Enslaved: Odyssey to the West super review

  • Unparalleled storytelling
  • Original, wondrous world
  • Climbing and fighting like a monkey
  • Some less-than-polished graphics
  • A few irritating bugs
  • It may not get a sequel

Someone at developer Ninja Theory has a thing for redheads. Looking back at the studio’s previous effort, Heavenly Sword, the similarities between that outing’s heroine Nariko and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West’s Trip are unmistakable: both have scarlet hair that hangs over their faces in tendrils, both have beautiful, expressive faces, and both kick ass – wait a minute, no, that’s not right. Trip’s a downright wuss. Actually, that’s what we like about her. She’s an interesting take on the damsel in distress: instead of getting into trouble and calling for help, she plans ahead by knowing she’ll get into dangerous situations and so forces the nearest muscle-bound meathead into protecting her.

Above: For a meathead, he's actually a big sweetie

This scenario, and the game in general, is inspired by the old Chinese myth Journey to the West. In that story, the character that inspired Trip is actually a male monk who commands the mystical Monkey King with a magic headband. In Enslaved, all magic is replaced with technology because the setting is post-apocalypse. The Monkey in the story is named just that – Monkey. He claims he doesn’t have a name, but that the people he trades with call him Monkey, and once the player takes control of him, the reason for his name becomes obvious: he climbs like a monkey, he hunches over in primate fashion, he’s always barefoot, and the sash hanging from his belt looks like a tail once he gets moving.

A studio carving out a niche

After playing through Enslaved we went back to look at Heavenly Sword, and other than the aforementioned affinity for redheads, another thing becomes evident: Ninja Theory wants to be the storytelling game studio. Or possibly, the ambitions are higher: to push storytelling in all videogames forward. Whether that is the developer’s ambition or not, they have achieved it. Heavenly Sword accomplished a new standard in cutscenes by putting the acting, motion capture (especially facial expressions), and dialogue of other games to shame. The characters in the cutscenes felt like real actors in a real movie, displaying quirks and personality in a way that possibly no other game has.

Above: This ain't no dusty, irradiated wasteland

That is, until Enslaved came along. Comparing the story elements of Heavenly Sword and Enslaved on their surface might make Enslaved appear as a step backward, since the dialogue is more understated and the characters less flamboyant. Yet what Enslaved represents is a more mature approach to storytelling, and by being more subtle (and even ambiguous in many of its character’s reactions to each other) it develops quite an emotional payoff. Need a game to justify the gaming medium as legitimate for storytelling? Look no further.

The difficult part is talking about how the story is strong without ruining it, so we won’t give away any plot points or big reveals. Besides, the game shows right off the bat it means business in a spectacular first level. Something about Monkey is immediately likeable – he has the expectedly gruff voice (done brilliantly by Gollum himself, Andy Serkis), but it doesn’t sound like he’s gargling pebbles in a phony attempt to sound manly. There’s a tinge of softness to him, a slight vulnerability in his eyes, even when he’s pissed off. As he escapes the slave ship a series of harrowing close calls occur and we see that not only will the characters be engaging, but the action will break expectations.

Combat isn’t the star here

We enjoyed Enslaved’s combat quite a bit, but it’s not a complex affair and people hoping for God of War (or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow) levels of combos and special moves might be disappointed. Enslaved aims for tactical combat, so it’s a bit more methodical. Monkey uses his fists and expanding lightsaber-ish staff to beat the piss out of various mechs, and he does it with panache, but the combos are simple – mash either the light or heavy attacks, but there aren’t air-juggles or tons of combos to unlock. Still, Monkey can dodge-roll, block and counterattack, perform wide group-clearing attacks and charge up stun moves. It’s enough to keep the combat fun and tense, but this isn’t a hack-and-slasher. Combat is just one part of gameplay – the others being climging and exploration, along with a bit of sneaking around especially dangerous enemies (but it’s no shoehorned attempt at stealth gameplay – there are no instant lose scenarios if you’re caught).

Above: POW!

More Info

Release date: Oct 05 2010 - Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Oct 08 2010 - Xbox 360, PS3 (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Action
Published by: Namco Bandai
Developed by: Ninja Theory
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence
PEGI Rating:
Matthew Keast

My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.

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  • alllifeinfate - December 17, 2014 10:22 p.m.

    I just finished it, and it is really well worth my time. :D
  • Darkhawk - June 15, 2011 3:22 p.m.

    Having just beaten it, my thoughts: I also played ICO well after the hype train had run its course, and I absolutely adored it. While I was impressed by the acting in this game - voices and the digital "actors" themselves - the overall story was still not nearly as intriguing or moving as ICO's. Plus [I'll avoid spoilers here] the grand finale plus ending itself have been done to death in too many movies before. Is it better than...? Prince of Persia (2008) A perhaps more apt comparison can be drawn between this and the cel-shaded Prince of Persia offshoot. Both feature enjoyably smooth climbing gameplay, and both have amazing visual environments. I'd give the slight edge to PoP overall for having more varied environments, more freedom in exploration, and (surprisingly) a much better and more original ending than even Enslaved. But yes, Enslaved is an excellent game and well worth the investment of a weekend. The opening level itself is worth the price of admission.
  • YoungDadOnline - December 4, 2010 2:26 p.m.

    I have to say, I normally go by Game Informer reviews (They rated it a 7). But after playing Enslaved, this game is awesome. I know the gameplay is set so you can't miss a jump and die, but having said that it adds to the story which is great. For a solid 8 hours of game play and a fantastic story based game (ie: Uncharted). This is one of the best action games I've ever played. Easily a 9+.....
  • pots555 - December 1, 2010 11:24 p.m.

    Fantastic game. I am a proud owner. Let support these games where characters and story are important. Not everyone needs an online FPS.
  • Shrimpandwhitewine - October 27, 2010 8:39 p.m.

    A special thanks to GamesRadar and TalkRadar, I got the game on the praise and review and enjoyed it thoroughly. I really do hope it gets a sequel of sorts, cause it was simply a fantastic experience.
  • BeerBaron - October 13, 2010 2:45 p.m.

    I bought this game because of this review and so far it's great. The camera gets a bit buggy and Monkey can be a bit skittish to control but the overall game is better than anything I've played in some time.
  • garnsr - October 10, 2010 5:49 a.m.

    I'm almost to the end, but I've had a hard time continuing through this game. For some reason I'm always looking forward to the end of a level, so I can quit playing. Something about it just hasn't grabbed me. It's not bad, but I think I enjoyed Heavenly Sword more, and some of the good feelings from that make me want to like Enslaved more than I do. It's too bad, I was really looking forward to this, it's just too basic a game, I think.
  • 80sMullet - October 9, 2010 9:15 a.m.

    For British readers of a certain age: Used to be on TV around 5 o'clock weekdays when I was a lad - nice to see an update using the characters. They should have used the Seventies disco soundtrack.
  • KaiokenKid - October 8, 2010 7:39 a.m.

    @gamesRadarMatthewKeast: Well, I own both, so i guess I have the luxury of choice. i dont know, it probaly shouldnt bother me as much as it does. But for whatever reason it makes me think PS3 isnt quite as good if its not keeping up in the multiplatform department. Kind of wish everyone would just lead develop on PS3 when deving games, that way the ports really come out equal. I guess its probaly a game by game basis.
  • Crabhand - October 8, 2010 12:57 a.m.

    After playing the demo for this, I cannot wait to get this game. It looks great and everything seemed to flow very well.
  • Mar27w - October 7, 2010 2:08 p.m.

    this game is a missed opportunity,the combat is far too simplistic with little need to go back to the game after completion,you will be content for the 8 hours it lasts but due to a lack of new moves and finishers to learn thiers little to no replayability which is unacceptable for £40,Castelvania has load of combos but the combat lacks punch with an pretty lame move set and a lack of visceral combat,the chain in NG2 is much more impressive to weild and is only one weapon of many,NG2 and Bayonetta are still the only action titles worth picking up,with a bit more effort applied to the fighting this could have been brilliant because the combat is satisfing with some great camera work and animation,shame
  • d3v - October 7, 2010 9:46 a.m.

    The important question however is if it's better than Devil May Cry 3 (still the high water mark for these hack and slash combat games), considering that this is the same team doing DmC.
  • VaneTrago - October 4, 2010 4:24 a.m.

    I had an extreme amount of fun with the Demo, and I hadn't heard of this game at all beforehand. Thus, day 1 purchase.
  • Smeggs - October 4, 2010 1:44 a.m.

    The demo is out? On XBL? Oh damn, better download it and give it a go tonight, you make it sound amazing. This sounds like the perfect type of game after the challenge grinding in Halo: Reach or carving bloody swaths through zombie hordes in Dead Rising 2.
  • crumbdunky - October 1, 2010 10:01 p.m.

    It's a good game but is NOTHING like Ico and I just wonder if the comparison was put in purely to have a pop at TI. Seriously, just cos there's Yorda they're comparable? Gameplay is almost entirely different in every sense and Enslaved can never come close to evoking the loneliness and creepiness Ico does. Like comparing fish and trampolines. It'll have to go some to beat HS in my books too(liked the dem,o though) as it's possible the most underrated game I've ever played with miles more depth and options to combat than pretty much anything else this gen as it wasn't just memorise these combos.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - October 1, 2010 8:23 p.m.

    The combat is not at all just button mashing. You have to block, counter attack, dodge, use charged stun attacks against shielded enemies, know when to release a focus attack, decide when to use your ranged plasma blasts, and certain enemies have a weakness to exploit or an extra danger - like a timer that counts down and if you don't kill them in time they call for reinforcements. The combat never got old for me. Monkey's moves are plenty flashy and the weight of the staff as it busts open mech heads is very satisfying. The combat proably seems too simple in the demo because it doesn't involve all the elements you unlock or all the enemies you encounter. And to comment on 360 vs PS3 versions. I like to play games on both consoles, so I don't favor one over the other, but yes, PS3 versions do seem to often still be inferior to 360 versions. In the case of Castlevania, though, the PS3 is easily as good as 360, and might even perform slightly better than the 360 version. Like I said, with Enslaved, if you have the option go 360. But if all you own is a PS3, don't let that stop you from getting it. Both versions are a bit rough around the edges, so it's the world and characters that really matters, and the version won't affect that.
  • Ravenbom - October 1, 2010 4:54 p.m.

    I might have to pick this one up, though it is tough to hear criticism of Ico. I played Ico well after the fact, after Shadow of the Colossus in fact and loved it so I don't think it's as overrated as Okami, for instance.
  • oryandymackie - October 1, 2010 3:51 p.m.

    I might actually pick this up - I like the art setting.
  • philipshaw - October 1, 2010 11:55 a.m.

    I played the demo and thought it would get this score because the story and world was really cool despite my problems with the platforming being too easy and the combat feeling a bit loose. But this game being better than Ico, bullshit
  • elpurplemonkey - October 1, 2010 6:08 a.m.

    Good review, you've managed to convince me to play this. And I'd love to show solidarity and buy this- but I don't have the money so I'll have to rent it. But that's better than nothing. It's funny, this game went from 'ugh, another ad on gamesradar showing a video of this lame enslaved game,' to 'hmm, this actually looks good.'