Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Review

The three main characters players will have to work with during their journey. From left to right: Trip, Monkey and Pigsy

The three main characters players will have to work with during there journey. From left to right: Trip, Monkey and Pigsy

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West made my list of “Five Under Appreciated Bargain Bin Games” and for good reason. I had been hearing about this little gem from developer Ninja Theory (also responsible for the early-gen PS3 exclusive “Heavenly Sword” and the latest reboot to “DmC: Devil May Cry” with both games receiving high praise) for quite some time now and had a chance to pick it up a few weeks a go used for 8 dollars at my local GameStop. Yes, that’s right, EIGHT DOLLARS. For a game with such a compelling story, emotionally involved characters and great mo-cap and voice performances by Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Lindsay Shaw (Pretty Little Liars) which blend talented voice-over work, cutscenes and gameplay all seamlessly makes Enslaved a steal, literally. Now that I finished the game I can give a full, objective analysis of what makes it worth your time and the dough in your wallet. For folks that enjoyed the story and narrative of Naughty Dog’s latest PS3 hit “The Last of Us” and want a similar type of experience, albeit told through a very different amalgamation of gameplay elements, you guys will definitely enjoy Enslaved as well. I have been doing some background reading on this game after my completion of it, and I was surprised to learn that Enslaved is actually a loose modern-day interpretation of a classic, popular Chinese story “Journey to the West” by Wu Cheng’en, one of the four great classical novels of China. While the setting and many plot elements have been changed, some key pieces have been left intact. The names of the main characters, for instance, remain all the same. In the novel Trip is actually a young boy, but the writers and developers clearly changed that to make the game’s story and character elements more contemporary.

First and foremost, Enslaved (for the most part) successfully combines elements of a platformer, 3rd person action and a button-mashing brawler all into one experience expertly so that one piece does not drag down the overall experience. It is a refined mix of the three elements and Enslaved does them all justice while telling a concise and interesting story. You play as “Monkey“, a strong, masculine and particularly limber derelict. The game starts off as you try to escape a “Slaver” ship that has confined Monkey against his will, one of the many perpetual perils in this futuristic, post-apocalyptic wasteland. During your escape you cross paths with a young teenage girl named “Trip“, who is scared of Monkey and continually runs away when he attempts to get her attention for assistance, she does not reciprocate. Instead,  Monkey uses his brute strength and clambering skills to make his way out of the Slaver Ship, which is also in the process of crashing due to the actions of Monkey and Trip. As you make your way to the final escape pod, you see that Trip has already commandeered it. Realizing it’s his only chance of survival, Monkey makes a desperate plea to Trip outside the pod and bangs  on the pod window so he too can have safe passage to the surface. Despite Monkey’s impassioned plea, Trip initiates the launch sequence leaving him to literally cling to the outside of the pod for dear life as it makes it descent to the surface. Trip and Monkey land in the midst of a futuristic wasteland decimated by war many years a go. This post-war world where society has all but crumbled is occupied by remnants of the war in the form of unmanned war machines known as “Mechs” still roaming free of their own accord destroying the only remaining threat left to them: Humans. Clearly, the world Trip and Monkey live in is very different then the one you and I currently populate.  Trip, as you will learn, comes from a sheltered society (described in her own words as a “compound”) that shields her and the villagers from the threatening omnipresence of war mechs and human strangers, who she has been taught to not trust (can you blame her?).

Monkey survives the Slave ship crash by hitching a ride on the outside of Trip’s escape pod and is knocked unconscious upon landing. When he comes to, he notices a beautiful young girl looming over him (Trip), weary of what Monkey may be capable of. As Monkey regains his whereabouts, he realizes he has a slaver headband wrapped around his forehead. Trip admits she is the culprit of the enslavement, and tells Monkey that she couldn’t trust him to help her return to her home without being fearful of him so she reprogrammed a stolen headband and used it on him. She also makes it clear to Monkey the danger inherent to those who are forced to wear the slave headband: if Trip succumbs to a fatal incident such as a mech attack or a deadly fall, Monkey will share the same fate. If she dies, he dies. If Monkey wanders to far off without Trip, leaving her behind, he will die via the headband. Trip makes it painfully clear to Monkey that he is now her slave, and protector. Trip makes a deal with Monkey that if he safely escorts her back home to the compound, she will remove the headband. Having little choice in the matter, Monkey hesitantly agrees to the forced journey. And this is where the real adventure begins….

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Monkey, along with Trip, has numerous skills and tools at his disposal to make their trek across the post-war wasteland easier. Pictured above is Monkey using his cloud, somewhat like a surfboard/skateboard to quickly maneuver over certain surfaces during some parts of the game.

While it may sound like one giant escort mission, there is much more going on here than just making sure Trip is out of harms way. Trip is a natural born computer geek, using her wristband computer to open doors, reprogram electronic items (such as the Slave Headband Monkey is forced to wear) and scan enemies to gather useful information, such as what their weaknesses are. Trip is more of an asset then a liability, and can even upgrade your combat, health and tactical abilities as you collect tech orbs (think futuristic coins from the Super Mario Bros. series) throughout each chapter in the game. Using the Trip Shop, numerous new abilities and upgrades can be unlocked as more orbs are collected. You can increase the range and time of stun attacks with the staff (a very important upgrade for combat) as well as upgrade the amount of damage your staff can deal it when firing plasma projectiles. Obviously, the more beefed up Monkey is the better chance you have of fighting off mechs and protecting Trip. At certain points during the game, you can also command trip to help you when under attack by mechs with ranged attacks by using her “decoy” feature which alerts the attention of the machines to fire away from you. However, if Trip is nearby when you are under attack you need to use speed and varied combat skills via Monkey’s main weapon, his staff.

Monkey using his retractable staff to ward off an oncoming mech. Mechs come in all different shapes and sizes, but typically the larger they are, the more difficult it is to take them down. Thankfully as your journey progresses you can upgrade Monkeys tactical and combat skill, whether it be with short-ranged attacks or projectile-based attacks via the staff.

Monkey using his retractable staff to ward off an oncoming mech. Mechs come in all different shapes and sizes, but typically the larger they are, the more difficult it is to take them down. Thankfully as your journey progresses you can upgrade Monkeys tactical and combat skill, whether it be with short-ranged attacks or projectile-based attacks via the staff.

Monkey can wield a quick 1-2 battery of attack or a vaulting, wide attack that does more damage but is slower to initiate. You will need to use a combination of both along with your stun charge to protect Trip from being attacked by mechs. Your stun charge will leave a mech staggering in a drunken-like stupor from electrical overload but only for a short period of time. However during the stun phase you can unleash a bevy of close up or projectile attacks to turn the mechs into rubble. If Trip comes under attack by a mech before you can intervene, she thankfully has a built-in EMP discharge that will stun any mech and nearby mechs trying to fuck with her. This gives Monkey a 5-7 second window to disarm and dismantle any nearby mechs around Trip so they don’t attack her again. The EMP she uses takes a while to charge, so succinct counter-attacks are recommended to destroy any mechs in the near vicinity of Trip. If you fail to intervene before her EMP recharges and the mechs come to, they will strike in quick succession killing Trip and you along with her.

Before entering any altercation in many circumstances, Trip will use a mechanical dragonfly that scans areas making you aware of the dangers before you make a move. All mechs are not operational when you approach them and have an alert beacon that pans out from their position which is visible to Monkey. If you step within the mechs beacon range, it will awake along with any other nearby mechs and you can have a real shit storm on your hands. This presents a nice tactical advantage, giving you the option to quietly slip past your adversaries in lieu of fighting. A great advantage if you are low on health or there are 5 to 6 mechs that you may need to combat. These aerial dragonfly scans will also alert you to mechs that are defective. If you are fighting several mechs, you should engage the defective mech first to give you an initial advantage. After taking a beat down, the defective mechs will display an icon above them indicating that Monkey can perform a take-down move by pressing a singular button on the controller. These take-down moves are special moves that destroy the mechs in one final, theatrical blow akin to Mortal Kombats fatality system. Except you gain an instant advantage after performing a take-down of a defective mech. For instance, performing a take-down on a mech with a machine-gun turret allows you to rip off the turret and use it against your attackers, allowing you to turn the battle in your favor quickly. Other defective mechs have bad power cells and performing a take-down on these mechs will cause any nearby baddies to be instantly blown up in the process.

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Monkey and Trip’s romantic relationship is left mostly ambiguous through-out their adventure, although it becomes clear they have become emotionally attached. Unclear, however is if that attachment has evolved into some kind of romance. Image courtesy of Moby Games.

As you progress into the later chapters it becomes apparent that Monkey and Trip grow attached to each other. In the beginning of the game Monkey views Trip as nothing but a uninvited nuisance, while Trip is scared of Monkey because of the sheltered life she has lived and the state of the world which they both inhabit. The irony of the situation is that Trip despises the slavers, however she enslaves an innocent man as a means to assist her returning home safely. Later Monkey seems to care less and less about the deathtrap wrapped around his forehead and more about keeping Trip safe, not just for his own survival but because Monkey genuinely starts to care for her. Before their unlikely meeting, Monkey was just a transient. Going from place to place to trade for supplies and food with no real home to speak of. Trip gives his life some kind of meaningful purpose, and when a certain situation arises between the two towards the end of the game it becomes apparent that the two complete each other. Even when doing a simple action in game such as walking, with the press of a button you can sling trip over your shoulders and carry her piggy back style. I found myself doing this often, not just to keep her from running into a bad situation but because it felt right to have her close to me. This kind of simple gesture may not seem like much, but it feels right, it feels as if this were something Monkey would naturally do for Trip.  And while their is no romantic activity occurring between the two on screen, the game constantly hints at what could-be. It’s left to player interpretation, like I mentioned in my last review for “The Last of Us” about the relationship between Joel and Ellie. As always, I won’t spoil any of the game’s main plot or story, but let me just say that the ending of Enslaved came totally out of left field. Wasn’t expecting it, still didn’t expect it but it was brilliant. Just like any great game or movie ending, it will leave you thinking and open to discussion for days and weeks after the credits roll. Other developers who wish to have an impact with their games climaxes, take cues from Enslaved and The Last of Us because these are game endings done right.

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The visuals of a decimated war-torn city scape are picture perfect. The juxtaposition of dirt-ridden and rusty, ravaged pieces of war machines layered around the lush and vibrant wild life comes to life vividly in the games captivating scenery and level design.

Enslaved has a great narrative and compelling story, and even has unique platforming elements added to the mix. In certain chapters Monkey will throw Trip up to a platform but be unable to reach it himself. You will need to use Monkey’s climbing, jumping and aerobatic skills to reunite with Trip. The game makes these elements of gameplay, highlighting areas that Monkey can jump and latch on to. With a simple button press and holding the analog stick in which direction to clamber, you can easily navigate areas of the levels that Trip cannot. Also, you can explore some areas that hold secret areas. These platforming elements are nice break from the traditional 3rd person combat view. Also, pictured a few images above is Monkey using his “Cloud” – a disc shaped device that expands into a circular energy board that Monkey can hover around on certain surfaces, water for instance, to reach certain areas that were otherwise inaccessible. Blue energy orbs on the surface represent areas Monkey can hover over with using the Cloud that increases it’s speed allowing for you to make longer jumps from and to severed surfaces. While the game responds well during most of the different sequences, I found the latency off when I pressed a button to perform a certain action, such as clambering or in combat with mechs. It caused some frustration during combat and while not prevalent throughout the game, it did occur more than it should have. More irritating however, were the general fluidity of the controls overall. When using Monkey’s Cloud, sometimes pressing the analog stick even just slightly would cause you to veer off your course. This was especially frustrating, because the instances in where the Could was available were always pertinent scenarios involving boss fights or protecting Trip. These were not huge issues, but tighter controls off a game of this magnitude would’ve been more favorable. As it stands, the game is still absolutely playable and once you do master the somewhat sensitive controls it becomes less of a non-issue, as stated previously the Cloud portions of the game are few and far between. The latency issue definitely should’ve been fixed though. Maybe it’s just because I was playing the PS3 version of the game (I’ve read that the PS3 port had some minor issues that did not plague it’s XBOX brethren, but these were mostly graphical in nature).  During some parts of the game, where there is a large area on screen with skyscrapers or a ton of mechs, there are framerate issues that pop-up. The game can get choppy with a lot of action going on at once. Also, their are some disturbing sound glitches that occurred quite frequently through my playthrough. During some important in-game cutscenes Trip and Monkey would be having a conversation but the voice overs would mute either before or right after the characfters started to talk. This definitely impacts the game play and helps kill some of the immersion the game has built up. While not a g critical game-bug, it’s a big nuisance nonetheless and requires a checkpoint restart usually to correct it. To alleviate this you can play the game with the subtitles on, which I usually do but you still can’t hear what the characters are saying. The graphical glitches and framerate issues are mostly native to the PS3 port so I’ve read, I have no idea about the other glitches. Since the game is 3 years old, I was hoping some of these issues would’ve been ironed out by now but not so. However, during the time they released Enslaved a DLC Pack has come to pass with added story content focusing on the lewd and lustful character “Pigsy.” The DLC is a prequel to the game before the events of Trip and Monkey take place, but has received positive reviews mainly due to it’s strong story and the difference in gameplay styles since Pigsy is nowhere near as agile or limber as Monkey.

The visuals don’t fail to impress. The environments are vast and varied, and allow for some exploration. I loved the design of a post-war NYC, with lush areas of green, fertile growth that nearly encompass the decrepit, towering skyscrapers once occupied by man. Also, the bright reds used for the rose pedals in several of the games chapters are wonderfully realized (thanks to the Unreal 3 Engine), while still active landmines help remind you of the terrible destruction that occurred with the bed of roses covering up the abandoned landmines, left to be forgotten while nature slowly reclaims it’s place in the world.  It’s a beautiful juxtaposition and the game never lets you forget what war has done to our once beautiful planet.  For the first 4 to 5 chapters, you will be seeing much of the same desolate, murky browns and grays of decommissioned mechs and bombed out buildings combined with the bright greens, reds and blues of the wildlife that is now thriving. From chapters 7 and on, the game starts to take a much more darker and mechanical tone as you near the endgame objective. You will also be facing off against some very huge “Mega Mechs” as character Pigsy affectionately describes them. Pictured below is the “Dog Mech”, a ravenous monster that literally hunts down any traces of human life and chomps them to bits. This baddie can be tough to face off against, so make sure you have plenty of stun blasts from your staff cannon and that you have upgraded ammo capacity, stun duration time and combat skills before you go up against the dog. There are various Mechs that will challenge you throughout Enslaved, such as the standard issue Pyramid Mechs that fight with their razor sharp claws and brute force, turret mechs that have shields which protect them from staff combos and the Demolition mech that fires wrecking balls at you with fierce speed. This is just a small taste of the Mechs roaming freely to eradicate the remaining factions of mankind, so be ready for anything and everything when it comes to mech combat.

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A vicious Dog Mech stalking Monkey in a NYC ballroom-type theater. This brute won’t quit until it’s target is chewed to bits in it’s mouth. Thankfully, Trip scans the beast and gives you an advantage, giving you know-how to bring it down for good.

SUMMARY

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is an overlooked triumph of game development. Fundamentally, Enslaved is an interactive story that pairs together two unlikely and reluctant survivors, Monkey and Trip, to cross the post-war wasteland trying to survive the dangers to return Trip home. The two anti-heroes end up bonding closely, not just because of the Slave Headbeand Monkey is forced to wear, but out of genuine care for each others life and a mutual respect for one another. Enslaved proves once again that video games can be a very viable platform for telling cinema quality, interactive stories with compelling and interesting characters. While some unresponsive control issues, choppy framerate during certain hectic levels and weird sound/voice over drop-out glitches hold this game back from attainable greatness, for the $8-$15 price of admission, Enslaved is worth every penny. If you enjoyed “The Last of Us” (and even to some extent Bioshock Infinite) and are looking for another awesome post-apocalyptic journey, do yourself a HUGE favor and pick up Enslaved. It’s dirt cheap (I got my copy for like 8 dollars used at GameStop) and will have you hooked from the prologue to the very end.

FINAL SCORE:  4 / 5

***SIDE NOTES***

ALSO: I feel compelled to mention that Enslaved also features a very somber, yet haunting soundtrack. Certain editions of the game included a copy of the soundtrack. If you can find the retail copy with the included soundtrack, by all means get it. It can’t possibly be much more expensive then the regular version going around for Eight bucks and the soundtrack is very, very good.

This was the PlayStation 3 Edition of Enslaved that was reviewed.

Comments? Criticisms? Suggestions? Profound Hatred? Use the “Comments” box below to leave any of the aforementioned.

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