Ninja Theory, at least to me, have seemed to nail the little known area of gaming known as great storytelling, compelling characters, graphics that fit and a nice, short gaming experience. Their previous PS3 only effort, Heavenly Sword was a title that was high on the beauty scale, but never seemed to catch on with many gamers out there, most likely due to its perceived God Of War feel. Cue Enslaved – Odyssey to the West. Loosely based on the ancient Chinese text (Ming Dynasty), the tale puts you in the role of Monkey, a man enslaved by technological whiz Trip, as you help her find a way out of the wasteland that was at one point New York City and head back to her home among colony of windfarmers some distance away.
Immediately after first level – Trip puts a slave headband on Monkey and through the magic of biotechnology, linked his life to hers – meaning if she dies, he dies; also when she commands him to do something, he must comply or face a nasty headache. Monkey obviously complies with Trips commands and off they go – armed with the promise of freedom once they reach her home. You take control of Monkey through this journey, which from the outside seems like it would be one giant and possibly annoying escort mission. Thankfully, this isn’t truly the case. Trip comes in quite handy being able to hack through doors, cause massive EMP spikes when she’s in danger which naturally allows you to swoop in and save her. Additionally, she has the ability to help Monkey level up via the Tech Orbs that are both scattered throughout the levels, and dropped when you destroy the mechs that are trying to prevent you from reaching your goal. The game is highly reminiscent of the Uncharted, thanks to its lush landscape and adventure. Yes, there’s also some constant companionship, and even with the stellar storytelling here – the interaction between the characters still doesn’t quite live up to the standard that Uncharted 2 has set. Here however, rather than having a shoot out with the bad guys, Monkey takes a more hand to hand approach, using his trusty staff and acrobatic skills.
A very large amount of platforming keeps the game moving forward, and rather than allow you to shoot yourself in the foot often, the developers have made the path extremely linear through the game. Even though there are a lot of ledges that you traverse, you can only jump off of them in the locations that will propel you to a safe location – and even then it’s only when you press the jump button. When leaping through the many platform and ledge sections of the game you’ll never miss a jump providing you’re pressing the thumbstick in the proper direction – which is always indicated by a glowing handhold or block for you to jump to. Yes, this takes a large amount of the challenge out of the game, but the feeling and flow that you get when making five or ten beautifully rendered jumps in a row without pausing to find the next safe spot is so seamless that you’ll quickly get past the handholding and just enjoy the ride, once you get used to Monkey’s initially awkward feeling controls.
Combat throughout the game is fairly straightforward to the point of being stagnant once you reach the end, but again the flow and the action onscreen is so pretty to look at you’ll want to keep playing the game just to see the close up of Monkey’s face when he vanquishes the last enemy in a given zone. Much of the combat is against one of three or four types of mechs in the game, with the odd larger boss battle taking place. It’s safe to say combat isn’t a focus in this title, as the storytelling and emotion that the characters display is the primary draw to the game – and is becoming a trademark of Ninja Theory titles (Kung Fu Chaos not included).
Personally, I’d take a well crafted, thought provoking eight-ish hour long journey with some characters who not only grow in skill set, but in emotional attachment over a 20+ hour title anyday – and that’s exactly what Ninja Theory delivered here. Yes, the game seemed to come to an end a little too soon, but that craving of wanting more is exactly what I loved about it. I wasn’t rushing through the last levels because I wanted it to just end, and I wasn’t scouring a map to find story quests to help propel things forward. A perfectly paced story, even with the introduction of a third character, is one that should draw gamers. No, it’s not a perfect title – I had at least one instance where I had to power down my Xbox because of game crippling framerate issues (it cleared up after that), and it sadly seemed a little too easy on Normal mode. But the draw to replay and find more hidden items at a harder difficulty level is there, combine that with the ability to take your leveled up Monkey to the next game and the thought becomes even more appealing. Give this game a shot if you haven’t yet – the demo is a fantastic introduction to the title and should whet your appetite for more.
- Score: 8.5
- With some of the best facial animations seen in a long while, the sense of growth and emotion from the characters adds great depth to an otherwise merely enjoyable action platformer.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360