Game: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Publisher/Developer: Namco Bandai/Ninja Theory
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PS3
Price: $59.99 USD
Release Date: October 5, 2010- Out Now
Enslaved: Journey to the West is a game loosely based around a 400 year old Chinese book, Journey to the West. The game starts with a human nicknamed Monkey. He has been captured and is on a slave ship. His cell allows him to see Trip, another human who has been enslaved. Trip manages to escape and blow the ship up. Monkey survives, only to find that he was enslaved while he was knocked out. Trip placed a headband around Monkey that causes him extreme pain or death when he disobeys.
I will remember the story most of all when I think back on playing this game. Character development, plot lines and characters were all extremely well handled. Cut-scenes were sharp and well acted to the point that sometimes I felt like I was almost in a regular movie. Facial animations were a little bit stiff, but the superb voice acting makes you forget all about that. Throughout the game, I wavered between thinking I had the whole plot figured out, or if I was in for a surprise. The tale of Monkey and Trip really drove the whole experience and made me want to find out what happens next. Even though the story ends rather abruptly, I did not feel cheated. It wrapped up all of the questions I had been wondering about and left enough loose ends to make me want to play the forthcoming DLC.
Monkey’s acrobatic agility and combat prowess are the main gameplay elements used in the game. Master of the monkey bars, Monkey has great platforming animations and watching him swing and jump is satisfying. One of the more ingenious aspects of the game is when platforming is combined with “blockbuster” moments. For example, early in the game, Monkey is climbing on a ship when it suddenly explodes. You as the player must help him climb back up. Later on, there are many sections that will start to crumble when he jumps on them. Sections like these really drew me into the experience and were much better than watching a cut scene of him doing it himself. However, most of the platforming is very simplistic, and it is fairly easy to merely press a button and not even think about where you must jump next. This can be fun and relaxing, but it is also a little boring. It is not until the game is nearly over that the player must actually time his moves and dodge obstacles while platforming. Another aspect that was annoying was the seemingly endless invisible walls. To illustrate, many times it was required for Monkey to climb off buildings and such. However, he HAD to go down just one pathway when there were multiple options that were similar. I understand that linearity is important to this game, but does it matter that much which side of the building I jump off? Finally, the controls are very infuriating. Many times the camera would refuse to move when I needed it. Other times it would swing wildly where ever it wanted to go. Jumping over blocks and coming out of cover were also troublesome. Invariably I would roll four or five times before I would be able to get the game to understand that he needed to jump instead.
Monkey is equipped with a staff that can shock, shoot and club enemies. Although that sounds really cool, it can be tedious eventually. Upgrading the staff will unlock varied moves, but these are extremely limited. Even these specialized combos are merely slight variations of what he can already do. They do add some strategy and can give you the upper hand, but it is usually not worth it to even bother. Combat usually involves just pressing the same button over and over unless you want to shoot enemies. But aiming is loose and will often take so much time that an enemy has already drained half Monkey’s health. In the beginning of the game, Trip and Monkey worked together to distract enemies and kill them. Using a good command system, Monkey and Trip were an ultimate team. As the game progresses though, Monkey ended up doing almost all the combat and would end up rescuing Trip more often than Trip helped out. This was not always bad, but it would’ve been nice for there to be more areas where co-op combat were put to use. Enemies and bosses are basically recycled throughout the game. There are maybe four types of enemies and only a few bosses. These bosses are really creative though and add good gameplay. A few of the regular enemies can be taken down via a specialized animation, but there is only one animation per enemy. Even though you fight a few of the boss battles many times, each boss take-down is unique and awesome. Most of the bosses are fairly easy, but they are engaging and incredible.
Audio and Graphics
The soundtrack is stellar and adds depth to an already incredible story. As mentioned above, voice acting is amazing. Sound effects are also well rendered; they make the battles and actions much more visceral. One problem I had with the sound was that conversations would occasionally layer over each other. Otherwise, the audio was excellent and an awesome addition to the experience.
Graphics were nothing short of astounding. Although the occasional pop out would occur, the Unreal Engine really showed what it can do in this game. The graphics also highlighted the extraordinary art direction and style. When I think of a post apocalyptic world, I generally think in dark colors like brown and black. Painting the environments with bright reds and softer greens, Ninja Theory discarded that unoriginal notion and made the environments illuminated and original.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is an action packed story that will be remembered by this editor. Namco Bandai and Ninja Theory did a plethora of things right when they created this game. Inspired storytelling and characters, insanely creative art direction, and a well done soundtrack are the standouts of this game. Nevertheless, terrible controls and irksome combat hold the game back.
I give Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: