In light of Enslaved’s “better late than never” Premium Edition release this week on Steam (and PS3), I’m reposting my old review of the 360 version from 2010. Granted, this review doesn’t cover the DLC (as it wasn’t out yet), but it should give you a pretty good impression of whether you’ll like the game. Also, if I recall correctly, this copy of the game was provided by the publisher for my review. Or maybe I bought it. I dunno, man, it was almost three full years ago.
One of my favorite non-Kingdom Hearts game franchises is Uncharted. I adore the cinematic feel of it; from the sweeping camera shots and the “oh my god!!” action set pieces to the constant witty banter that at times mirrored my own exclamations during game play, Uncharted feels very movie-esque. On the other hand, there are other movie-like games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Heavy Rain which drew criticisms for their cinematographically influenced approach to storytelling: the former for the overwrought plotlines and overlong cutscenes, the latter for sacrificing its gameplay and even its logic on a theatrical altar. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is much in the same vein of cinematic storytelling.
The story of Enslaved is set in 2178, years after out planet was ruined by two world wars and a crippling famine. You play as listless rogue Monkey, who has been forced to escort a girl named Trip to the east under the duress of a slaver’s band. The band directly interfaces with his brain and causes extreme pain should he attempt to disobey her commands. Worse yet, if Trip’s heartbeat stops, the headband will in turn kill him. That’s right: Enslaved is a game long escort mission.
There are multiple ways to do escort missions in games, and Enslaved manages to find the good ones. The Trip AI is the best I’ve ever seen of an escort subject in any game. Not only is she not suicidal, she’s actually actively useful. Stuck behind cover? Trip can make a distraction for you and temporarily draw the enemies’ attention. She helps in puzzle solving as well, offering solutions when stumped and even healing you, making the game more of a single player co-op experience than an escort game.
The storytelling is easily the strongest part of Enslaved. I’ve already mentioned a general overview of the plot, but it’s the cinematic approach that really takes the cake here. Much like the Uncharted franchise, Enslaved is a visual spectacle. The characters are all believable in spite of the wildly unrealistic proportions on the main character. For the entirety of the game, I didn’t think of Monkey as a character in a video game; I thought of Monkey as a person I was watching in a 10 hour long movie. And like many of the best movies, Enslaved’s ending is something worth talking about. I very much have to insist you not spoil the ending for yourself; I don’t want to overhype it, but when you see it, you’ll understand. Think Metal Gear Solid 2, but less confusing.
I know I’ve been praising this game quite a bit, but it’s not without its flaws. The headband has a variable range of murder, which is really the games way of making sure you’re going the right way. If you are, the headband is a pal, giving you plenty of rope to play with; at one point, I was at the top of an office building while Trip waited below with nary a headache, while another point I was less than a quarter of the distance while riding the cloud when Bam!, dead. Much like Mirror’s Edge, Enslaved is a game about momentum. When you move the stick forward, Monkey takes a split second to react and start running, and in much the same way, Monkey can’t stop on a dime. This isn’t a flaw; it’s a gameplay quirk unique to Ninja Theory’s games (Heavenly Sword also used this). But when you’re unknowingly approaching the kill zone limitations and you’re flying at full tilt, well, you can see where I’d be annoyed.
Another minor quibble, and this really is nit-picky, sometimes the dialogue is a little janky. Why is it that characters know what a lighting rig is in the theater stage, yet the crane outside is a “metal tower”? In the incidental dialogue. Trip was in trouble and yelled out “Monkey! Help me!” This wouldn’t be an issue had the very next scene not been them doing proper introductions where they, you guessed it, exchanged names.
Despite its problems, Enslaved is among the best games of 2010. This is a fine outing from Ninja Theory, and proof that Capcom knew what they were doing placing Devil May Cry in their hands. It’s a game good enough to make me start a second play through the second the credits were done, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a great game worthy of your money and my recommendation.