Friday, 15 October 2010

Game Review - Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Formats: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Whether you realise it or not, I'm sure most of you are familiar with some version of the ancient Chinese epic, Journey to the West. The adventures of Tripitaka and Monkey have inspired many works of contemporary culture, including Monkey the TV show, Damon Albarn's 'circus musical', and even the Dragonball series. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West represents Ninja Theory's take on the popular tale, but can the makers of Heavenly Sword create a worthy adaptation of the legend?

Enslaved follows the adventures of Monkey, a surly and weirdly proportioned brute (seriously, what is up with those back muscles?) and Trip, a tech-savvy rebel who enlists the services of the monkey-monikered man. Having escaped the clutches of the mysterious 'Slavers' at the outset of the game, Trip and Monkey make the perilous journey home and beyond using a mix of platforming, combat and teamwork, across a beautifully designed post-apocalyptic landscape.
The lush overgrown cityscapes of Enslaved make a refreshing change from the grey and brown environments of most futuristic video-game settings, and navigating through them is a joy thanks to thoughtful level design and event scripting.

The principle characters are definitely the game's highlight, and I found the interactions between Trip, Monkey and Pigsy to be genuine, funny and endearing. The character models are well detailed and intricately animated, with Monkey moving with fluid grace from handhold to handhold as he clambers across the environment, displaying various animations for the same action. Trip and Monkey are brilliantly voiced (Monkey being voiced by Mr. Gollum himself, Andy Serkis) and display a surprising amount of emotion both throughout cut scenes and during gameplay- check out the slow-motion combat finishers to see the astounding facial detail on Monkey as he fights!
Unfortunately the robotic enemy design in contrast is fairly uninspired, with only a handful of enemy types, and the later levels degenerate into generic 'robot factory' environments.

As well as having simple mechanical antagonists, Enslaved also features simple gameplay mechanics. Combat is distilled to a single combo, spiced with charge, evade and counter attacks. Thanks to the kinetic visuals and sound design, the fighting sequences can be quite thrilling, but this is no 'Bayonetta' Platforming similarly is condensed down to single button sequences, and Monkey is restricted to jumping at pre-ordained points. Spectacular 'Uncharted'-style platforming segments are let down by the fact that you can never misplace a jump, and that hammering the jump button will get you through most situations safely. The teamwork elements of the game are also fairly simplistic, reduced to brief moments where you instruct your partner to activate a switch or provide a decoy.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West however, is a game that becomes much more than the sum of its parts. Though comprising of simple combat, easy platforming and almost no story whatsoever, Ninja Theory manage to craft an experience full of wonder and excitement, populated by characters that I actually came to care about. While it may not keep you playing for month after month, Enslaved is definitely a game I would play through again in the future. If not only to see Andy Serkis' squishy hobbit face again.

Lukao gives Enslaved: Odyssey to the West 8 conveniently-placed handholds out of 10

Lukao, CeX UK Contributor
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