For those who may not be familiar, Enslaved is a cult classic from Ninja Theory (DMC, Heavenly Sword) that is a re-imagined version of the novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. The original story takes place in ancient China but Enslaved is a journey that takes place 150 years in the future through a war torn New York City. Either way, the plot revolves around someone who forces the help and protection of a warrior. In this case Trip, who was herself enslaved at first, enlists the help of the unwilling Monkey. Trip informs Monkey that she has used her computer skills to wire the headband he wears to explode if she dies. However, this setup comes with its own setback: if Monkey dies so does Trip. This is where the first downfall of the games comes in. Even though she more than holds her own at hacking, Trip is totally useless in combat. I am not an escort mission fan and this game has a lot of that. The overall story of Monkey and Trip exacting revenge on their captors gets side tracked as Trip’s hometown gets destroyed by the mech menace that has befallen this post-apocalyptic future. The underlying mystery of the game is very intriguing and the last cut scene weaves all of the mysteries together beautifully.
The combat here is fairly basic. Monkey is quite agile and has very little trouble dispatching the various mechs with his collapsible staff. This staff also doubles as a distance weapon that not only does punishing explosive damage but non-lethal stuns as well. This will come in handy against the shielded and heavily armored mechs. It’s a good thing that Monkey is so good at fighting, because Trip is useless when the baddies show up. She doesn’t kill mechs (a la Ellie from The Last of Us) or toss you useful ammo or health (thanks to Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite); she can distract turrets though and she is very good at hiding. You’ll still need to protect her from time to time so get ready for that. The traversal system reminds me a lot of the Uncharted games; lots of swinging and handhelds that will disintegrate. There is also a pretty decent disposable “vehicle” (called a “Cloud”) that Monkey can use during certain situations.
The biggest problem I had with the mechanics is the camera…it’s awful. I, in general, don’t care for fixed camera games but can get used to them over time. Enslaved employs both a fixed camera as well as free floating camera; this is also fine…except that they use them in consecutive moments. For example, you’ll be slinging along a rock wall and then something attack you and it’ll go from a fixed to floating back to fixed. It gets you very confused and disoriented and is head scratchingly weird. It never got me killed but it was so frustrating that I almost gave up on the game early one…it’s a good thing I didn’t!
I know most people rave about the story here, and it is very good, but the real draw for me is the actors. There are three main human actors (including Monkey, Trip and the scene stealing Pigsy) and they are all superb. I’m talking some of the best voice work I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s good. And why shouldn’t it be? The under appreciated Andy Serkis lends his voice and vast mocap talents to Monkey. His gruff standoffishness belays the caring, warm heart that lies beneath. Trip (Lindsey Shaw) on the other hand conveys her sense of toughness convincingly one moment and will then exude terror and fragility the next. Pigsy is…well, he’s just Pigsy. A bit of comic relief in a game like this hits the spot and Pigsy (Richard Ridings) fits that bill perfectly. You can also grab some Pigsy based DLC to boot.
Overall, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a very good game. I’m not sure that I get all of the hype and the ascension to “cult classic” but it is a good game nonetheless. The story and acting is well worth the grinding through the waves and waves of easily dispatchable mechs. I can even see trudging through the main villain, the camera system, to get to the fantastic ending. Kudos to Serkis and company for the work they put into this game, but the sales didn’t generate enough to necessitate a sequel so this is pretty much all you get. I would, however, suggest picking up Ninja Theory’s other outstanding game in DMC (Devil May Cry).