Easter Eggs: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

By Mark Delaney, 5 years ago
Welcome to Easter Eggs, where the TA Team shines the spotlight on games that many gamers might have missed, perhaps hidden away behind the millionth copy of Call of Duty or FIFA. Much like a gamer who finds an Easter Egg hidden away in a game and proceeds to trumpet it from the highest hills and forums, the TA Team is going to be featuring these Easter Egg games on the front page for all to see.
Welcome to round three of our new Easter Eggs feature. Are you starting to get the idea? For every Grand Theft Auto and Gears of War in the gaming world, there are The Saboteur and Singularity, games that deserve a second look if they flew under your AAA radar previously.

This week's Easter Egg exists in a familiarly dark setting for the industry, the post-apocalyptic future, but Enslaved: Odyssey to the West still finds a way to shine a creative light into its environments and characters alike.
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The Basics

Enslaved is a third-person action-adventure game from Ninja Theory. It's a modern re-imagining of the classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West, which was also a primary inspiration for Dragon Ball Z. The game opens over a century into the future aboard a slaver aircraft after most of humanity has been wiped out by mechs. Behind bars is the protagonist, Monkey. Quickly he meets Trip, a beautiful and somewhat mysterious young woman, and together they fight off their robot overlords and escape via emergency pod moments before the aircraft crashes. When Monkey awakens from the impact that left him unconscious, he and the audience each discover new things. For Monkey, he learns that Trip has placed a headband on him that only she can remove and grants her control over Monkey. If he steps out of line or tries to go against what she has planned, she can hit him with a few volts to keep him behaved like a new puppy. Her life is entangled to his own now. If she dies, so too does Monkey. How's that for incentive for good performance? The grumpy Monkey, voiced and mocap'd by Hollywood vet Andy Serkis, grudgingly accepts Trip's wishes as his command and they set out to return Trip home.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was released in October of 2010 and today boasts a favorable 82 rating on Metacritic. The roughly 3,500 TA votes have it at the same mark with 4.1/5 stars.
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The Hook

It's in these opening scenes where the audience learns what makes Enslaved stand out from the slew of other end of the world games. The combat, made up mostly of melee attacks, is responsive and features a classic easy-to-learn/hard-to-master dynamic, with plenty of platforming and boss battles. Where Enslaved separates itself is in its narrative. The apocalypse Ninja Theory presents reveals a unique dichotomy of dilapidated villages and cities with lush greenery that has reclaimed Earth in the absence of Man. It's the same "beautiful disaster" aesthetic displayed by Naughty Dog's recent hit, The Last of Us , but three years prior to Joel and Ellie's journey, Monkey and Trip were scavenging a similarly ravaged yet stunning terrain.

Great environments and fun gameplay add up to a game that might be worthwhile but what really makes Enslaved a must-play for genre fans or story-centric gamers, are the characters themselves. The aforementioned Serkis and teenybop veteran Lindsey Shaw provide the voices for our heroes and infuse them with hilarity, anger, fright, compassion, and sadness at different times. What at first appears to be a parasitic relationship quickly evolves into a much more symbiotic one as Trip becomes both an ally and tool for Monkey's combat strategy, rather than just someone holding him on a leash. A character you meet later on your travels, Pigsy, is equally complex but much more often hilarious as you'll see in this video if you don't mind very minor spoilers. Because of the stellar voice-acting, solid motion-capturing, and beautiful environments, the characters come to life on screen and demand your attention across the game's roughly ten hour story that culminates in a somewhat familiar but definitely thought-provoking ending.
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The Achievements

Enslaved's achievement list can certainly... well, enslave some completionists for a while. There are plenty of story-related ones that you'll get just for progression (my favorite), and there are others for upgrading your arsenal which the game demands you utilize to have a chance at completing it. Still, after those ones that will come naturally, there are a few that demand walkthroughs or guides. Collectible-hunting for the tech orbs provides the most boring gamerscore to be earned in the game, as there are so many in each level, you'll almost surely miss some if you play it free of assistance from YouTube or TA guides.

Some others aren't as time-consuming as they are just difficult. Beating the game on "Normal" was already more of a challenge than usual games but there's an achievement to beat it on "Hard", too. For different enemy encounters there are achievements related to beating them under certain parameters, whether it be a speedy victory, evading certain attacks, or reaching milestones of number of enemies defeated. Some of these will take some replaying before you'll hear the "bla-bloink!" of gamerscore being tallied.
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As you can tell, the list is both challenging at times and consistently uninspired. This is a cookie-cutter achievement list that will still take some commitment if you're looking to join the 10.5% of TA's 27K+ tracked users who have completed the game.

The Price

Enslaved's lack of multiplayer and commercial spotlight, as well as its three years in stores, combine to form its low price point. In America, Amazon lists the game at under $17. UK gamers can get it for around £10. Basically, you can get a stellar story with solid gameplay for the same price as a new release DVD, and with the shape of modern Hollywood, it's likely Enslaved delivers a better narrative anyways.
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The Verdict

If you don't care about video game stories, there might not be enough here for you, but gamers with an interest in living a narrative in the way only games can won't be disappointed with Enslaved. Its story-gameplay pairing doesn't really compare to other games on Xbox, but its cinematic presentation and don't-look-down platforming resembles Nathan Drake's adventures on PS3.

If Enslaved's greatest strengths are its unique narrative and depth of characters, it's greatest flaw is its sometimes unflinching commitment to all-too-common video game tropes. Tiered boss battles stressing repetition as well as all the collectibles littering the otherwise magnificent landscapes work counter-productively and may take you out of the experience at times. Tolerate those tropes, however, and you'll find that one of the best games of the busy holiday season of 2010 was this oft-neglected title. Overshadowed by mega-franchises like Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Halo: Reach that year, Ninja Theory challenged the slaves to AAA development by releasing a gem as captivating as it is colorful -- and fully worthy of joining the list of TA Easter Eggs.

If there's a game you'd like to see featured in Easter Eggs, be sure to let us know in the comments!
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.