Played on Windows
Also available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is what I would call the gaming communities’ one of the biggest failures. It’s a common refrain that “everything is a sequel, a remake, or a reboot” and that new IPs aren’t made anymore. I disagree with that sentiment in that there’s a good amount of new IPs all the time, successful ones get turned into a franchise like Titanfall, and a lot of them fail like Mighty No. 9, or No Man’s Sky.
Then there’s a game like Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. It’s novel, it’s unique, it actually has a high profile actor attached to it and it flopped miserably. This is exactly what I’ve heard people wanting when new sequels are announced and this is also why major companies are afraid to take a chance on new IP. It’s a reasonably good game that didn’t capture the public’s attention.
One of the reasons for this is this game came out in October of 2010. The year is not known as one of those famously gaming years, it is the year that delivered Mass Effect 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Red Dead Redemption, Starcraft 2, God of war 3, Super Street Fighter IV, and Halo: Reach. That doesn’t even mention Enslaved being released only a month before Call of Duty: Black Ops. Enslaved had a big hill to climb, and it’s not really the game’s fault alone that it couldn’t make a dent in that lineup.
There are, however, two shining parts of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West that make me applaud it. The first is simply the story.
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one. A man named Monkey is forced to help a woman named Trip because she put a slave crown on his head that she can tighten at will to force him to do her bidding.
If you’re very well read, you might recognize that synopsis or the name of the game as related to Journey to the West, a classic Chinese story. I read a lot, and I admit I haven’t read that book, but I also feel that Journey to the West isn’t a major story in America, or much of the world so the story does feel fresh. It’s a retelling of the Chinese tale with a few important changes (including the gender of Trip).
It’s not just the story that works here however, the entire game is in service to that story, the slave crown that Monkey wears is a gameplay element too, but not a harsh one. It just keeps Monkey from running away from Trip and there’s a good amount of distance given to the player.
The story doesn’t start by laying out a huge story. The entire first chapter/level develops the world and characters while keeping the full story for after the point the player has a grasp on the controls. Everything about the game is made to tell the story, and that all works well.
I mentioned changes. Again, I haven’t read Journey to the west, but I’m pretty sure it’s not about a version of New York City, where robots have taken over, especially considering it was written over two hundred years ago. As far as I know, the characters and themes are borrowed, while the setting and world are brand new here.
I love the robotic wildlife, and admittedly I own but haven’t played Horizon Zero Dawn yet, but it’s much less understated in this game. This is a dead world with robotized wildlife. It’s not just a Robotic Utopia.
There are a couple flaws I have with the game though. The main character is called Monkey. Trip, the female lead calls him Monkey, and then in the next scene Monkey introduces himself. I can accept a slip, but she literally calls him “Monkey” and then Monkey says “I’m called Monkey”.
The hulking Monkey
The same thing happens when Trip explains “flaws” in the enemy, which is an interesting system. The second time Trip sees a flaw she fully explains it. The first time it’s just a gameplay mechanic that comes out of nowhere and is just thrown out as if it’s a feature you already know and understand. The game outside of this is pretty consistent, but at the same time, these are two odd moments that made me stare at the game for how uncharacteristically weird they are.
One final thing with the story is that the ending is a bit of a letdown. You have a terrific story and you end on what feels like it could be a cliffhanger. The game builds up to a “We have to go somewhere” and then you arrive and you see the ending and the only thing I remember thinking was “That was the final boss?” There was a large big epic fight but the story felt like there was still at least one or two more chapters of steam that the story had.
The characters though in the game are actually really great. There are really three major characters.
Monkey is the main character and you may see him as a bit of a hulking man as well as noticing he’s clearly based on classic Sun Wukong designs but also his own character. He is fully human, there’s a ribbon trailing after him that looks like a tail. There are many small touches about his look that just work.
Then there is Trip. Her design is clearly based on the main character of Heavenly Sword. She’s more of a craftsman than a fighter but she has more of the brains department. She tends to come up with tactics and getting Monkey to assist her. She tends to be more of an assist
Trip (Tripitaka) clearly looks like she’s based off of Nariko from Heavenly Sword
The interactions of the two characters is solid. Monkey and Trip are not friends at the beginning of the game and in fact, placing a slave collar on Monkey makes it seem that it’s going to be hard to really have anything but a master-servant relationship. Yet by the end of the game, I really felt for both characters and their connection.
There’s a third character named Pigsy. Apparently, he’s a popular character with fans, and to be honest, I didn’t find him that endearing. He is based on a character in the original story and he has similar traits. I just felt he was forced in. There are a few scenes that work but at the same time, I feel that he interrupts a really great relationship between Monkey and Trip and not in a way that advances the story enough. I get why he’s placed in the story both historically and in the game, but I’m not a fan of the character as much as I think I should have been.
Before we go on, I want to talk about the graphics. Now there are a few graphical glitches here, Monkey’s chest has an odd look to it, maybe a shader issue that causes a flickering but it doesn’t take that much away from the game. The game can look weak due to its age but the fact is the entire game flows so fluidity you’ll learn to love the animations.
Leaps between platform look great and are simple to pull off.
Part of the reason the game is animated is that high profile actor I mentioned. It’s Andy Serkis. So just from that, I knew there was going to be solid animations. In fact, Serkis is credited as the
“Dramatic Director”. I’m unsure exactly the meaning of that title or the extent of his involvement, but the fact Serkis has a lot of involvement, even appearing in the game at points. He plays the voice and did the motion capture for Monkey and it shows. All the characters in this game have great animations, but Monkey is especially fluid.
Which leads us to the gameplay, and the second shining feature of the game: how fluid the motion of the game is.
It’s hard to really describe controls at times, and Enslaved makes it even harder. The best way I can describe it is to imagine the original Assassin’s Creed if you played it. You had the ability to scale almost any building in the game, but they were puzzles. If you missed a jump it would make you fall and potentially die. You had to move from handhold to handhold on the building quickly and carefully.
Then at some point in the trilogy of games that included Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood and Revelations, the feeling of climbing is completely different. The puzzle feeling was gone, but now you could scamper up most buildings in seconds and never fall unless you did something wrong because there’s an abundance of places to grab.
Enslaved has the puzzle elements of the original Assassin’s Creed but gains the fluidity of the latter entries of Assassin’s Creed. It sounds like it’s a combination of the two, but in reality, it’s far superior to each. Where the original Assassin’s Creed punished you for not figuring out the puzzle, Enslaved doesn’t even dare. It also doesn’t make the climbing and motion feel mindless, or just a side task.
There are a few obvious tricks here. First, you can never fall to your death, so you’re welcome to try anything insane and crazy and at the worst have to watch your player do an awkward jump in place. It feels a bit like safety rails but when you’re trying to figure out the next move, not being punished because you didn’t realize what it wanted you to think immediately makes a better game.
Then from there Enslaved rarely makes it so the right move and a wrong move is similar. If you’re wall jumping it is smart enough to always make you move forward but most of the time if you move to the left on the screen and then have to move right there’s an intermediary move such as climbing up or dropping, so it won’t get confused where you’re moving next.
Finally, almost every motion in the game is relatively obvious. You might have to look for the next move, but most of the time, it’s clear where you have to move towards or start from to make the motion. Only twice did I have an issue with this.
The whole system isn’t flawless. Sometimes I felt like I was hammering A to move to the next location when I probably should have been able to hold A or just a direction instead, and I did find a few incorrect jumps that wasted seconds, but overall this system is excellent and was easily what kept me playing the game the most. It just feels right. I know I’ve spent a bit of time on this, but the controls really feel solid so it’s worth trying to make it clear what is special about it.
To accompany the motion the level design is top notch. The majority of levels where climbing and movement are important to the game, the game rises to the occasion and makes you enjoy the visuals or locations that it moves through. They even use destruction and a few canned scenes alongside the gameplay that makes it feel like there’s an urgency to the game.
On the other hand, there’s combat, and the combat arenas are a bit average, which matches the combat that occurs in it. This isn’t the worst combat system I’ve ever seen, but when the motion and movement features are so well done, the combat feels ancient by that standard. You have the normal button masher system, you can hold the attack button to break blocks, you have a block and a dodge. You can earn a few upgrades, but there’s nothing that really makes it anything better than average. There’s really only about five different enemy types and they keep attacking.
Combat always ends with a moment of awesomeness, though
There is a ranged system but that’s based on a shot system and the game is a bit stingy with those shots for the first half. After the first half, it’s clear why, shooting enemies is extremely powerful and the second half of the game has made it so much fun to just blow up a troublesome enemy. It’s just that Enslaved treats it like a super move for so long, rather than a part of the gameplay.
There are a few really impressive boss fights, and the game does a pretty good job at building up to them. There’s one enemy that hounds your player for quite a while, and when you finally take him on it’s one of the best moments in the game, but it’s not a typical fight. Almost all the bosses are unique and require a different style than the main enemies, and that’s what makes them good. It’s just a shame the standard fights can’t be as interesting or unique.
I mentioned upgrades earlier for the fighting and the game offers upgrades based on much loot you have found. There are floating red orbs, these orbs are mostly found through exploration of the nooks and crannies of a level. I’m an explorer in games and I didn’t find all of them in any chapter. I also missed a lot of collectibles while playing the game. It’s just there are so many places to look, and they’re so well hidden. But I love the fact that the game rewards me for searching.
Then there’s Trip. The second character in the game that you spend the whole game walking around with. She’s the female character, and can feel like a damsel in distress at the beginning of the game, but rather than making the entire game feel like a giant escort mission, which would have been terrible, Trip is almost never a problem. As long as you don’t ignore her or run away when enemies are attacking, enemies seem to focus on you rather than her.
She makes it clear when she’s in danger. Usually, you’re already fighting to save her, or using a turret to save her, and even if she gets attacked she has an EMP blast that will save her one time and give you time to assist her. It’s so well done I don’t even think she died one time during my game.
In fact, the game is never that difficult on normal. I died a few times, but mostly because I wasn’t taking the combat seriously. Even when you’re doing escort missions or keeping a friendly machine safe, I noticed the machines would regain health. It’s not realistic, but I find it a good move because it allows a lot more tension and rewards the player for doing well enough that the object they’re protecting isn’t getting hit.
So overall I liked the gameplay of the main game. But there’s also a “free” DLC that comes in the premium or full version of the game. It’s called Pigsy’s Perfect 10, and to be honest that name is a total lie. I played the first quarter of this game and it seems that someone had the awful idea of taking an engine that is built for combat and movement and adding stealth into it. I just don’t think it works. It wants the player to constantly avoid detection but doesn’t give him a way to really see where enemies are looking.
I didn’t find the story of the DLC compelling enough to continue it and the gameplay kind of annoyed me. If you wanted a stealth game, you either need to make it clear where the enemy is looking or make a game designed for stealth like Metal Gear Solid (any of them) or Mark of the Ninja. Here I don’t think it worked on any level.
Yet that’s DLC, and while I might improve a score from a game, I find it hard to dock a game points for an add-on, especially a free optional one. I didn’t like it, so I say just play the original game.
And that’s really my conclusion. Enslaved isn’t the best game of 2010, Red Dead Redemption probably has that crown. However, Enslaved is the hidden gem of 2010, and one of the hidden gems of the last console generation. It runs for 20 bucks but can be gotten for as little as 5 on sale.
There’s one more thing. It’s the first game I’ve reviewed on my site. I thought quite a bit about what game would be my first, and I had reviews ready for Rise of the Triad and Dead Rising 4, but neither felt right. Instead, I wanted to give the honor to a game that I thought really shined and needed some attention. For that reason alone, you should at least pay attention to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
Final words: It’s has a few flaws, but it was something fresh and is worth playing today, if simply for the motion through the world. It’s a solid game, and one worthy of your time.
Stats: 13.5 hours of gameplay, 33 of 58 (57%) achievements earned.