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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Review

Posted by Peter Nickless On Monday 22 November 2010Comments Off

Enslaved adapts the Chinese fable ‘Journey to the West’, updating the storyline you probably know from the camp ‘Monkey’ TV series into a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic variation of the Pet Shop Boy’s song, ‘Go West!’

The game opens with you (Monkey) being transported on a slave ship, a supposedly air-worthy vessel that just happens to be in the process of crash landing. Amidst the chaos, you notice the form of a strange girl (Tripitaka) as she makes her way to the last of the escape pods. You manage to join her at the last minute as she jettisons the pod, with you on the outside! You then black out before awakening to discover that Trip has placed a slave band around your head. She orders you to protect her as she searches for her farther. Any rebelliousness is quickly met by a surge of pain and if she dies, so do you. Thereafter, your paths are linked.

Left over war mechs have become an enemy of man. They litter the landscape and will kill anything that gets too close. You must work together to find your way safely through minefields and obstacles in order to reach the next section. You may have to carry, or throw Trip to safer ground. You can also direct her to deliver an EMP blast or create a distraction to aid your progress. She is tech-savvy and can rewire locked doors and update your health and weapons (with the very gamey collection of tech-orbs that just happen to be everywhere).  In a great cinematic Trip manages to re-wire a mech dragonfly to use as a flying spy camera. This allows you to see enemy positions and map layouts as you progress through the game.

I’m no fan of platformers as I regularly struggle to judge jumping distances and find the often erratic camera angles to be a pain. In this case, however, I need not have worried. The game will ensure that you don’t miss a jump… ever.  Monkey is a highly agile character and I took great delight in swinging and leaping my way though the highlighted handholds and I couldn’t go wrong! The difficulty came more from not pausing as some platforms fall apart and occasional sequences need you to think fast before you lose your way. This means that camera issues are limited and frustration negligible, although it does lower the challenge considerably for this type of gameplay. It ain’t hard, but it sure is fun!

Combat is equally relaxed. A couple of buttons are all you need, plus dodge and block, in order to tackle the small variety of mechanical monsters in your path. You can shoot your staff to slay enemies from a distance, or overload their shields as well as tackle multiple opponents using your brawling fighting style. The mechs vary a little in terms of weaponry or the ability to block or dodge attacks. Occasionally you’ll come across a bigger, tougher robot that you cannot tackle directly. You’ll need to use the environment to destroy it with some simple finishing moves.

Where Enslaved really shines is with its storytelling. The plot may be straightforward but the evolving relationship between master and slave is fascinating to watch. Initial anger and frustration give way to reluctant cooperation and, eventually, the realisation that you need each other. Trip may have enslaved you, but that’s not to say she is always in charge. The voice acting is good, but it’s the wonderfully expressive faces and eyes that really bring the characters to life. I feel like I know this cast just as well as I do that of Mass Effect 2.

Enslaved features lush environments and lots and lots of colour, proving that post apocalyptic games need not be full of dull browns (Borderlands) or endless grey metal corridors (every FPS). The fall of humanity has lead to plant and animal life reclaiming the cities, and the results are stunning.

The realistic motion capture by Andy Serkis lets you see Monkey grunt and strain as he makes his way over the terrain using the precarious handholds.  Some sequences even have you zipping around on your ‘cloud’, which is really just a mini hover device. This change in speed and game-play adds more variety to your abilities and makes a nice contrast to the platforming elements.

I was thrilled by the ending to this game. I really felt that our journey had come to an appropriate end (no sequels necessary) and that my actions throughout the game actually mattered. How often can you say that? Enslaved doesn’t take an age to finish, nor does it necessarily present much of a challenge. It is the story that rules here and it doesn’t disappoint.

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