I feel very sad now. You know why? Because I have just finished playing Ninja Theory’s new game, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and… well… it was really really good. I am sad because I realized that I merely rented it and will have to return it tomorrow. While the length of the story is a decent 10 hours for an adventure game and can easily be completed and satisfied in a rental timeframe, I’m sad because I want to play it again as soon as it’s over, but alas. I’m just going to come out and say it: you should all DEFINITELY give this game a try. While it may have several technical flaws that can be typical of new IPs, there are so many reasons to love it. Watch as I do my best to sum them all up.
The most griping detail about Enslaved is undoubtedly the story telling. Monkey (played by the unlimited brilliance that is Andy Serkis) is strong, independent, and highly antisocial. Trip, however, is… well pretty much everything that’s the opposite of Monkey. Both characters manage to escape a slave ship by their own specialized means. Trip knows she can’t trek the 300 miles to her home base by her self, so she wires a slave headband to Monkey’s head that will fry his brains if Trip dies, giving him no choice but to assist Trip in her journey back home.
Unlike other games where you fumble through the buttons every time a cutscene comes up to skip to the action, it is the subtle but touching development of this very odd paring as they cross a perilous futuristic wasteland littered with deadly war-induced mechs that truly engages the player’s desire to move forward. The plot only gets even more crazy when a third character, Pigsy, shows up half way through and becomes a whole new factor in their progress, for better or worse. This is very easily the best written, acted, directed, and motion captured cut scenes in a game since Uncharted 2 Among Thieves, and when your game is being compared to another game that won no short of 25 Game of the Year awards in 2009, that is definitely saying something.
My second greatest love is the setting. Is it just me, or does every game set in a post apocalypse, or just plain warzone these days, feel comprised of the same old grimy dingy grey wastelands littered with the same metal scrap heaps we’ve seen over and over again?
Ninja Theory has crafted quite possibly the most beautiful post apocalyptic future I’ve ever seen. While there are all sorts of reminiscence of old society and the America as we know it, foliage is growing everywhere as if nature is striving to retake the planet. It’s quite astounding.
You might think that given the story, the gameplay would revolve deeply on -GASP- escort missions. I’ll say right now the whole game is basically just one huge escort mission [story wise], but the way the gameplay is handled, it rarely feels that way. Yes, there will be regular “making-sure-Trip-doesn’t-get-killed” actions you must take, but in reality, Trip helps your progress far more than she hinders it, acting as your weapon and skill upgrader, and seeking out weaknesses and strategies for taking down mechs. The end result is gameplay that feels like a mixture of the platforming from Uncharted, the Combat from Heavenly Sword (except replace the sword with a staff that can also shoot plasma blasts), and the variety from Jak and Daxter. Seriously not kidding about the Jak and Daxter part. Play the game and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
So, the game’s fun, the characters are fun, the setting’s fun, and even some of your mechanical baddies are pretty clever and fun, but just like I said in my Prince of Persia article a while back, nothing is ever perfect. There are a couple technical flaws in the way this game is put together. On one hand, I am very glad that Ninja Theory didn’t feel discouraged by making this game strictly linear, but then again, the setting was so gorgeous and I felt the game restricted exploration maybe too much, especially when there are collectables throughout the game. You’ll actually find yourself moving on and missing quite a bit. In addition, because of it’s linearity, there will often be times when you find yourself rolling around invisible walls trying to find where the next grab-able ledge is located. The jump controls are also case sensitive, as Monkey only jumps when he can actually reach. This means that difficulty is very non-existent, as platforming isn’t so much a challenge as it is a means to an end. (At least you don’t have to worry about falling off any cliffs.)
Add a wonky camera here and there and one small instance where the game lagged on me and it becomes relevant that this game could have used a little more polishing before it finished development.
In the end, the positives vastly outweigh the negatives. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a fantastic adventure from start to finish, not to mention a brilliant retelling of the old Chinese novel, Journey to the West. I anticipate this one might take a while to catch on with the gaming public, but in the foreseeable future it will be seen as a hidden jewel that flew under the radar. Flawed as it may be, it is, I believe, another perfect example that video games can indeed be a work of art. Check it out on Xbox 360 or PS3 today.
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