Enslaved: Odyssey to the West gets my vote for “best game that no one will play in 2010”. Its kinda sad to admit that a week and a half after its release but I think their publisher just didn’t put the marketing dollars behind a smart, beautiful and (most importantly) fun game. I guess that sort of leaves me with the duty of writing about why it was so good.
The game is loosely based off of one of the “Four Great Classical Novels” of Chinese literature, Journey to the West. Judging from the brief synopsis at Wikipedia, I’m honestly not sure how “loose” loosely is aside from taking a few of the characters names and using them in the game. Speaking of characters, there are only a few but they are very well-rounded.
You’ll play as Monkey, a fairly bad-ass drawin in the “I’m-ripped-like-Marcus-Fenix” style who wields a dual-edged lightsaber-like baton. While escaping from a huge flying slave ship, Monkey crashes in a post-apocalyptic and (rather dystopian) New York. He awakes to find himself fitted with some sort of slave control collar that makes his life inexplicably tied to Trip and her request that he take her back to her people some 300 miles distant. This sets off an odd character dynamic that I’ll get into in a second here.
The last character, Pigsy makes his appearance in the final third of the game which is sad because its all over far too soon.
Considering that the main character is forced to make this long journey against his will, the interaction with Trip starts out pretty argumentative. The story and script which were written by Alex Garland (of 28 Days Later, and The Beach fame) are smart and fast-paced. The character model, voice and game direction are provided by Andy Serkis who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. The combination of smart direction and a great story make for a great trip through New York and the lands beyond.
Combat is fast but a little lame. All of your battles will be with mech units, turrets, and mini-bosses left from some long ago war. Often your best path involves using Trip as a decoy, or strategically taking out certain mechs in order to move on. There are a few environmental kills that can be made, but they almost exclusive to the first third of the game in New York.
Monkey’s staff/baton/lightsaber thing can be upgraded by grabbing orange tech orbs scattered about and given off by fallen enemies. My first playthrough on medium I managed to nab about 85% of the orbs or higher per level and was able to max out a couple of the upgrade tracks in the process. Mini-bosses provide a fun challenge the first time and while nothing made me throw a controller in frustration, I wish some of them were a bit more difficult.
I should also mention how great the artistic direction is– the world is beautiful. The team seemed to have taken as much brown out of the palette as possible. New York is green and lush, overgrown with foliage. The mountain levels are reddish-gold; the mech factories, sludge levels, and trash levels are brilliant. You’ll traverse via foot, bike, air, submarine, and mech before the game is over. The engine uses Unreal technology so for better or worse, everything has that characteristic “individual glow” that reminds you very quickly of Gears of War.
Of the things I didn’t like: plastforming. A large element is finding out the suitable path to advance, taking out mechs along the way. It’s a lot like Prince of Persia, but with a magnetic object attachment. Aiming with the stick and a button you’ll just move from handhold to handhold. There’s rarely the question of what the next position is and most importantly: you’ll never fall. Sadly, you’ll never fall off of anything! Each time you need to leave a platform or an object you’ll have to jump, each and every time. I found that really annoying, especially when you occasionally get caught on objects that appear to be flat or contiguous but aren’t.
Lastly the game length. I finished all 14 chapters in about 11 hours. There is some light re-playability with orb collection. I grabbed about 520/1000 Gamerscore on the first play-through too. They all seem achievable and since it’s all single-player probably easy to pick up within 2 playthroughs.
I wish I could recommend the game at the $60 price point– It feels like a $40 game and given the lackluster push from Namco Bandai in marketing dollars I think it’ll hit that point very quickly. Add to the glut of holiday titles in the next 10 weeks and I think you’ll see it in the bargain bin soon enough. A darn shame considering how much time and solid effort went into this title. Here’s hoping Ninja Theory’s next game, a reboot of Devil May Cry will be enough to keep them going.