Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Review (PC)
Three years ago, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West came out of nowhere; a title with next to no marketing or coverage which ended up blowing critics away with its likeable characters, beautifully constructed world and some top notch facial animations and voice acting. It was one of 2010’s hidden gems, but does the game still hold up after three years on PC?
Enslaved is the story of two protagonists who are forced to work together in order to undertake a massive journey filled with dangerous mechs which roam the desolate world, brain-teasing puzzles and a fair amount of platforming. Monkey is strong and athletic and can easily take care of himself when it comes to fighting, however, Trip is just a young girl who is very talented with computers and tech, but can’t possibly hope to survive the dangerous world alone against all the mechs. In order to survive and return to her village, she enslaves Monkey whilst he is knocked unconscious with a high-tech helmet used the mysterious Pyramid corporation to control its goons. It’s obvious that Monkey doesn’t take it well to being enslaved and forced to help Trip against his will but, quickly enough, the two take a liking to each other and realize that they are going to need each other in order to make it through alive.
The story is the main focus of Enslaved, and is mostly told through cut-scenes at the beginning and end of each chapter. The game’s narrative will grip you from the very start and, before you know it, you will start caring a lot about Trip and Monkey, especially in the areas of the game which are a little more relaxed and gives the opportunity for the characters to interact with each other. The stunning facial animations on the characters, a trademark of Ninja Theory, add a whole new layer of depth to their emotions, as you can clearly tell when Trip is scared or happy or sad and the same works for Monkey. Despite the game’s age this feature remains just as impressive as when the game first came out, and still stands as some of the finest facial animations around. Andy Serkis‘ performance as Monkey is also top-notch and his excellent acting makes Monkey’s character more human and believable.
Throughout the game’s 14 chapters, there is a healthy variety between combat and platforming, with some stealth and puzzle solving thrown in on occasion. Enslaved will never feel particularly challenging, having played it on the hardest difficulty I never had to try a tricky section more than three or four times and the game always clearly shows you what you have to do and where you have to go, so you will never get lost in the levels. The whole journey took me approximately 8 hours to finish on the hardest difficulty, so you can expect to knock down the completion time by about an hour for the lower difficulties. I recommend playing the game directly on the hardest difficulty even if you aren’t used to doing so, it provides just the right amount of challenge without feeling frustrating.
As Monkey, you are armed with some sort of high-tech stick which you use to beat up mechs and turn them back into useless nuts and bolts. The combat system is fairly basic, you chain together light and heavy attacks to bring down your foes, you can charge up your stick for a stun and roll around to evade attacks. You can teach Monkey a few new tricks with the upgrade system, but the combat rarely gets more complicated than this. It’s very easy to catch on, although at times it does feel like the combat is a bit too simple compared to other action games.
The platforming is equally simple; you can only jump on select objects (which give off a faint glow for your convenience) and it is pretty much impossible to fall down when climbing. Basically, point they analog stick where you see the closest shining object and hit the jump button a few times. Later in the story Enslaved tries to throw you a few curveballs, but the basic formula still stands and you will rarely, if ever, find yourself in trouble in a platforming section.
Despite the simple and sometimes repetitive combat and platforming, Enslaved never feels boring. The pacing is spot-on, mixing the right amount of hectic combat with the calm, almost soothing platforming and general downtime. Sometimes, you may just be walking and talking with Trip whereas other times you will be fighting off seemingly endless waves of mechs. If you are not fighting, something is happening either in terms of character or story developments which makes Enslaved a very easy game to get sucked into.
With the PC edition, you will also have access to Enslaved‘s DLC, Pigsy’s Perfect 10. Here, you play as Pigsy, a character you meet fairly late in the game, and offers a completely different playstyle compared to the original game. Instead of combat and platforming you rely more on stealth and your tools to make it through. It’s fun enough to keep you entertained for the extra few hours of gameplay it offers, but it isn’t an integral part of the story and can be skipped all together.
The PC edition also enjoys a better looking game compared to its console counterparts, as expected, but other than that the game is identical. A controller is recommended as third person action games don’t tend to translate well onto a mouse and keyboard setting, but that’s up to the player’s preference.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is faced with the same issues it had when it first launched: the fact that other than offering an amazing story with excellent characters and a gorgeous world to explore, there really isn’t anything more the game offers. Once you beat the story, there isn’t any particular reason to go back, unless you want to play it again on a harder difficulty or scavenge for every collectible. The combat and platforming aren’t exactly revolutionary so, essentially, you are playing Enslaved just for its story. And it’s a damn good one.