Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – The PS3 Attitude Review
A few years removed from developing the cult classic, Heavenly Sword, Ninja Theory has returned with Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. On the outside, this is a game that has shown tremendous amounts of promise and had audiences buzzing with pre-launch hype. The question is, will Ninja Theory be able to have the same measure of success now that they’ve ditched Sony as a publisher and started using a universal engine? Read on to find out.
Enslaved is a third-person action/adventure game with a healthy dose of platforming thrown in. Based in the future, human beings have all but vanished from the Earth. The majority of them have been killed and many of those that have survived, spend their days dodging a group known only as ‘slavers’ and left-over mechs from the final war on Earth.
Enslaved puts you in the shoes of a rough and tumble lad named, Monkey. Without any indication of how he got there, Monkey wakes up trapped in a slave ship. In the realm of Enslaved, folks are captured by the slavers and shipped off to parts unknown for equally unknown reasons.
The slavers control those they capture by fitting them with headbands. These headbands have the capability to cause a dire amount of pain to their host, or even death, if they do not act accordingly.
Lucky for Monkey, something goes wrong with this particular ship that allows him to escape the cell he was being held in. Upon trying to get off the damaged ship, Monkey continually runs across a young woman known as, Trip, who seems to want nothing to do with him.
Upon finally absconding via the last escape pod, Monkey crash lands in the middle of New York City. When he comes to, low and behold, Trip is sitting nearby waiting for him to wake up. Shortly thereafter, Trip informs Monkey that he’s been fitted with a hacked slave headband.
You see, Trip is trying to escape to the west (imagine that), and quickly realized she wouldn’t make it on her own. She swears to Monkey that if he does not help her and obey her commands, she will incapacitate him. What’s worse is the headband is also programmed to kill Monkey if Trip’s heart should stop beating. So for the remainder of the journey, you play the role of both an escort and a body guard.
One of the greatest things about Enslaved, and perhaps the first thing you’ll notice, is the beauty of the world you traverse. Ninja Theory came up with this idea that just because a world is considered post-apocalyptic, doesn’t mean it should look 89 shades of gray.
Instead, the world itself has lived on past humans. Without humanity there to kill everything, there are a lot of vibrant plants and vines that have taken over just about every structure that was once occupied by the human race.
The Unreal Engine has been used about a bazillion times this console generation, but Enslaved ranks near the very top of the best looking games we’ve seen utilizing this piece of software. It does bring some of the more bothersome qualities of the engine with it, like slow loading textures and screen-tearing, but overall the game looks phenomenal.
Unfortunately for Monkey and Trip, they’re not the only ones wandering around in this gorgeous setting. Mechs that have been left behind from the last major war are still active. They’re usually sitting in a dormant state when you first see them, but if they sense motion or noise in the immediate vicinity, they’ll quickly awaken and attack.
Monkey’s primary weapon to deal with these foes is a large staff, and he wields it with the greatest of ease. At its core, Enslaved’s combat is nothing more than a glorified button masher, but there are a few combos and additional abilities that can help keep the action varied.
When you’re not bashing mechs in the face, you’ll probably find yourself platforming up the side of a building. The platforming isn’t anything magnificent but it does provide a much needed break from the traditional combat. It’s very similar to Uncharted, in that the platforming is very basic, yet satisfying.
On many occasions, you’ll use the platforming to solve puzzles. Like the platforming itself, the puzzles are nothing to write home about. They do provide entertainment and help vary up the gameplay, but none of them require very much thinking.
Throughout all of the fighting and jumping around, you’ve got Trip at your side to think about as well. When we heard that this game involved a lot of escorting and protecting, we couldn’t help but groan a little, as those are traditionally sore spots for most games. Enslaved breaks the mold, however. Trip never really gets in your way or requires too much of your attention. Actually, you’ll find yourself using her to help you distract opponents and solve puzzles. Ninja Theory took a very hands-off approach when it came to this side of the game, and it turned out to be a great move.
Another small of piece of the gameplay pie to make note of, is the upgrade system. Your staff, shield, health and combat abilities are all upgradable via small energy orbs you find throughout the game. It’s nothing major but it does provide just a tiny bit more depth to the game as a whole.
In addition, there are also a few small portions of the game that have you riding around on what Monkey calls his ‘cloud’ – though it actually looks more like a hoverboard. These portions are fairly short and aren’t particularly enthralling, but they do provide another small amount of variety and were fun in short bursts.
The high point of Enslaved for us was without a doubt, the story. The plot, the voice acting and the motion captured facial animations were spot on. During the few parts of the game where things started to lull a little bit, the story was always right there to keep us plugging away. We wanted to know what would happen next, and with every turn, we only became even more intrigued.
Enslaved is not all sunbeams and bubblegum, however. While the positives far outweigh the negatives, there are fair amounts of technical flaws to be found.
For starters, the sound design is very questionable. The actual soundtrack is fantastic but all of the ambient noises were very inconsistent. Sometimes the sound effects would cut out completely for a short period of time or seem much quieter than they should be.
Not only that, but we could not make this game run anything beyond basic stereo sound. We tried multiple setups but nothing worked. Upon further investigation, we noticed that the Dolby D logo was missing from the case and disc, leading us to believe that the game simply only supports stereo sound. Ninja Theory clarified the 5.1 issue later and promises a fix.
We also took exception with the camera work during gameplay. Many times, the camera ended up zoomed way too far in, so we had a very hard time seeing our surroundings. At certain points the camera would even shake and wobble all over the place during combat or platforming, occasionally getting stuck in other textures on the map, leaving us completely blind.
There were several other very small quirks about the game that don’t amount to much by themselves, but combined with other oddities would become slightly frustrating. Sometimes when jumping from level to level, Monkey would not properly make the jump, even though he was in the perfect position to do so. We had to back up and try again, and although we did it the exact same way the second time, it would work.
Overall, we loved Enslaved. The game does feel just a touch under-developed in several key areas and it does hold your hand a bit too much, but the beauty of its design and the absolutely engrossing story overruled any of the complaints we could come up with. Definitely not a game of the year contender for us, but certainly a must-play title for most gamers.