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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West super review

AT A GLANCE
  • 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:
16+

74 comments

  • Ninjadmin - September 30, 2010 8:12 a.m.

    Excellent! I adored the demo so glad to see it has received a great score. Now I just need to find some money...
  • 510BrotherPanda - September 30, 2010 8:22 a.m.

    I don't have an HD console, but I'm grateful for this review, Mr. Keast. You worked very hard to post it at this time of night, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. If I were to ever get one though, I will remember to get this as one of it's first games.
  • OhMyJosh - September 30, 2010 8:28 a.m.

    Looks like I'm adding this to the list. Hopefully the length is good. I'm not sure if that was mentioned in the article :S
  • IIIIIACEIIIII - September 30, 2010 8:33 a.m.

    This or LoS? I really can't decide. A nice storyline is always nice, and climbing around like a monkey is fun as shit, but now that I've completed GoW and Bayonetta, I need another combat-focused game like LoW is supposed to be (plus that unique light and shadow magic system is really interesting). I guess I'll have to get both. Goodbye money, I shall miss the feeling of having you near my balls.
  • 510BrotherPanda - September 30, 2010 8:41 a.m.

    Also, I just noticed... If Trip is the monk Tripitaka, and there's Monkey and Pigsy, where is the third follower, the Sand Monk?
  • Jacko415 - September 30, 2010 8:48 a.m.

    definatly getting this when i get a new xbox. and im not too picky on graphics so that doesnt bother me.
  • KidKatana - September 30, 2010 8:59 a.m.

    I've had high hopes for this game so I'm glad it didn't disappoint, I'll be picking this up soon. Let's hope they patch those bugs though...
  • kit07 - September 30, 2010 9:11 a.m.

    great review!! i really liked the demo alot, one ill probably play a ton much like i did with HS. this was the type of game my roommate can be entertained from watching. he's pretty much a sports gamer, but games that have these great action scenes with actually good acting he can get into. (in other words he hates rpgs and the like haha) and about the ico comment i agree and i love ico but i can tell that this will be a much more "fun" experience. yes ico is just a escort game, but with this in mind i find it rather enjoyable cuz i get more attached to yorda cuz i know she is always in great danger. anyways i could go on and on why i love ico haha cant wait for a price drop and im picking this up
  • Games_Radar_DaveMeikleham - September 30, 2010 9:21 a.m.

    Friggin' hell. I love ICO. Literally LOVE it.
  • Games_Radar_DaveMeikleham - September 30, 2010 9:22 a.m.

    That said, I'm pretty hot for Enslaved. Still, poor Yorda. :(
  • Ninjadmin - September 30, 2010 9:42 a.m.

    Regarding the ICO thing. I love that game, but I agree completely with the fighting off shadows over & over gets very boring, very quickly statement. ICO would have been a much stronger game IMO if they had the guts to release it with no enemies at all (apart from maybe the finale) & just had you & Yorda against the environment.
  • cj12297 - September 30, 2010 10:24 a.m.

    wow an 8. the demo was really bad.
  • Dondada - September 30, 2010 10:36 a.m.

    Appreciate the early review, its in my GameFly Q now.
  • Kaizo616 - September 30, 2010 10:42 a.m.

    I'm having a tough time deciding between Enslaved and Castlevania, as they both come out on the same day. But I think I'll be getting them both anyway!
  • SonicX_89 - September 30, 2010 11:05 a.m.

    Ok Mr. Keast, I'm convinced. I'll be picking this up in the future. This, and maybe Castlevania too. I'm gonna be broke by the end of the year.
  • JayBeat - September 30, 2010 11:09 a.m.

    I am getting this over Castlevania, for no apparent reason.
  • OnyxOblivion - September 30, 2010 11:11 a.m.

    I'm getting this an Castlevania, and I guess I'll be telling New Vegas to fuck off until the inevitable GOTY edition.
  • BMW89 - September 30, 2010 11:33 a.m.

    Awesome story and...I'm sold! I cannot wait for this game to come out.
  • RogerBauman - September 30, 2010 11:37 a.m.

    Hmm, should I buy this or an Ed hardy bikini as qwwqezxc recommends. It certainly is a tough choice. In all seriousness, though, I probably buy two full price games a year and I was really glad to see this one rise above the rest.
  • neilbeforezod - September 30, 2010 11:49 a.m.

    i was torn between this and castlevania. after a fantastic demo and a good review (thank you Mr. Keast), i think i'll have to support the new IP. castlevania can wait 2 weeks, that franchise isn't going anywhere even if LoS tanks.

Showing 1-20 of 74 comments

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