|PS3 / XBOX 360||USA|
By Spencer . October 4, 2010 . 11:15pm
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West starts with a bang. While escaping from a slave ship, Trip also frees Monkey, the character you control in Enslaved. Loosely inspired by the ancient Journey to the West legend, Monkey is strong, agile, and attacks with a staff. He chases Trip through the ship as it crumbles in the air. You have to jump outside, on the ship’s wings, to progress through the intro level while punching through mechs. Combat is spiced up with slow motion finishers so players can see Monkey tear robots apart.
Then, after all of the explosions, Enslaved calms down. Monkey and Trip land in an arborous, vivacious, post-apocalyptic New York. The concrete jungle of the East has been replaced with a real jungle without animals. Plant life, mechs, and ruins of iconic buildings are all that remain. The mechs are a problem for Trip who wants to return home, but fears that without Monkey’s brawn she won’t survive the journey. Being a technowiz, Trip hotwired a slave crown to Monkey’s head linking her life to his. If she dies, Monkey dies too. Ninja Theory also used this scene to explain why players see a HUD, that’s Trip’s handy hacking work. The writers made an effort to iron out details like that in the story.
Given no alternative, Monkey agrees to escort Trip through New York. Destroying killer robots is no problem for him. Mixing up light and heavy attacks are enough to turn basic enemies into scrap. Starting with a light attack makes Monkey open with a lunging punch, which quickly closes distance between Monkey and his metallic opponent. If you’re surrounded, a wide sweeping staff swipe can throw enemies off Monkey long enough to get back into a combo rhythm. When Monkey has some distance he can charge up for a stun attack and fire plasma bolts from his staff. This probably sounds like your basic 3D action game. That’s because Enslaved’s combat system is basic. Basic, but exciting. Robots break apart with each smack of the staff and camera tricks zoom in on the damage. These design decisions make each enemy encounter, no mater how small, viscerally satisfying.
I’d say Monkey’s most useful ability is his bullet absorbing shield. While Trip can defend herself from robots with an EMP pulse, turret mechs often stand between them and the chapter exit. A hologram created by Trip can distract enemies for a few seconds, but Monkey, protected by a blue glowing shield, still has to dash through gunfire to defeat the mech and/or create a path for Trip. In some of these scenes, Monkey takes control of a mechs gun and Enslaved temporarily becomes a third-person sniper shooter where you shoot running robots before they reach Trip. Trip is far from a damsel in distress, though. She can keep up with Monkey as he leaps through levels. There are some gaps that Trip can’t cross and Monkey has to throw her across. Twitchy controls make these scenes more challenging than they ought to be. After tossing Trip you have to jump to the other platform and grab her before she plummets. Sounds simple enough and it is… unless Monkey faces the wrong direction after the animation. In those cases, I had to quickly orientate Monkey to make the jump because you can’t freely jump. Enslaved protects players from falling off edges and you automatically make any jump you attempt. So, jumping isn’t the problem, it’s fiddling with Monkey’s position to get there in time.
The escorting portion of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is platforming-lite. There are plenty of places, often highlighted for convenience, for Monkey to jump and climb, but you never have tense moments where you think for a second Monkey may miss a ledge, even if he appears to stumble. Perhaps, we can call these scenes quick-time-jumping or puzzle-platforming. Trip also scans every area with a robot dragonfly Monkey retrieves very early in the game. This identifies deadly mines, the sight radius for each robot, and even highlights the goal. Since Monkey has a path marked on screen, the only reason to explore levels is to search for red orbs which Trip can use to boost Monkey’s abilities. Paths to sneak past enemies are spoiled too. All players have to look for are blinking objects for Monkey to grab.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West’s levels feel like they’re a track you run on to get to the next cutscene. Maybe Ninja Theory wanted that since the story and conversations between the two characters fuels the game. Alex Garland and the writing team did a fantastic job with dialogue, all of which is well acted in Enslaved. Monkey and Trip are reluctant partners. The slave crown connects them, but Trip doesn’t boss Monkey around too much. Garland left just enough room for trust to build between the duo. Trip and Monkey converse often too, usually in bursts within levels rather than a twenty minute interlude after beating a boss. All of the banter between Trip and Monkey allow their relationship to grow at a natural pace.
While character growth drives the odyssey forward, it’s the ending that makes Enslaved: Odyssey to the West memorable.