Sadly, Enslaved is a game that many gamers overlooked when it released last fall for some reason. Coming from the very underrated studio, Ninja Theory (Heavenly Sword), these talented developers deserve to have a hit on their hands. Set in the future after a devastating war, the world’s population has been decimated. Stop what you’re thinking, this doesn’t feature brown and dusty landscapes. Thankfully, this game features a world overgrown with vegetation, colorful landscapes and populated by abandoned mechs. Based on an ancient Chinese story, does this game shine or should it be left to rust?
Set in the United States, 150 years in the future after a global war has ravaged the planet and reduced the population, the game opens on a slaver ship with you in control of a muscular, spiky haired man named Monkey. A woman is outside the cell and causes an explosion that frees you from your prison. You finally catch up with her as she’s leaving in an escape pod and as it lands you hit your head and become knocked unconscious. When you awake, she’s fitted a metal device to your head that allows her to use voice commands to control you. Oh and you’ll die if she dies. The only thing she asks of you is help getting home, then you’ll be set free, no questions asked. Pissed off, you see no other alternative but to help her.
What begins as a simple plot device quickly evolves into something bigger as twists, turns, and events will shape the futures of both characters. The story really is the main draw here as it’s so well done, it’ll pull you in and make you care about what happens to these two. One thing I would have loved to have seen is a bit more back story on what actually happened. Nothing is really revealed outside of the hints the game presents you every now and again. It is funny to hear the characters stare in awe of things you and I know quite well. They call a construction crane a “metal tower”, and also stand in amazement over a devastated Brooklyn Bridge. It’s pretty interesting to see familiar sights now devastated by a forgotten war.
Yes, this is indeed a game in which you need to make sure your partner survives. The dreaded “escort mission” if you will. Luckily, Ninja Theory has taken preventative measures to make sure that this fact never becomes an obstacle for the player. Trip is very smart for an AI companion. She’ll never wander into harms way or make stupid decisions. She also has an EMP device she’ll use if she gets into trouble giving you time to compensate. You also have a small set of commands you can issue to her if you need to, and thankfully, you don’t have to do it often. Basically, Trip never gets in your way, can function on her own and will help you out. Resident Evil 5 this is not.
Speaking of characters, Ninja Theory has once again hit a home run. The animation and visual quality in the faces and movements is unreal. Subtle details like eye movements and facial emotion will make you believe that these are real people. Ok, maybe not to that level, but it’s still damn impressive. I found myself constantly in awe of the expressiveness the characters were able to do as they wore their emotions on their face. You can really get a sense of what they’re feeling as they try to understand each other. Sadness is not just a streaming tear, but is shown by the way the face falls. A third character joins up midway through the game named Pigsy, and frankly, I found him to be unlikable at first. I eventually warmed up to him and he did indeed provide some subtle comic relief. Monkey is at first angry (I don’t blame him in all honesty) and cold to Trip, who tries to break the ice, but you can definitely see him change and warm up to the situation he’s in, making him more relatable as the game progresses. Yes, Trip is the eye candy here, but she also has great intelligence and is more than just a pretty face. You may be the muscle, but she’s the brains. The voice acting is equally amazing and extremely well done.
Speaking of visuals, the game features amazingly detailed and beautiful levels. Props for throwing out the old adage that post apocalyptic means brown and tan. My eyes thank you for all those greens, grays, reds, and other colors. You’ll be travelling all over the US, from New York City, to the Southwest and Hoover Dam. New York is a treat to run and jump through, thanks to the interesting and varied level design and the fact that it’s overgrown with plant life. Instead of a brown wasteland to wander around, the broken buildings have been taken over by the local vines, ferns, and moss. Even when you move to the west coast, the colors remain the same, with green being replaced by more reds and yellows. Unfortunately, as it is for most games powered by the Unreal Engine, there is a small amount of texture pop. When scenes first load, you’ll notice the textures coming in as well, going from ugly to detailed. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s something you’ll notice.
Your main enemies here are going to be the different mechs that have been abandoned but don’t exactly realize that the war has ended. The enemy types are varied and you’ll even be able to perform “takedowns” which are cinematic kills initiated when certain mechs are close to death. Very stylish and cool. I was surprised to find a light RPG element to the game as you’re able to upgrade Monkey using “tech orbs” left behind by defeated enemies. You’ll be able to increase his health, his shield, and improve his combat techniques. Even with these additions, combat is simplistic. You can evade, block, light attack, and heavy attack only. No combos or anything like that. I will say though that the focus attack is very cool and should be purchased when possible. It’s basically a very stylish 1 hit kill.
The other major part to the game is platforming and again, it’s pretty basic. The objects you can interact with will shimmer and once you’re on, there isn’t much danger of falling or anything like that. You’re only able to jump to specific objects, so you can’t fall off or miss a jump like in other similar games. It’s not bad by any stretch, just a bit easy. Enslaved does add some variety later in the game as environmental dangers come into play. Thankfully, the game throws a lot of variety at the player so you’ll never get bored or sick of doing the same thing over and over again. In fact, you probably won’t even notice any of this as the game does a good job of hiding its short comings. The other problem I’m going to mention is that the controls can be a bit loose at times. Controller input has a touch of lag to it. Once you’ve gotten used to it, the lag is not a huge deal, but it is a bit jarring at first. The camera also gets a special mention as it can get in your way at times. You’ll have to adjust it often, but again, once you get used to it, it’s not a deal breaker by any stretch.
While it may not be perfect, Enslaved is indeed a game everyone should experience. The story and characters are second to none and will pull you in, never letting you go until the end of the odyssey. It may have its flaws like the camera and simplistic combat but the game is still a treat. The visuals are outstanding and it also features some of the best animation and facial work seen in any game today. Kudos to Ninja Theory for putting out another wonderful product. I just hope this one gets the recognition it deserves.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West gets 4 tech orbs, out of 5