Ninja Theory‘s second outing, Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, was released on both PS3 and Xbox 360 in October. It’s an adaption of a classic Chinese bit of literature, Journey to The West by Wu Cheng’en. Of course, when I say adaption, I meant it as purely as the plot as Enslaved is set in a post-apocalyptic world, not a fantastical rendition of China! You play as Monkey, a character you never really learn all that much about. You cross paths with a teenage girl named Trip, who enslaves you via a headband (it’ll make more sense when you play it!). From that point on you must do what Trip orders you to do, such as throw her across chasms, follow her and protect her against mechs.
[img_big]center,2000,2010-11-18/2813721.jpg,Monkey carrying Trip. Something you’ll get used to![/img_big]
The gameplay in Enslaved is, well, simple. In combat, you have a strong and a weak attack button, a block button and an evade button. A couple of button combinations do special attacks. On paper, this sounds rather limiting. Not so. The battles are always a challenge and you will always find a slightly different way to kill groups of enemies. You do find patterns but occasionally enemies have special features – one can be used as a bomb, another might stun other enemies and so on. These special actions are achieved via takedowns, which look mighty impressive, but only require a single button press. Having these enemies in the mix does help vary the battles enough to always feel rewarded after a battle. Boss fights really change the pace by adding extra elements, such as a ‘hoverboard’ known as a Cloud. Although the few boss fights that occur, they follow a pretty similar strategy.
The other portion of the game, you know, the non-fighting stuff, is also rather straightforward but really, really rewarding. Firstly, you can’t fall off edges (with the exception of being on a Cloud), secondly, you don’t have be good with your jumping skills. The jumping system is almost identical to the Prince Of Persia title that came out in 2008. Boring and easy some might say. Well, when you have to do 5 minutes of non-stop jumping around various timed obstacles, it is just brilliant!
A rather interesting part of gameplay is controlling Trip. While you never directly control her, you can tell her to do things from time to time, mainly puzzles. This is rather well implemented and really never goes wrong, but then again, there isn’t much there that could!
Unfortunately this simplicity is ruined a tiny bit by a crazy movement system. It’s standard action/platformer fare but it reacts slowly sometimes and suffers from being very twitchy. As such you sometimes stray into enemy fire. Another annoying thing: When jumping from obstacle to obstacle, sometimes Monkey just won’t do it. This leads to rapid swivelling and button mashing as you can imagine!
[img_big]center,2000,2010-11-18/27088scr_march_004.jpg,Takedowns are REALLY impressive!![/img_big]
The best part of Enslaved has to be the story. Sure, its an adaption, but the way it’s paced and played out through the action and various cutscenes is just brilliant. The development of Monkey and Trip, as well as their relationship, ranges from subtle to powerful. The story itself is a bit more mature than what we are used to seeing in games nowadays. It deals with some pretty hefty philosophical ideas, which will leave you asking a few questions of your beliefs. The only major problem with the story is that towards the end it starts to resemble some movies from the past decade and a half (I won’t say which ones in particular!). But of course when the adapted material is 500 years old, it’s going to run into some similarities sooner or later.
The presentation is marvellous. The HUD has just enough information and doesn’t take up much screen space. Some of the action sequences are just spectacular, in particular the first and last one. As this is a story-heavy game, cutscenes play an important role. And there are quite a few of them, although none of them are lengthy (except for the Epilogue). The cutscenes themselves are wonderful but I did feel that though could have lengthened some of them purely for the sake of character growth. But if you are not a great fan of cutscenes, you’ll still be happy here because the cutscenes don’t take up too much of the game.
I’ll get the sound out of the way first. I honestly don’t know what was wrong here but the sound effects for almost everything were bad. Some sounded like poorly encoded MP3s, some played halfway through their associated action and some where just plain wrong. The mixing itself was also rather bad. Quite a bit of the time during the ‘un-rendered’ cutscenes, the sound effects would be louder than the talking at inappropriate moments. At least there were subtitles.
The music on the other hand is most interesting. Composed by Nitin Sawheny (who also composed the music for Heavenly Sword), the score is quite different from most action games. There are lots of oriental and tribal influences. Sometimes, especially during the action sequences, the music takes on a more Final Fantasy feel and sometimes it leans more towards Devil May Cry. While this may seem all over the place, the music sits very well behind the action and dialogue.
[img_big]center,2000,2010-11-18/30428Highres_Screenshot_000039.jpg,Monkey and Trip. Pondering…[/img_big]
To put it simply, the textures were sub-par and there were glitches aplenty. Disappearing characters, extreme clipping and so on. The characters though, absolutely stunning. The motion capture performances were translated really well and the characters have a lot of subtle movements in their faces and actions. The landscapes were also rather impressive. Another disappointing thing though was the extreme slowdown that occurred a lot of the time. It really hampered on the gameplay but it wasn’t tragically slow at least. Apart from these glitches, slowdowns and poor textures, everything was spectacular!
If you like games that have a rewarding story that actually generates some emotion and can forgive the many glitches, I highly suggest you get a copy of Enslaved: Odyssey To The West. Otherwise, I highly recommend a rental (although you may have to rush to finish it before you have to return it!)
Game: Enslaved: Odyssey To The West
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Ninja Theory