Now in case by some bizarre combination of probabilities you somehow didn’t see a single advert for this game either on television, in HMV, or any internet media outlet, I’ll quickly explain the premise that is excitedly presented.
The story is set approximately 150 years from the present day, and apparently humanity and just about all of its pretty inventions have been all but wiped out. It is worth noting Ninja Theory’s latest adventure has some rather big names to boast. Motion capture veteran and actor Andy Serkis directed the game and also provided the voice and body movements for lead character ‘Monkey’.
Another notable talent includes highly regarded screenwriter and novelist Alex Garland, who created the story for the title which is loosely based on the classic ancient Chinese literature “Journey To The West,” except this version has got more ass kicking.
From the very start of Enslaved there is reference to a devastating war past, between what we can only assume to be us and a large force of mechs. You spend the entirety of the game scrambling, sliding and sprinting through the dystopian wasteland left behind. You play as incredibly athletic and agile Monkey, who by a rather bad handful of luck, gets ‘enslaved’ by a young teenage girl called Trip, who is alarmingly talented at manipulating technology and in no-way looks JUST like the lead character from the developing team’s first game ‘Heavenly Sword’ *clears throat*.
Trip and Monkey stumble across each other’s paths when they both narrowly escape a slave ship that is hurling towards New York City (yes AGAIN). Before Monkey has time to stop her, Trip fixes a modified slave headband onto him that will trigger intense waves of excruciating pain if he tries to resist Trip’s commands, which incidentally boil down to helping her get safely through the crumbling city to her father’s community some several hundred miles away. Unfortunately there are still tons of mechs left over from this huge war that are in ‘standby mode’ and every one of them will want your guts on a kebab stick even if you put on your best manners.
At the heart of the game lies a simple but solid fighting platformer, and gameplay is divided up into exhilaratingly intense battles, and indescribably addictive acrobatic climbing. The combat system Ninja Theory has laid down is very neat and accessible, the variety of attacks breaking up into heavy and light strikes from Monkey wielding his uber-cool energy staff.
Counter attacks are available alongside dodging out of harm’s way and the game makes use of currently popular ‘takedown moves’ which are pre-set (but devilishly stylish) mini-cinematic kills, which are brutal (as expected) but most refreshingly, don’t require any additional button presses once started.
While having nothing like the complex system of combos typically offered in games like Bayonetta or God of War, the combat sacrifices overwhelming depth for something more akin to Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum, opting for a more tight and visceral satisfaction for the player.
Moments where you have Monkey leap off a rusted car, bring the staff hurling round his herculean body to smash into the side of a mechanical death-bringing gun droid, and it crumples beneath the sheer force of the blow, or fractures into a dozen of parts of flying destruction, are quite frankly, phenomenal.
Frequently Monkey has to scale ruined buildings and ledges to reach marked objectives while Trip either waits for you to kick down a ladder or destroy enemies that block the way. The speed you can get Monkey to leap and swing from platform to pole to foot is pure eye candy. It never gets boring to watch him throw himself across a perilous gap and to only just make it, it’s ridiculously fun to execute although there is a small learning curve when controlling Monkey to move smoothly during these sequences.
A few hours into the game you will be able to use a sort of glowing hover board to move quickly across the ground and glide over water in various locations. These sections are short and sweet but the game won’t let you activate it unless the area you are in requires it.
Enslaved does suffer a few minor but frustrating frame rate issues on certain levels when the action gets a little too busy for itself, and it can dilute the adrenaline rush you normally get in key set pieces, like the first encounter with the giant dog. When the game is running fluidly however, the visuals are breathtakingly stunning, and I suspect the more appreciative gamers amongst you will stop and simply drink in the view.
The aesthetic is on par with Uncharted 2, and the world you traverse is genuinely beautiful. From a dramatic sunset cascading a warm light across Monkey’s muscled back, to the shocking red waterfall of leaves hanging down from a glassless window, Enslaved looks good.
Moving onto Trip’s role in the gameplay; it ranges from hacking doors, finding safe (ish) routes through the environment, creating a hologram image to provide a temporary distraction for enemies, and upgrading Monkey’s combat skills.
If you are too hasty Enslaved appears like an extended ‘protect and escort’ mission and in essence it is, but yet it doesn’t feel like a chore like far too many of the escort missions in other titles. Trip isn’t actually even on screen very much with Monkey except during cut scenes, and most importantly the voice acting for all of the characters is so convincing that the unlikely bonding between Trip and Monkey is not only believable, but thoroughly touching. Which I will highlight is rare in gaming.
The facial animation, the wonderfully composed soundtrack, the fantastic pacing of gameplay, and the craftsmanship of the tale itself all clicks together almost seamlessly to create an experience very few other games out there can offer. Admittedly Enslaved is a little bare when it comes to incentives for replaying the campaign and it feels like it ends all too quickly. Those looking for a title that will keep them busy for a month, steer clear because this isn’t about quantity. I’ve kept details that relate specifically to the progression of the story sparse because I felt it would spoil it for those who are considering buying it, there might be a few small and very pleasing surprises lurking in Monkey and Trip’s adventure waiting for you.
The consistently appealing variety of gameplay and heart pumping set pieces make Enslaved: Odyssey To The West a true winner.