Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Review

There are a few clichés in the video game world we think developers need to get over. First, we need to see stories not based around a post-apocalyptic climate. Second, we need to see games that possess a movie-like quality play like an actual videogame, as opposed to merely having us sitting there feeling like we aren’t in the driving seat. And third, we need to stop thinking that one day machines will rule our lives—although, that may sound silly as this review is being written on a computer and we played the game on a machine. OK, machines will probably one day rule us all, but in the meantime, let’s try to find some other clichés to exploit for a while.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West takes all those common clichés from videogames past and present, and attempts to capture players’ attention in an epic post-apocalyptic, sci-fi road adventure mixed with plenty of giant-man-slave and tiny-sexy-slave-driver romance. While the game lacks any lasting replay value and harbours some distinct gameplay gripes, it’s an overall solid experience that has some memorable moments, a captivating story, and interesting characters.

Enslaved, developed by Ninja Theory and published by Namco Bandai, is set in a post-apocalyptic world, some 150 years in the future. You play as Monkey, a name fitting of both his appearance and dexterity. Monkey is a slave, and with the help of Trip, a young tech-savvy woman, the beastly man escapes—sort of. In exchange for his salvation, Trip places a headband on Monkey so she can control him. Her goal is to use him to return to her home, since this post-apocalyptic world isn’t fit for a tiny little girl.

The game plays like a movie. Actually, it plays like it’s based on a movie. It’s a sprawling adventure that takes players through a wasteland of an overgrown city, clearly once a triumphant, but now under control of some force that seeks to enslave all people. Obviously in such a narrative-heavy experience, we don’t want to divulge too much of the story, so we’ll not go in to any further details surrounding the game’s plot.   

While playing Enslaved, we couldn’t help and draw comparisons to the Uncharted series, albeit with less jaw-dropping visuals. Nonetheless, even though Monkey isn’t as well presented as the likes Nathan Drake and co, the visuals are still a feast for the eyes. There are moments of sheer brilliance, and other moments when you’ll notice some discernible hiccups, mostly related to shading issues. The game’s palette is mostly greens and grays as the setting is literally overgrown with vegetation-covered machinery. Cut scenes appear to run on the in-game engine, meaning there are very few load transitions between actual gameplay and set story-driven cinematics. This helps draw the story, which lasts about 10-14 hours, and keeps the action nearly constant.

Enslaved has some real shining moments of triumph. For instance, the relationship between Monkey and Trip grows deeper as the game progresses, and the pair’s struggles increase. The game is co-written by novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days later), and therefore plays as a well-thought adventure. There aren’t many holes in the plot, or times you wonder “why the heck is Monkey going along for the ride?” Or, “why isn’t she scared of this brute.” Dialogue is as good as any game we’ve played in recent times , and there are virtually no one-liners. To put it simply, the real draw of Enslaved is the story, the writing, and the overall themes developed as you venture through the lush wasteland.

This is not a movie, a book, or a TV show—this is a videogame and is therefore interactive. So the question you are probably wondering: is the game any fun to play? Our answer: It’s a barrel of fun, but it can also be quite frustrating at times. Combat is the standard button-mashing affair we’ve come to expect and actually appreciate in action games, and there are plenty of puzzles to figure (although they are pretty simple). Monkey is quick, agile, and has an incredible ability to take on waves of enemies (mechs) with his staff. The staff is his primary weapon. You’ll use it to wop mechs around, or shoot electric shocks or plasmids at distant enemies. The firing component of the staff works fairly well for a game that doesn’t focus too heavily on shooting. Overall, combat is what we’ve come to expect, for better or worse.

Trip is essentially useless in combat. Actually, that’s not entirely true—she can temporarily distract enemies for you so you can sneak in for a kill. When you do take down enemies, you’ll get orbs. These red orbs are spread throughout the game and are used to upgrade your abilities in various areas — namely, health, staff, shield, and combat. There are some other collectibles, but talking too much about them may ruin the experience for those who know nothing about the game. Let’s just say that what you find clustered throughout the land will all make sense in the end.

The problems we ran into with combat, and many other aspects of the game, all had to do with the camera. The right trigger controls the camera angle, and sometimes it’s hard to get it positioned well enough to see where the enemies are coming from. Platforming elements, which you’ll do a lot of, are also made difficult by the often cumbersome camera. Monkey’s agile nature allows him to jump around rubble like, well, a monkey. The platforming elements are pretty fun, and on later levels can get fairly difficult (but nothing a standard gamer can’t handle).

At the end of the day however, these flaws are not impossible to look past given the game’s well-paced story. Enslaved is worth the time and commitment, even though there are frustrating moments given the sluggish gameplay mechanics. Still, we’ll have to wait and see what DLC becomes available to see if the game will gain any legs, but for now it’s well worth the experience, even if it’s just to play through the story. It’s not a perfect outing, not by a long shot, but above all it’s ultimately fun and hard to put down — in other words, the qualities you’d expect from a great gaming experience.



The Final Word

Enslaved is sci-fi road adventure featuring a captivating story that spans the fears of a world gone crazy with technology. Despite some mediocre gameplay elements, this game is hard to put down, and you will want to play it all the way through to see how it ends.