Ever heard of Ninja Theory? Neither had I. Prior to the release of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
in 2010 the team only had one title to their name (with one more title, but under a different developer name). I didn't need to know anything about the developer to know that the demo gameplay for Enslaved
made it seem like an interactive movie with some truly hair-raising scenes. The game's been out for a few years now, and I've finally had a chance to sit down and play the game. How did the rest of the game pan out compared to the demo?
I admit being immediately attracted to the idea of Enslaved
. It's a futuristic scifi retelling of an epic classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West
. If the similar names doesn't make it obvious, trust me when I say the characters, plot, and many of game concepts are direct references and homages to the novel. While drawing very heavy inspiration from the novel, rest assured that the futuristic spin on the concept takes the characters in some wildly different directions.
We begin the game aboard a slaver ship, locked in a cell. A short introduction cutscene shows the main character, a burly shirtless hero voiced by Andy Serkis, escaping from his cell as another character, a woman, begins to systematically sabotage the airship in an effort to escape. Released from your cell, the game tosses you right into an intuitive interactive tutorial that covers the basics of the game: platforming and some combat.
“Monkey,” as the main character goes by, proves to be very adept at climbing and combat. Right from the get-go the game is tossing nerve-wracking cinematic platforming sequences at you, such as clinging on to the outside of the airship as pieces of its hull break off and fly by you. After some sequences like this and a little combat, the short tutorial level comes to an end with Monkey catching the last available escape pod. The catch? That mysterious woman who started all of this beat you to it, and she's not giving it up easy. Albeit through less-than-desired means, Monkey and the woman both jettison from the ship before it crashes into a post-apocalyptic, over-grown New York City.
A cutscene shows why the game is aptly called Enslaved
and the real game shortly begins. Monkey finds himself stuck with the woman, revealed to be named Trip, whether he likes it or not. Luckily, Trip proves to be quite useful through the game. Though she admits herself she'd never be able to survive alone in this post apocalyptic world (which is filled with homicidal mechanical creatures), her abilities as an engineer aid Monkey's brute and raw strength perfectly. As the game progresses, she provides the player with abilities such as a decoy to distract ranged mechs, will continuously scan environments for the player (acting very much like a navigation system), will reveal threats for the player, and most importantly will use her expertise to improve Monkey's combat prowess or longevity.
The game generally plays out like this: platform around a level to pass an obstacle, making a path for Trip to get through; then combat sequence to protect Trip; repeat until end of level, or boss. It may sound boring, but the formula works marvelously well when the simple ideas are coupled with the game's great cinematography. Combat is somewhat sparse at first but becomes increasingly more common as the game progresses to much satisfaction. The combat mechanics progress from basically being “press these two buttons” to eventually encompassing quite an array of attacks and abilities, such as a counter-attack, knock-back attack, stun attack, and various projectile attacks. These eventually become not just fun to use, but essential on the harder difficulty as the game throws newer and improved enemy types at you in larger quantities.
As you and Trip progress through the levels, the characters will naturally interact and discuss plot events such as the beautiful decaying ruins of New York City. The dialogue is generally well written and pleasantly cryptic; through out the game the characters don't explain anything to the player outright. That is, they don't “break the fourth-wall.” Instead they'll talk about where they're headed, how little even they know about the events that led to the post apocalyptic world, and generally try to get to know each other better (typically this is Trip talking – Monkey's not all that interested in Trip's life at first).
The game progresses at a very nice pace. There are a few parts that feel like they're too hard too early, but they're very, very few and far between, and they usually only feel hard because you don't understand what to do yet – chiefly this happens against bosses. Other than that, the game steadily tosses more difficult platforming sequences at you (though they still are all generally easy), harder enemies, and takes you to new locations as soon as you feel like you've seen enough of the last one (each of which is as beautiful and detailed as the last).
If I haven't said it enough, let me say it again: this game is wonderfully cinematic. Ninja Theory knows they crafted incredible levels with awesome scenery, and they're not afraid to flaunt it. Very often the camera will fix in on something eye-catching – like wrapping up a round of combat, an important or epic jump from obstacle to obstacle, or highlight an obstacle that's crumbling. And the boss take-downs, oh man the boss take-downs. When I say this game has some of the most satisfying bosses I've ever fought, it's not really so much because they were the hardest to beat, or the hardest to figure out. But each one comes with such a satisfyingly epic take-down scene that it's worth playing through a whole level again just to see them.
Unfortunately, the emphasis on cinematography isn't all positive. Undeniably, the camera in some situations can be downright frustrating when you're trying to focus on something but the game insists on the camera being fixed another way. This doesn't happen a whole lot, but there were some cases where the camera was really getting on my nerves – particularly during a certain battle sequence where I was supposed to be protecting something from enemies, but the camera kept circling around to this forsaken angle where I couldn't even see what I was doing. Rest assured, these are isolated incidents.
The game's pretty straightforward linear. There are collectibles, some of which can be fairly off the beaten path, but that's only a handful on each level. A run-of-the-mill player will probably run through this game never even knowing that some of these side areas exist because of the way the camera usually encourages you to take a certain path, which ultimately progresses the level. There are three different difficulties to play through, so players may find some replayability here. But with no multiplayer aspects at all, this game offers very little else in store for replayability.
On top of that, it's somewhat short to boot. Aiming for 100% collectibles can garner some extra game life out of this title, but with fourteen chapters that range from 45-90 minutes each makes this a 10-15 hour game that, more than likely, you'll never touch again after completing it once. If I had been releasing this review immediately after release, I would have recommended consumers holding out on this one for a while. But now? It's been a while.
Since this game's release, Ninja Theory went on to develop the reboot of the Devil May Cry
franchise and has received very mixed acclaim for their job on it. I'd hate to see something like that get in the way of Ninja Theory growing as a developer, because if Enslaved
is just the beginning of what they are capable of, I would love to see what else they have up their sleeves.Achievements
A lot of this game's achievements can be earned just through the natural course of the game. They include story progression, combat milestones (“kill X enemies”), and unique combat scenarios (“kill X enemy with Y method”) that you may end up getting on accident just by playing. A few of the more annoying ones, such as collecting all the orbs or masks – two kinds of collectibles presented in this game – can be something of a nuisance when you complete an entire 60 minute level only to find out you missed one (even with a guide handy). Apart from these, a handful of achievements requiring a DLC may annoy the completionists out there.Achievements never affect the score of a game and are included by reader request. Only the categories below influence the final score.SummaryGraphics:
Beautiful scenery, epic animations, and wonderful cinematography are marred only by an occasionally finicky camera angle.Sound:
A very small but wonderful cast of voice actors give life to the colourful characters.Plot:
A fantastical retelling of the already fantastical Chinese novel with a surprise, albeit not wholly original, ending.Gameplay:
Platforming that's never too complicated is interspersed with increasingly difficult combat sequences, which usually end with a satisfying killing blow.Length/Replay Value:
Short, but sweet. With little-to-no replay value it's a sad truth this one may get played once, then collect dust.Yea or Nay?
As mentioned, if I was publishing this review when the game was brand new, I would have suggested very strong caution putting down full price for such a short, though enjoyable, game. Now that the game is over two years old and used copies should not be hard to find for a fiver in the States, it's hard for me to say not to buy this one. There are worse ways to spend five bucks.Final score:
6.8I claim no right to the pictures used in this review, and they will be removed if requested.