Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Review
publisher: Bandai Namco
developer: Ninja Theory
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Oct 05, 10
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Ninja Theory, best known for their PS3-only title Heavenly Sword, which although being a short game was hailed as a pretty decent action adventure. Their latest work, Enslaved, is partially based on old Chinese novel entitled "Journey to the West."
The storyline takes us to desolate, war-torn Earth, 150 years from now. The world as we know it has changed and has been completely ravaged. Any survivors left in the wilderness are often rounded up and brought in as slaves or are simply wiped out by powerful robots called Mechs. There's not a lot explained as to how it all began and when the Mechs managed to take over, but it's clear that they are from a bygone era. Nonetheless, their goal remains to annihilate all that's left of mankind. We follow a character named Monkey, a simple, yet quite intriguing and adept individual, who spent most of his life surviving in the wilds, fighting off Mechs and avoiding capture. One day, the Mechs grabbed Monkey and put him on a huge airship used to transport prisoners. The ship crash-lands, while Monkey and a technologically skilled young girl named Trip manage to escape. During the crash-landing Monkey got knocked unconscious, but as soon as he awakened he discovered that Trip placed a headband on him. Using the headband Trip can inflict pain on Monkey should he decide to leave her. Monkey is in a tight situation now. Not only must he continue to survive in the ruthless wasteland, but he must also make sure nothing happens to Trip - because if she dies, he dies.
Someone's watching me...
Confusing interface. Apple didn't work on this obviously.
The rather 'explosive' introduction sequence of Enslaved sees Monkey trying to escape the crumbling slave ship. The gameplay is a combination of standard 3rd person action and platformish challenges and the first part of the game lets you get into the mechanics (which shouldn't take to long). Most of the platforms Monkey can jump on are highlighted and very easy to spot, so you should have little problems getting used to all the jumping, shimmying and grabbing of ledges. Essentially, Enslaved doesn't make any fundamental changes in the genre of 3rd person action adventures, although it does offer some neat challenges when the player has to combine the character's fighting skills against some pretty tough enemies. The occasional puzzles aren't very demanding really, so each section won't take too long to complete.
This game has a variety of well-crafted levels. The ideas the devs had for some of areas make for a welcomed change of pace, because you'll mostly be ramming your way through endless hordes of baddies. In other words, it's a nice break from robot-smashing and you get to hop around looking for ways to avoid dangers on the road ahead. Trip cannot be directly controlled, albeit relying on her support is a must in most situations. You can instruct her to distract guard droids and sentry turrets and while they fire relentlessly at Trip's decoy, you can use the time to swing your way across ledges and platforms to a safer spot, until you reach your objective (which is usually a spot where you gain leverage over your foes).
Enslaved moves at decent a pace and has very subtle way of luring you into watching every cut-scene so you can get to know the characters a little bit more. The narrative never feels forced or dull, thanks to the well-timed cinematics and amusing dialogue.
So, what's the greatest flaw in this game? Well, I would think that part is pretty obvious. This is a game with two key characters whose destinies are intertwined. They depend greatly on one another, so making this into a co-op experience could have brought a genuinely exciting experience. Instead, it's more or less standard stuff. The single-player campaign isn't particularly long, but it's not too short either, so I guess that's something. Mind you, I can't help wondering how fun this game could've been if I actually had a chance to play with a friend all the way. The developers explained a while back that they just couldn't incorporate co-op into the course of the main story. The story presentation came first and having two controllable characters would get in the way of what they wanted to express. Now, I for one, can respect that decision. But sometimes great things can be achieved if you spent a little more time creating a well-written narrative and merging it with engaging gameplay mechanics that can be experienced in co-op. It boils down to the fact that co-op feels like an omission in this game.
8.1 Very Good
It's a beautiful, fun and engaging adventure with a lot of action and a few puzzles neatly tucked in, great atmosphere, solid voice acting;
Combat gets a bit repetitive, enemies and battles in general need more variety, we really missed co-op in this one.