An incredibly enjoyabe story driven action adventure game. Ninja Theory have done a truly exemplary job of adapting the classic Chinese tale Journey to the West into a post-apocalyptic tale of heartbreak and an ambiguous revenge.
There are issues with the game - while always satisfying, combat quickly becomes a bit dull and the upgrade system bears no more mention than that its there. Clambouring around as the main character Monkey is good fun, but again the climbing system lacks an real nuance or depth - its a bit of button mashing with a few odd timing challenges thrown in, but thats about it. Avoiding enemies and sneaking around is more or less impossible in most instances - there are fairly regular sections of the game where you simply have to take a few bullets while diving from cover to cover, before eventually reahcing your goal or anhiletaing the bullet drones, making for some linear gameplay.
You may read that and think that this is a poor game, and in a sense you'd be right. The gameplay itself is nothing new or revolutionary - you could be forgiven for thinking you were playing Jak and Dexter or similar action adventure games of old. The gameplay is, simply put, a bit pedestrian (espcially for 2014, when I purchased it, though not too bad for 2010, its original release).
However, where this game really shines is how Ninja Theory have approached the story, characters and world. This a beautifully designed, atmospheric imagining of an America torn up by a long and brutal world war, in which nature is well along its way in recapturing those lands twisted by human toil. The result is a beautiful, lush green world - a far cry from the dull browns that dominate most post-apocalyptic settings. Whats more, our introduction to the world isn't a sad, cliched voiceover explaining the follies of human kind, or a slideshow or any other tired trope; in fact, the little we learn about Enslaveds setting is carefully dolled out through the story and world you move through. Ninja Theory are one of those rare studios that truly lives the "show, don't tell" rule, and in building the setting for Enslaved, they present an arguable master class.
The characters in this game are probably two of the best I've come across in any video game - our fairly quiet protagonist Monkey and our chatty teenaged heroine Trip are both voiced and, surprisingly, animated with an exceptional amount of depth and nuance. Slight inflections of voice, tilting of head, and stellar mocap work by the venerable Andy Serkis all come together to create cutscense and character animations that you actually look forward to watching. The one let down is that Trip, our constant companion, has clearly not recieved the same amount of attention in the animation department as Moneky - although that comparison might be slightly unfair considering that Monkey was voiced and mocapped by the unreachable Andy Serkis.
Where this game really starts to shine is in the pacing. While the gameplay has its issues, as alluded to before, they're almost entirely a non-issue because of just how well each element is balanced against the other as the story progresses. You won't find yourself becoming bored or frustrated very often - each successive section of the game offers plenty of variety with very well timed cutscenes, making for an experience that is surprisingly enjoyable, despite its lack of challenge.
Overall, Ninja Theory have created a great story driven game, let down by decidely middle of the road gamplay. However, depsite this, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is probably one of my favourite games of all time due to its excellent characterizations, top notch story telling and beautiful atmosphere. I was bitterly dissapointed to learn that a planned sequel was canned.
A few notes for those interested in buying this game:
- A gamepad is an absolute necessity. Don't even try to play this game with a mouse and keyboard
- Go to this thread for some great tips on how to make this game as pretty as it deserves to be: http://steamcommunity.com/app/245280/discussions/0/792924952664793625/