Every year among the cluttered holiday season a few great games get brushed under the rug; they end up in bargain bins months later or not in stores all together. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was one of those games. It released for PS3 and Xbox 360 in October 2010 right in the middle of pandemonium. Fallout: New Vegas, Assassins Creed: Brotherhood, and Call of Duty: Black Ops all shipped in the same time frame, but does Enslaved deserve in seat in gamers' backlogs.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is an action-adventure game set 150 years in the future among a desolate, post-apocalyptic North America. The story revolves around two people: a strong, lonely nomad known simply as Monkey and a young, seemingly innocent girl called Trip on a mission to get back to her village. They meet under awkward circumstances, and the deceitful Trip enslaves Monkey with a lethal headband that she controls. She has the power to hurt him and even kill him if he disobeys her. On top of that, if Monkey tries to kill her, he dies since her life signs are linked to the headband. The story is thin and explored little, leaving the player to make assumptions about the story.
Monkey's range of gadgets and weaponry makes him a formidable character even when outnumbered.
In short, there have been massive wars, economic turmoils, and a conflict between machines and humans. Humanity is all but extinct with tiny communities scattered throughout North America. The automatons hunt and enslave the human remnants similar to the story in the Terminator films. Throughout the game, players come across collectibles that flashback to what the world looked like prior to the war. But the narrative centers more on the relationship between Trip and Monkey and how they help each other under the difficult circumstances. The story, although miniscule, contains a lot of potential for a proper prequel or sequel.
The gameplay in Enslaved is simple yet deep enough to keep avid gamers entertained. A mix of platforming, fighting, and puzzles makes for some pretty good gameplay during the 10-12 hour story. Monkey has the strength and ability to climb anything necessary with relative ease. Similar to Assassin’s Creed and its style of parkour, Monkey is a master climber and does it with finesse. Puzzle elements consist of lowering and raising specific pathways to get to a switch. The combat involves standard button mashing and combos with Monkey’s fists and futuristic staff. Some shooter-style elements with Monkey’s staff add to the variety, and the gratifying finishers performed on enemies are entertaining and very satisfying. It reminded me of the intense finishers from the God of War games.
Boss battles are surprisingly well done and executed. They are challenging, unique, and memorable, especially the final boss. There is a range of enemies to fight from turrets to shielded enemies to your standard grunt fodder. They all look pretty similar and hardly change as the story continues. Orbs represent Enslaved's brand of currency, ideal for upgrading Monkey's abilities. Orbs fall from destroyed enemies but also lie hidden throughout open and hidden areas. Upgrades range from increased health to new staff weapon combos to greater shield strength. It's unlikely you'll obtain all the available orbs and gear during your first playthrough, so multiple replays are encouraged.
Bosses are typically much bigger than Monkey, but not necessarily smarter.
Enslaved’s visuals are very distinct and eye-grabbing. The colorful mix of nature and the urban environments of New York is really something special. The vibrant colors of the the weeds and grass growing through deteriorated buildings and streets are a discernible treat. There is a lot of detail in the locales: mold growing on hundred year old walls, anti-mech graffiti, the light shining on Monkey. The beautiful blue sky contrasts the green, red, and grey urban areas. As you progress, the visuals become more diverse; a dark swamp, pond areas, and cool machinery filled enemy locations come into play. There are several hiccups. Some textures are a little blurry but do not pull players away from the experience.
The sound and music in the game are solid, but the voice acting is average. The script could have used additional work to create more personality for each character. The ominous and climactic orchestral music does its job of heightening combat-filled sequences and intense boss battles.
The visuals are amazing even with the occasional blurry textures.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a great, overlooked, and forgotten game. I went into this game the same way I did Infamous. With no expectations but a desire to play it, I got the same result: a worthwhile experience. Even with slight flaws like occasional camera problems and a very light story, it is still a great game. The unique characters, beautiful visuals, and fun combat make up for its faults. Here's hoping developer Ninja Theory make another game exploring the awesome world of Enslaved.
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Ninja Theory
Release Date: October 5, 2010
Number of Players: 1
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360