7th October 2010 - Let me start this review by stating that I’ve never been a fan of Ninja Theory, the talented dev’s behind Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. I didn’t like Kung Fu Chaos, and I certainly didn’t like Heavenly Sword. So to say the least, I was reluctant to try out this, their latest effort. But now I’ve played it through and through, I can honestly say I'm glad I braved it. Read on to find out why…
Enslaved tells the story of a man known only as - and somewhat appropriately - Monkey, a slave-to-be who escapes capture with a charming young girl going by the name Trip. Where’s the catch? Trip has equipped Monkey with a slave headband that will kill him outright if she dies for whatever reason. So ensures a great adventure where our hero of the tale, Monkey, must fight to protect and obey Trip as she too evades the treacherous Pyramid mechs and slavers in order to find here way back home… 300 Miles to the west, mind you. As the story progresses, so does the characters relationships with one another and the world surrounding them.
Most of the gameplay in Enslaved is based around melee combat with Monkey own staff, a deadly weapon also capable of firing stun and plasma blast shots at enemies. With a simple two button control scheme for melee combat, the game makes use of the standard button combinations to make combat feel a little more fluent and open. Its actually this deep simplicity which makes playing the combat in Enslaved so enjoyable. That, and the awesome camera angles and screen effects that happen during your against-the-odds violence and large-scale fights.
The game is all about these fun fighting mechanics, but as has become accustomed in games like this, Enslaved mixes the action with platforming and puzzles. While Monkey is very capable to ascending buildings and the like, Trip isn’t, thus a lot of the games wider puzzles involve carting her around on your back and throwing her up and around difficult to reach places. These aren’t particularly puzzling, but they are fun. The platforming too, is pure enjoyment. With a lot of the handholds and pipes that you can grab onto highlighted for you, it’s very easy, and comparing it to similar games like Uncharted and Assassins Creed, you essentially have no choice over the matter of direction. But as with the camera angles and effects that make the fighting seems even better, the great set pieces and dramatic environments on display here make even the most linear climbing experience feel bigger than it is. Im not complaining though, as I feel linearity has been severely overlooked in the game industry as it adds far more dramatic appeal and possibility than complete freedom does. And this is a great example of how much fun a game can be while it controls most of what you do rather than giving you complete choice over where you go.
That’s not to say you don’t have any choice though. Some of the environments in Enslaved are rather large, and while exploring isn’t essential, its great if you want to earn some more Tech Points to upgrade your character with or simply find some of the well hidden secret masks Ninja Theory have hidden in the mechanical wasteland.
Utilising the Unreal Engine seems almost clichéd these days. More games than I can point a finger at use its power, and while it may be just that; powerful, it simply has come to under whelm me in terms of raw graphical power. Enslaved does look good, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not because of the graphics. No, the graphics of the game are actually very blocky and somewhat, for lack of a better word; bad. Where it looks good though, is in the unique feature of being so damn colourful! Im a modern day gamer, im used to seeing thousands of shades of grey, black, brown and more grey. But Enslaved could very well not have any of that. The entire game is chocker-block full of bright colours on every surface, and that’s really not a bad thing. It doesn’t make it feel any more ‘casual’ or ‘kiddy’, no, it actually just makes a lot of the game, from the fighting to the exploring all the more enjoyable. Add this colour palette to the detail in the actual surroundings and you have yourself a recipe well worth writing down.
Another notable here is the great direction of the story and game. The cut-scenes deliver stunning amounts of drama and suspense, courteously of big name Hollywood actor Andy Serkis (known for his role as Gollum/Smeagol in the Lord of the Rings) films as co-director, and also voice of main man Monkey. This goes hand-in-hand with the games bigger, more epic set pieces and environments.
As with the Graphical department, Ninja Theory have gone all out and employed the talent of Alex Garland as co-writer of the game. Garland, famous for his screenplays 28 Days Later and Sunshine among others, applies his talents well here. The voice actors, including the aforementioned Andy Serkis, really play out their characters well for the duration of the game.
Furthermore, Enslaved features a great set of mood-setting ambient sounds and music, furthering all the drama played out by the actors. All the top-tier talent comes together very well with direction and writing, resulting in one of the most well-written and acted video game stories of our time.
There is much to love in Odyssey to the West. And while it may be easy to find fault in the game, its best to look past the little things and simply enjoy the experience it offers. Its great to see more game companies hiring from the A-List for all manners of departments - sound, art, acting, the lot - and Ninja Theory have done well to deliver a great Hollywood-worthy story that borders on genius. It’s a game that’s full of lore and ripe for a series’ seed to planted with a decent fan-base. If Kane and Lynch can do well enough to warrant a sequel, then so can this. Its 8-10 hour adventure is surely one I wont soon forget and is a high-flying flag for quality of quantity.
Enslaved doesn’t push any boundaries with what it delivers; it doesn’t try to be better than the rest; it doesn’t push the technology of modern consoles to the limit. But what it does do, is take a page from everything gaming used to be about. From what millions of people the world over started playing games for. It isn’t about competition, it isn’t about jaw-dropping gameplay mechanics or graphical power, or excess amounts of interactivity; its about pure enjoyment. The enjoyment of the game, the enjoyment of the story, and enjoyment of escaping the real world and all its worries and simply losing yourself in an imaginary world, and one like none other. And its great. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a pure gem of a game.
AAG SCORE: 9/10
+ Easy and fun gameplay
+ Wonderful characters
+ Great storytelling and script
+ Uniquely colourful
- Could have been longer
- Graphically underwhelming
Reviewed and Written By John Elliott