Enslaved: Odyssey to the West super review

Storytelling, characters, and a world like no other

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Monkey’s staff also acts as a beam weapon – once the Plasma Blast and Stun Blasts are unlocked, you’ll have access to limited ranged attacks. Ammo is scarce and the staff has a slow rate of fire, so it’s not Devil May Cry levels of shooting-mixed-with-melee combat. There are, however, some shooter-ish sections of the game where Monkey takes over a turret for a bit of on-rails machinegunning, but these aren’t extensive and simply serve to break up the pacing a bit.

Above: The staff's Stun Blast not only immobilizes mechs, but breaks their energy shields (only certain mechs have them)

We won’t go into specifics of boss encounters because they’re special affairs – being a story-oriented game, Enslaved doesn’t serve up a boss at the end of every level. The bosses aren’t super epic endeavors like say Castlevania: Lords of Shadow’s are, but they have a certain intimidation factor – for instance, one boss pursues Monkey and Trip through two entire levels, seemingly an unstoppable mechanical monstrosity until Monkey realizes he’s going to have to fight it. It, like the other bosses, isn’t particularly difficult. It’s more the character’s realistic emotions and the way the story makes the mechs seem cold and unforgiving that makes the bosses really scary.

The real star of Enslaved is the world, and a big part of the game is exploring it in a fashion befitting Monkey. Climbing seems to be the in thing with videogames these days and Enslaved has a lot of it. We like climbing things in games – in fact, we never get tired of it. It fulfills some ancient caveman need – the desire to escape danger on the ground and to conquer something by literally putting yourself on top of it. Still, not everyone gets a kick out of gaming’s climbing craze, so particularly for those wanting deep combat over climbing, Enslaved might not appeal so much. For us, it has a perfect dose of climbing, and it does the mechanic with tactile satisfaction.

Above: Natural and man-made obstacles form Enslaved's vast jungle-gym

Monkey moves with quick-footed agility on the ground, but he really rips through the environment while scrabbling up pipes and launching toward handholds. The game makes it nearly always obvious where Monkey needs to go with shining grab points and blatant camera angles, which could have been toned down a bit, but the focus is on timing jumps and enjoying Monkey’s acrobatics. One particular aspect we reveled in was swinging successively from one horizontal bar to the next. Normally, jumping to one of these bars has Monkey swing up and then perch on top of it before making the next move. With proper timing, however, he can fling himself along without slowing down, providing a kinetic traversal that’s just downright addictive.

It helps that the world is both gorgeous and pregnant with danger. This apocalypse happened quite a while ago, so nature has crept back in and taken over. Bright green vines and ferns cover everything that was once concrete and glass, and hints of past civilization are everywhere. The world is also ready to crumble all the time, so climbing over everything has a sense of tension to it.

One continuous escort mission?

From a story standpoint, the idea of a girl left with no choice but to enslave a man and force him to protect her on her journey home through a deadly wilderness is clearly ripe with possibilities. From a game standpoint... wait a minute, aren’t escort missions one of the most annoying things in games? Stupid AI partners who always have pathfinding issues, constantly whine for help, and generally make us want to kill them rather than protect them? It almost provokes the response, “An escort game? What were they thinking?”

Well it turns out they were thinking a lot of things, because taking care of Trip isn’t a pain for two reasons: she’s supremely loveable, and the entire game is designed around her situation. The devs knew the minefield they’d set out for themselves, so decided to build their own minefield instead of figuring out how to make AI be able to negotiate it. Enslaved isn’t a game where a glitchyNPC nips at your heels while monsters swarm in and aggravate you with their attacks on your defenseless tagalong. Indeed, Trip rarely spends time next to Monkey – instead, she hides in a safe location while Monkey deals with the dangerous stuff. There are only a handful of times when Trip is in actual danger that Monkey must fend off, so it rarely feels like an escort mission at all.

Above: See? Clearly he cares about her. She's just so darn adorable

There were only two times in the entire game where Trip even got killed while we played, so the frustration factor is practically nonexistent. In a clever failsafe, the devs even give you a get out of jail card – if for some reason a mech does get a hold of Trip, she’ll activate an EMP, stunning every mech nearby and actually making combat easier for you. It doesn’t make her invulnerable, as the EMP has to recharge, but that should only happen rarely.

So not only is Trip not much of a pain, she’s also a critical tool. Aside from her EMP, she also can create a holographic decoy to draw the fire of ranged enemies, allowing Monkey to sneak around and flank entrenched positions. She can also carry medical devices to help heal Monkey, and she hacks through all kinds of doors and obstacles. For the most part, she just feels really out of the way, so we never wanted to kill her.

Above: Here's Trip's hologram decoy. It lasts for a brief time, so the dash to cover while it drains out can get nail-nibbling

More info

DescriptionA tactical action-adventure game, Enslaved centers on the relationship between the two main characters and challenges players to employ a mix of combat, strategy and environment traversal. The presentation is a bit rocky, looking somewhat unfinished, but the world with its lush overgrown apocalypse is unique and the writing, acting, and story development are nop-notch.
Platform"Xbox 360","PS3"
US censor rating"Teen","Teen"
UK censor rating"16+","16+"
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)
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.