We got excited about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West when we finally got our hands on it recently. We're worried that this possible sleeper may just get ignored by the public since it's not obvious what the game's really about, and it's hard to tell why it's different from anything we've played in quite some time. So here are the ten things that make Enslaved so much more than just another fall action game in a fall choked with action games.
1) It’s a sci-fi take on a beloved Chinese myth
Journey to the West is a tale about the Monkey King, who was granted magical powers by the gods. He met a monk who commanded him with a magic crown, and together they had all kinds of adventures. The Monkey King used a magic staff that expanded in length so he could kick every variety of ass. In Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Monkey is the name of a normal man instead of an actual monkey. He does climb on the scenery in monkey-like fashion, and his outfit has a subtle touch – a sash that dangles from his belt and looks suspiciously like a tail as he runs and leaps about.
Above: The word is still out on the source of Monkey's cyber-ish scars
Instead of a monk trapping him in a magic crown, Monkey is enslaved by Trip, a beautiful scarlet-haired girl who has a talent for hacking, and so hacks a slave headband in order to force Monkey to help her get home. It looks like the relationship will develop into a romance, as Trip clearly isn’t comfortable with enslaving Monkey and shows increasing signs of guilt about it, while Monkey learns that she’s not so bad over time. Monkey still has his expanding staff, but of course it’s sci-fi technology instead of magic.
2) It has strong, subtle storytelling details
Enslaved’s world is a mystery – an Earth long after some unnamed apocalypse, where vegetation has reclaimed the once polluted, noisy urban setting. Manhattan is a desolate but verdant wilderness, with vines, trees and bushes covering and infesting every building. Somewhere in the details of this world are clues to what’s really going on. We get hints of some ominous place out west, where slaves are taken and never return.
Above: The dynamic between Monkey and Trip, described in a few words, may sound like a cliched love/hate relationship, but it's much more interesting than that
The simple, believable dialogue conveys small moments of real emotion between Monkey and Trip, and combined with their surprisingly human expressions, gives weight and depth to their characters that’s rare in videogames. Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later as well as novel The Tesseract, flexes his literary muscles with deft touches that don't feel like the game is showing off that it has a famous writer behind it.
3) It has surprising humor
While most of the game occurs in quiet, melancholy tones, little rays of humor poke through to bring levity here and there. When Monkey and Trip first see Manhattan, they comment on whether thousands of people might have lived there, or even TENS of thousands, which while amusing, also reveals a bit about how sparse humans are in their world.
Above: Maybe even HUNDREDS of thousands
Later on, as they encounter some dirty piles of refuse, Monkey and trip have an off-hand exchange: “What is all this stuff?” Monkey says. Trip answers, “Just some ancient, redundant technology.” Panning the camera around reveals piles of boxes for 3D TVs.
4) It has surfing on a holographic disc
It’s called the Cloud because the original Monkey King from Journey to the West could ride on a magical cloud. For Monkey of the post-apocalypse, it’s a small device he carries on his belt that is fueled by electromagnetic energy and projects a blue, glowing holographic disc that floats just above the ground or water. A click of the right stick pops it into or out of existence in certain areas. Riding it is like riding a hoverboard, but it has a squishy feel to its floatiness that only comes across through playing it yourself.
Above: Okay, we officially don't desire Marty McFly's hoverboard anymore
5) It may just have solved the “annoying AI partner” problem
Enslaved isn’t a co-op game, which means the partner AI isn’t there as a stopgap for people who can’t find a real friend to play with them. At least in the early chapters of the game, we haven’t encountered any stand-out annoying thing with Trip’s AI, which probably has a lot to do with the design – she’s not a combat partner like Sheva in Resident Evil 5. She won’t be using up ammo stupidly or wasting medpacks when you don’t want her to – nearly everything she does is controlled by you (a bit ironic considering Monkey is supposed to be the enslaved one).
Above: You can pick up Trip and have her piggyback at any time, if you don't want her wandering around
Monkey does have to save her from danger and help her climb obstacles, but these are scripted events, not the result of the AI doing dumb things. Trip is also a tool to be used – she can be commanded to heal you, create holographic distractions for enemies, and possibly other handy things. We’ve seen her get ever so slightly hung up on scenery, but we’ve never screamed at the TV “What are you doing? Follow me!” Somehow the game, which technically is one long escort mission, actually never feels like the chore that escort missions usually are.