Alright, we’re back again with another of the big titles released this October. Released for the Xbox 360 and PS3, Ninja Theory and Namco Bandai’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West puts you in an adventure based off of the 400 year old Chinese novel “Journey to the West”, granted, I have no idea what that novel is, nor had I even heard of it until there was some hype around this title. Regardless, is this hack and slash puzzle platformer going to have what it takes to beat out Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, released the same day? Let’s find out… Here’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
Enslaved takes place 150 years into our future where the world has been destroyed by war and ecological disaster. Slavers now run the world and the remaining survivors struggle just to stay alive. The game opens with you, Jersey Shore cast reject Monkey, struggling to break out of a containment facility aboard a flying slaver ship over New York City when something goes wrong and the ship starts falling apart. A young woman in the cell across from you breaks out and b-lines to the escape pods. After chasing her down and busting out of the ship together, you find her name is Trip, and she places a mind controlling slaver headband on you. She is too fragile to return to her home 300 miles away on her own, so she decided that she’d just force you to help her on her journey home. The headband will produce a lethal injection into your skull if Trip’s heart stops, so you’ve pretty much got to do what she says and keep her alive. Of course things don’t go exactly according to plan and you’ll run into some plot twists along the way climaxing in a pretty crazy situation that you really need to experience for yourself.
The only characters in the game are Monkey, Trip and a fat-ass named Pigsy whom you’ll run into later in the game. All of the enemies are mindless mechs and that’s it. The connection between Monkey and Trip is totally amazing early in the game. I was immediately drawn into the story because of their interactions, but I feel everything really climaxed quite early in the story once you escape New York City. Everything from there is just kind of downhill. Once Pigsy shows up I kind of lost my attachment to the connection between Monkey and Trip, as you don’t really have to protect each other any longer and the sense of danger just ceases.
Unfortunately, Enslaved’s 14 levels only took me about 9 hours to complete on the normal difficulty and there really isn’t any incentive to go back and replay the game once you’ve completed it. It’s really too bad too because the first few chapters of the game were absolutely amazing and very well designed, but I just felt that the game gets pretty boring once you escape New York.
The controls are also sometimes pretty buggy as well. Monkey gets stuck in places where the game thinks you’re trying to hide when you aren’t, or when you are trying to hop on or off of Monkey’s hover board device called a cloud. It’s annoying to me that you can only hop on and off of the device in certain locations. How about letting me decide when I want on or off of the device, and if that location just so happens to be over a cliff, that’s my own damned fault.
Now, while the game is short and there are some buggy controls, the designers of this title need to be commended. Some of the design elements in the game are remarkably creative. Early in the adventure, Trip modifies a robotic dragonfly and wears it as a headpiece that can be used to fly around and scan for energy sources and reveal enemies ahead. This information is then transmitted right to Monkey’s slave headband, which integrates directly with his brain, cleverly displaying the game’s Heads Up Display. I thought this was really cool!
The game-play mechanics of this title revolve around repetitive combat and simple platforming. What makes the game great early on is that everything is dangerous. The mechs can nearly one-shot you, and both characters have to utilize decoy and distraction tactics to gather the attention of the enemies so the other can get to the next location. Monkey can throw Trip on his back and toss her around to locations she otherwise would not have been able to access, and Trip can heal Monkey’s wounds, cause distractions and upgrade his gear with Tech Orbs collected throughout the levels and by defeating enemies. Trip can upgrade Monkey’s health and shields, as well as unlock one or two more combat moves, and make his attacks more powerful. Really, the game is all about the relationship between Monkey and Trip and how they are forced to help each other the entire way. When Monkey gets upgraded just a few times, that becomes trivialized and you just lose what made the game special.
Monkey has a light and heavy attack, and has as a charged attack that can stun and eliminate the shields of the enemies. He can also unlock a powerful focused attack that one-shots enemies and he can use his staff to shoot plasma bursts that destroy the mechs or stun them. Some mechs can be torn apart so you can use their turrets against other enemies, but that’s really about it. There just isn’t much variety in the combat.
In addition, all of the platforming is very basic as there is never a risk of dying, and seldom will you have to time anything. There is just no risk really. But it is pretty funny to watch Monkey jump around. They don’t call him Monkey for nothing. Finally, all of the puzzles are extremely simple, and there really aren’t very many of them. Typically they involve Monkey flipping some switches and Trip operating electronics and machines remotely.
If there is one thing that should be very clear to you by now, it’s that Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is absolutely beautiful. The game utilizes the Unreal Engine 3, but it’s very unlike most other games that utilize the same technology. The environments, especially New York City, are very bright, colorful and simply stunning. But, like pretty much every other game that uses UE3, it suffers the same frame rate and texture popping issues, especially on scenes where you need to move quickly like when you’re chasing after a giant robot Rhino or riding in a boat in a lake of toxic water.
While the soundtrack is pretty shabby, the voice acting in the game is just great, as well as it should be considering there are only three characters. Some of the stuff that Pigsy spits out is pretty funny, but again, the real beauty of the title is between the chemistry of Trip and Monkey. Trip is sexy as hell and Monkey is just a big buff dumb animal with too much hair gel and even a freaking Jersey accent. How perfect!
All in all, I’d have to say I’m just disappointed with Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. While I have no clue what the novel the game was based on was about, I thought that the first few chapters of the game were just magical. The game just lost it’s charm after the first four chapters or so because you didn’t gain any new moves, the platforming got boring and there just was no real variety to the game. What made the beginning so great was that you felt alone and hopeless, just Monkey and Trip, on a mission against all odds to return home. When that becomes trivialized, the game just becomes meh. Having played Castlevania RIGHT before this, I feel like I just played a significantly better game, so I hope it didn’t cloud my judgment. I just think Enslaved could have been a LOT better. It had such great potential from the start! What are your thoughts? Leave your questions and comments below!
Developer: Ninja Theory, Ltd.
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date: October 5, 2010
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**This title was provided to me free of charge from the publisher to review for you.