in a post-apocalyptic world 150 years in the future. To set things straight, get your normal vision for a war ravaged world out of your head; this world looks nothing like Fallouts setting. Quite the opposite actually, since only a handful of survivors remain, the world has actually become almost serine with vegetation taking over the urban areas with lush greens almost covering all surfaces and buildings. Ironically, its robots that are left alongside the humans and they are hunting down mankind.

So what makes this classic tale so unique and interesting? For starters, its actually co-written by Alex Garland (The Beach, and 28 Days Later), so theres some real talent on board to create a tale with interesting characters and emotion. If that wasnt enough, the main character; Monkey, is voiced by Andy Serkis (best known for playing Gollum from Lord of the Rings) and does an absolute perfect performance. He also co-directed the dramatic cutscenes and the camera work is so well done that it looks on par with something straight from Hollywood.

The protagonist aptly named Monkey for his skills of combat and agility is on a mech slaver ship alongside another slave thats somehow escaped. As you break your way out of your holding pod, you see a woman running away trying to get to an escape pod before the ship goes down. Merciless mechs block your way off the ship and you eventually catch up with the mysterious woman as she blasts off from the ship in her pod; with you clinging to the outside with all your strength.

As you awake from your very hard crash landing, Monkey is about to destroy this woman but she shouts a verbal command that makes Monkey writhe in pain. While you were unconscious, she placed a hacked slave headband on you and now you under basically under her control. Oh, and shes also rigged it so that if she dies, so do you. She does this as she realizes shes going to need help to get back home and youre the brute strength shell need to survive; meet Trip, your new life-link and journey partner.

I dont want to give anything else more away as thats how the story begins, but there are twists and turns you dont see coming (and others you do) thats amazing told in an emotional narrative that will actually make you care about Monkey and Trip long after you finish the game. I know Ill care about the duo for some time to come.

So theres two main core mechanics in Enslaved; combat and platforming. Platforming is very simple and easy to do; pillars and ledges have a slight glow to them so you know what you can and cant traverse with a quick glimpse. Monkey is incredibly agile and would easily be on part with the Prince of Persia or either hero from Assassins Creed; thats how easily he can climb and maneuver. Whats great about this portion is that you cant accidently hold the wrong direction, jump, and then die because you fell too far. You can only jump to places you can reach; no more running off the edges in frustration. While some may find this a little restrictive in the exploration aspect, it streamlines the experience and keeps the narrative going as you get from point A to point B in a quick and timely fashion, all while looking good while doing it may I add.

Combat is the other half of the game; and youll be doing it more often than naught against slews of enemy mechs after you. Your staff is a powerful weapon that you can attack with, shoot plasma bolts from, and even use as a shield. Combat is deep, especially once you start using all your collected orbs to purchase upgrades of your choice (from shield skills, to combat, staff, or health), but once you find a good combo or a few great moves you get comfortable with, you wont deviate much from what works (Counter is a great example of this for me. I didnt use it much because it wasnt needed, but I know others will rely on this heavily).

Enslaved is a completely single player experience, but its masked in such a greatly crafted way with Trip being on your side, that it almost feels like its co-op at times. So what can Trip do to help you out? She can use her mechanized dragonfly camera to scout ahead, spot enemies and their weaknesses, and then relay that into the HUD of your headband. Theres also a whole mechanic built on distraction. Sometimes Monkey needs to get from one area to the next, but there are too many enemies or turrets in the way that make it impossible. This is where Trip can use a hologram to distract enemy fire for a short time as you make your way to cover or sneak up behind them. The same goes both ways, as Monkey can shout and distract enemies that may be going for Trip; remember though, if she dies, so do you.

Normally when there are escort missions, I simply dread them because the AI usually gets in the way or actually makes it more of a hindrance than anything else. While Trip may not be able to fight the mechs, if she gets too close to enemies, she can use a temporary stun on the mechs with a short amount fo time for you to come save her. Surprisingly, she was able to take care of herself outside of the few scripted moments.

Monkey later on can make use of his hoverboard-like orb aptly named his Cloud. You can speed across water and make further jumps with your Cloud activated; there are even a few sections that require you to get around on your Cloud to reach certain areas for Trip to progress as well. There are a few other sections where youll use your Cloud as well, but Ill save those awesome surprises for you to discover.

While everything has been positive so far, there were a few glitches and bugs I ran across that needed mentioning to be fair. While the vast majority of camera work is perfect and very cinematic, there are times where the camera will simply make you frustrated by looking in the wrong direction or not show you the robots beating you down at some given moment.

There were also two instances where my objectives wouldnt load, so I spent about fifteen minutes in an area trying to figure out why the enemies Trip just told me were there werent. After a quick reload everything was fine, but boy was I confused when I thought I somehow just ran across the first invisible enemies. The second was a boss fight that I had to restart due to dying, but the problem was the boss instantly killed Trip even though I still had time left before it got to her. Weird issues, but nothing deal breaking that a quick checkpoint reload didnt fix. Honestly, all of the positives completely outweigh the few negatives.

Enslaved is the epitome of emotional storytelling; youll care about the characters, their relationships, the overall goal, and even the world it takes place in. Everything feels completely unique and original and I would honestly love to see a movie adaption someday.

Pacing is wonderful and theres enough variety that it doesnt get stale for a minute. I had a hard time putting the game down due to its gripping story and constantly wanting to know what happens next to Monkey and Trip. I implore you to give enslaved a try; theres even a demo available to give you a taste of the experience. Everything other than a few small bugs make this game an absolute treat and this is easily in my top 5 for the whole year. I absolutely loved every aspect about this game from some of the best facial animations Ive ever seen in a game to the wonderful and gorgeous world (for being post- apocalyptic), to some of the best voice acting Ive ever heard.

I honestly cant say enough great things about Enslaved; its fun, its interesting, and I loved everything about it. Im already looking forward to the forthcoming DLC to bring me back into the world, even if itll only be for a short time, at least thats a few more hours Ill get to enjoy and to hopefully tide me over until a sequel is announced (please!).

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10



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