Enslaved: Odyssey to the West review
This journey is marred by underdeveloped elements and not much backstory
If you don't have a PS3, you wouldn't have played Heavenly Sword, so this game would be something you might've either ignored completely, or just bought on a whim. I know I did the latter. There wasn't much coverage, but it still looked interesting enough, especially with the box art. Playing it, on the other hand, left me with mixed reactions. What's done well is most certainly done well, and what isn't quite so well done, well, it really shows. It's worth checking out, but don't expect a masterpiece.
Story: The world as we know it has ended. Mankind have been enslaved by robots, and it's either do what they say, or die. But hey, why not base it on a journey... to the west, possibly? Yes, this is a loose adaptation of Monkey: Journey To The West, a Chinese story older than time itself, kind of like how Dragon Ball was, except this Monkey has a staff that can shoot plasma bullets instead of firing Kamehameha waves. It starts off inside a slave ship, which is explained a little more at the end, and he has to escape. At the last minute, he hangs onto the last escape pod, driven by none other than Trip, who... programs a headband to enslave Monkey so that he has to protect her as she travels to her home, because if she dies, he dies too. Simple premise, but the chemistry between Monkey and Trip - and later on, Pigsy - is unbelievably good. Seriously, as you progress through the game, you're on the edge of your seat, wondering how they can overcome their current situation, and also wondering just how well their relationship develops as they go on with their journey.
The only two concerns I have would be the beginning and the ending. The beginning doesn't explain shit. What happened to the rest of civilization? How do they live in a world now enslaved by robots? Is this the sequel to Darksiders? Is this meant to be the fifth Terminator movie - if so, where's John Connor? I suppose it's nice that they're leaving some things to the imagination, but given the superb writing throughout, I actually wouldn't have minded some exposition. The other concern is in the ending - it felt abrupt, rushed, and just pretty mediocre overall. It explains a few things, but I'm still starving for more, like there should've been one or two more levels... I won't explain any more clearly, otherwise, I might spoil it.
Gameplay: At its heart, Enslaved is a beat em up with some platforming, puzzle and even light third person shooting elements to keep you from getting bored of whacking the same four types of enemies to death. I mean seriously, you don't fight too many different sorts of enemies throughout your journey, and the combat engine is pretty simple. What keeps it from becoming monotonous is that the enemy AI is designed in a way to gang up on you and take you down, especially if you have one isolated. It makes combat more interesting, although I have to admit, once you get the pattern down, it ends up being pretty easy, even in the later levels. The funfactor is still there, but the difficulty? Nah.
As you take down enemies or just run through the levels, you'll collect these things called tech orbs. They allow you to upgrade your staff, plasma shots, health and shield. So you'll be thinking “sweet, I'll just play the second level over and over again” - sorry kids, but Ninja Theory says no, because when you collect tech orbs that float around levels, they'll remain gone... forever... Only tech orbs from enemies regenerate, so if you want all of the upgrades, you'll need to find every tech orb, or repeat enemy-heavy levels.
Then there's Trip. You know, the chick you're protecting? Yeah, you didn't think this was going to be an escort mission where you have to keep her protected, didn't you...? Don't worry if Resident Evil 4 traumatised you with an utterly useless companion, because Trip AT LEAST does something... whenever enemies attack her, she'll deploy an EMP to stun them – at which point, you must come to her aid and kick some shiny metal ass. Oh, and she can distract shooters while you run for more cover. You'll need to wait for them to recharge after they're used... Surprisingly, she never gets annoying, and there are only a few moments when she really has to really defend herself.. or wait for Monkey, whatever. This is very tolerable and I wish that other developers who are thinking of doing escort missions would take notes while going through this game, because I sure did.
Where I would normally give these elements their own paragraphs, there's... nothing much to say about the other styles of play. For instance, there are only a few puzzles throughout the game, and one of them was more trial and error than logic based, but it stands as the hardest because the rest had easy to see patterns going for them. Platforming is basically you pressing a button and holding the left analogue stick in that direction - viola, you just climbed up a tower. Nothing tricky here as it's practically done for you. I've already done this; it's called Prince Of Persia 08, and you know what, all this did was make me want to go back and play that game. Finally, the shooter elements are only necessary against far off enemies - whether it's enemies you can't reach or enemies that are charging in your direction, just shoot. You have plasma shots that hurt them, and stun shots that, uhh, stuns them.
I'm not just briefly describing them - that is basically all that there is to those three elements. I suppose it's like I said - it keeps you from getting bored of smacking enemies with a big stick, but then you realize that they're all pretty underdeveloped. Maybe not necessarily the shooting element, because hey, at least it does its job, but the platforming and puzzles just seem really half assed and thrown in JUST for the sake of variety to satisfy the kiddies who think every second game is repetitive. I mean, the combat engine isn't exactly complex, but you can tell that it was designed to be like that, so that simplicity is forgiven. This? Get *bleep*ed, this was just in it to be in it.
Controls: On paper, the controls should be good. I mean, look at the Sands Of Time trilogy on the PS2; a decent amount of acrobatic shit has to be done, and monsters (or robots, in this case) need slaughtering. Sadly, the controls aren't quite there. Most of the actions, like striking and shooting work without fail, but oftentimes, simple jumps feel stiff, and movement can be pretty fidgety when it wants to be. You don't notice those moments too often, but they're damn noticeable when they do happen. Seriously, it just pissed me off when Monkey downright refused to jump up some platforms - instead, he just stumbles over the edge, and this can cost you some achievement points or a trophy (I mean people DO play games on PS3, after all), as one section has you doing a lot of climbing and running to beat this really fat bionic commando to the top of some decaying tower. Man, *bleep* this shit.
Graphics: The graphics look excellent, but technically speaking, they're not very good. The negatives include the occasional slowdown and some textures taking their sweet time to load, but when they do load – and here's the good side of the coin – the environments and character models look amazing. There are a lot of lush colors used to convey the feeling of nature taking over after the apocalypse, and there is a lot of detail put into everything you see in the game. The facial expressions are especially worth noting, because it looks so realistic, animated in a way that, if you you saying what they were saying, it'd be like looking into a mirror, if said mirror only reflected mouths and eyes. It's just awesome, really.
Audio: As many reviewers would've mentioned, the voice acting is *bleep*ing brilliant. It compliments the story quite well, as it, like the facial expressions, sounds so realistic, like if you were in those situations saying what they're saying, it'd carry the exact same tone, emotion, and intensity... alright, those descriptive terms sound similar, but that's just the beauty of it all when you can barely even come up with anything without gushing yourself to death. The music is also very well orchestrated, managing to pull you into the moments, even if it's not exactly catchy in any way, but these soundtracks are usually meant to be ambient. My only regret is that none of the songs are really memorable in any way – just has strong ambience, that's all. Not terrible, but it's just something that annoys me. Maybe you'll be different. Unfortunately, tastes don't excuse the oftentimes cut out sound effects – I don't know, something about seeing an explosion but not hearing it just sucks the fat one.
Replay Value: If you're going to replay this game, it'll just be to get all of the achievements/trophies. Some of them are tricky dicky, though – getting all of the tech orbs may sound easy, but since the last 5-15% of them are hidden in places you wouldn't think of going to, and getting all of the masks is equally tricky.. well, not all of them, but there's those last three masks hidden way the *bleep* away from the beaten path... The others can be tricky too, but those two are particularly hard. But it should be, because that's what'll keep you coming back after finishing the game, because there aren't any hidden secrets and stuff to find, other than the orbs and masks you missed.
Overall: Enslaved: Odyssey To The West really meant well. The combat engine and the relationship between the main characters was very well done. However, the underdeveloped puzzle and platforming elements, as well as the beginning and ending (or really, where the ending was placed), had me begging for something more, and at the end of the day, it just leaves an empty feeling inside. If you're not one to think about this sort of thing, Enslaved is actually a pretty good game to go through, but if you're prone to emptiness, maybe just rent this – this is a game that must be played, if only once.
Replay Value: 4/10
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