The Video Game Industry, like any other entertainment medium, is filled with imitators. Any time something achieves massive critical or financial success, you can expect a swift influx of games that try to ride the wave of success through imitation. Now, sometimes this results in straight up “clones” of other games that are nothing more than second rate copies. We saw this last generation with all the bad Grand Theft Auto knock-offs and we’ve seen similar things with Gears of War and Call of Duty derivatives this generation. However, there are plenty of instances where developers use similar elements but have enough originality and polish to achieve something more than just a poor imitation, as seen with such games as Saint’s Row and Binary Domain, as well as the subject of this review: Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
The source of inspiration in this instance the Uncharted series, where Enslaved gets many of it’s gameplay and design concepts. Enslaved came out in 2010, about a year after Uncharted 2 took the industry by storm, and it wears that influence on its sleeve. The game features a lot of climbing and platforming, and it handles these elements almost exactly like Uncharted would. It’s the same type of very directed platforming, there isn’t much room for deviation here, and all the handholds have a little glow to them. In fact, in most cases your only option is to follow the predetermined path, with the game not even allowing you make a wrong jump. This takes most of the challenge out of the traversal but, like Uncharted, it’s not meant to be a challenging platformer. Just as in Uncharted, there are some instances where you have to move quickly as handholds crumble, but that’s about the extent of the challenge. The lack of challenge in the platforming isn’t a big detractor though, because it prevents needless frustration and just moving through the environment feels smooth and satisfying.
The other major element Enslaved borrows from Uncharted is the spectacle. The game has several lavish set piece moments that are very Uncharted-esque, and they’re done just about as well here as in Uncharted. However, this where the Uncharted similarities end. Uncharted is very much a summer blockbuster type game, taking cues from things like Indiana Jones. Enslaved takes a different approach to it’s story and it is by far the game’s strongest aspect. You’re not going to find any over the top mustache twirling villains or wise cracking Abercrombie and Fitch models in Enslaved.
The game is set in post apocalyptic America, and you play as Monkey, a man that has survived in the wasteland by himself his entire life. The game opens with Monkey on a slave ship, an airship operated by “Pyramid”, an organization that captures and enslaves people. Monkey witnesses a teenage girl named Trip escaping, and as she hacks her way through the ship to the escape pods, causing it crash in the process, Monkey follows. After they escape the crash she slips a slave collar on him, which forces him to obey her or he receives an electric shock. If she dies, he dies as well. She tells him that all she wants to do is get back to her community, which is several hundred miles away, and she would never survive without his help. He has no choice but to help her, and knowing this he puts forth little argument. The premise is pretty simple, but obviously things escalate from there.
Though Trip has control over Monkey, he is the one with the survival skills, so they are both forced to trust each other if either wants to survive. Throughout the course of the game, their relationship evolves, but it’s done in a such a way that feels natural, thanks to the fantastic writing as well the excellent voice and motion capture performances. It’s the not the type of cliché relationship you’d expect from an action movie or game, where the two main characters get together at the end because that’s just what happens. In Enslaved, these two characters have a very believable arc from the beginning, where they don’t even exchange names for a solid to hour, to the end where most their interaction is actually unspoken, but the fantastic facial and motion capture gets the point across in subtle ways. By the end of the game, you most definitely care about the characters and their plight.
The game is structured into 14 chapters and an epilogue, with each taking from 25-45 minutes to complete. When you’re not traversing the environment, you’re in combat against the various types of mechs that patrol the wasteland, left over from the war that devastated civilization. The combat, unlike Uncharted, is mostly melee based. Monkey has a staff as his primary weapon and he has a fairly standard melee move set. He’s got a light and heavy attack, block, evade and flourish attack that requires a combo to charge up, similar to the Arkham games. The combat is pretty basic, but the controls are good and hitting mechs feels satisfying. The staff also has the ability to fire energy bolts that both stun and kill mechs, but ammo is fairly limited outside of instances where the game wants you to shoot, but these instances are rare. The game also has an upgrade system with optional upgrades to health, shields, ammo capacity, and several melee abilities such as a counter, dodge attack, and simple damage upgrades.
In additional to the melee combat and traversal, there is some very limited (and entirely optional) stealth sections as well as light puzzle solving. Trip can also assist Monkey during gameplay in a couple of ways. During puzzle sections, you can give her commands such as pulling levers. In combat, you can command her to create a hologram to distract gun wielding mechs while you get close and she can heal you if you’ve collected any healing vials. If you’re worried that this game turns out to be one giant escort mission, you can rest easy. Though Trip is with you the entire game, the level design is very linear, so you don’t have to worry about her getting lost. During combat, she does a good job of staying back and out of harms way. There a few instances where enemies will try to charge her, but they weren’t too hard and she never once died in combat during my game.
On the presentation side of things, Enslaved is excellent. Visually, the game is beautiful. Even though it’s a post apocalyptic setting, which we’ve all seen before, the game manages to find it’s own style. On a purely technical level, the visuals hold up pretty well two years later, though there were a few instances of serious frame rate drops on the Xbox 360 version which I played. Sound wise, the voice acting is the real star here. There are only three real characters in the game, and they are all voiced really well. Monkey is played by Andy Serkis (Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy) in both voice and motion capture, and he is as good as you would expect.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is an above average action game with phenomenal characters and storytelling. If you’re a fan of games like Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed, you owe it to yourself to give Enslaved a shot. It doesn’t do anything new or unique from a gameplay standpoint, but the gameplay is solid and the story really puts the game over the top. Enslaved is one of the best games I’ve played in terms of telling a story with subtly and nuanced characters. Enslaved has been out for two years, and if you haven’t played it yet, I urge to go out and pick it up. I got it for about $10 at Game Stop, and you can find similar and some better deals at Amazon, Ebay and other online retailers, go buy it!
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- Compelling Story
- Well Developed Characters
- Terrific Voice Acting
- Solid Gameplay
- Occasional Frame Rate Hiccups
- Platforming Lacks Challenge