Enslaved: Odyssey to the West PlayStation 3
Published by: Namco Bandai
Developed by: Ninja Theory
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a futuristic re-imagining of The Journey to the West (the one featuring Monkey, Pigsy, Tripitaka and Friar Sand) although you shouldn't expect a storyline that's anywhere near as epic in proportion. The game begins with Monkey being held as a prisoner aboard a slave airship. It's not long before the capsule he's being held prisoner in opens however as a fellow prisoner, and tech wizard, called Trip manages to hack in to the computer system and send the airship haywire. With the airship on the road to destruction Monkey manages to escape by hanging on to Trip's escape pod as it launches. He has a rough landing and when he awakes he finds that he's escaped from slavery only to find himself once again a slave. Trip needs to reach her homeland but in the way are mechs and slavers. She has hacked a slave headband and placed it on Monkey so that she can control him and force him to escort her back home. The relationship may begin as that of slaver and slave but as the storyline progresses they develop genuine affection for each other.
What makes the game particularly interesting is how each character relies on the abilities of the other. Monkey is a large muscular man with superb agility and can deal with his enemies without too much fuss. Trip is a lithe, young woman who can hack just about any piece of technology but is useless when it comes to defending herself against the mechs and slavers. They both need each other and there's a lot of interaction between them during the course of the game. As Monkey you'll need to protect Trip but there are times when she can act as a decoy to allow Monkey to get into a good position to deal with enemies. The interaction between the two is a big part of the game's appeal and is one of the more impressive aspects of the gameplay.
There are three difficulty levels in Enslaved (Easy, Normal and Hard) but as far as the combat is concerned you might be thinking that it’s too easy regardless of the difficulty you select. For the first part of the game at least the combat doesn't represent much of a challenge. Later on in the game it does become a handful but by then you'll have mastered the combat system and will be able to fully appreciate how good the combat system is. Monkey initially has normal and strong attacks and has access to a shield too, but his repertoire will increase as the game progresses. The only criticism I have of the combat is that the camera seems to be a little too close at times and this doesn't afford you a good enough view when facing multiple enemies.
There's a lot of platforming in Enslaved and it certainly looks dramatic. The only problem is that any tension that might build from the perilous situations that Monkey finds himself in is diminished somewhat by the fact that he can never fail to make a jump. That said, some additional tension is instilled because there are times when you'll have to reach a specific point within a certain time frame and should you not make it you'll be doing that section of platforming again.
Another problem some might have is that the game doesn't really let you traverse your surroundings in the same way as other similar games, such as the Tomb Raider series. In Enslaved there's one fixed route that must be adhered to. You can't find your own way through the environment and initially this does seem like a major limitation. However, what I will say is that you won't find yourself getting lost or ever unsure about what direction you need to take as the path ahead is mapped out for you. This does allow the game to flow more quickly and prevents the pace of the action from slowing down.
For the most part Enslaved is a visually impressive game. The environments are stunning and very atmospheric. Load times throughout the game are generally decent as is the frame rate which only dips at times, although it's never problematic. There are a few clipping issues in the game and the quality of the shadows could certainly be improved and look a little less aliased. For the most part however, the look of Enslaved should please most people.
Enslaved does have subtitles, although by default they are not enabled. You'll be able to follow the game's dialogue without any real problems. I would have appreciated the text either being shown in a dialogue box or at least against a darkened background to make the text easy on the eyes. At times the plain white text can be a little difficult to read due to the colour of the background. I would have also appreciated character names or portraits being placed alongside the text in order to make it clear who was speaking. For the most part there are no problems but there are a few occasions when it's not crystal clear who is speaking. The game makes good use of icons however and you'll always be aware of who needs to interact with what because icons are placed over the object. I also like how you’re shown a gauge to indicate when Trip’s decoy ability is running out allowing you to be aware of how long you have left to find cover.
There's little doubt that Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a quality action platform game and I'm sure most fans of such titles will really enjoy what's on offer here. There are a few missteps however. The camera could be better during combat; the combat could be a little more engaging earlier in the game and it would be nice to have some freedom in traversing the environment. However, the storyline is enjoyable and the characters are genuinely interesting and the relationship between the two is a large part of the game's appeal as is each character's reliance on each other’s capabilities. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is definitely one of the most pleasant surprises in gaming in 2010.