Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

I’ve been meaning to play Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for quite a while now, it’s been about two years since its fall 2010 release. I really enjoyed Ninja Theory‘s previous game, Heavenly Sword (though admittedly for its art and style more than its game play) but I just haven’t gotten around to playing Enslaved until now.

Part of that was simply a cost thing. At thirty to forty pound a game, even for games that turn out to be quite bad, I just can’t afford to buy every game when it comes out. Nor would I want to, it’s my money…I’m discerning with it. Using a rental service (which we’ve had for about a year now) really helps. We have a whole list of games, ‘B games’ we call them, which we kiiiind of fancy playing…but we suspect they won’t be good/worth the money/or anything we’ll want to keep.

So, onto Enslaved…

Like with Heavenly Sword, I really liked the design and feel of Enslaved – particularly the environments. It has a wonderfully bright and colourful representation of a post-apocalyptic world that does stand out from the dull and brown contenders.

The game play is split between two types: combat (which reminds me a lot more of Devil May Cry than Heavenly Sword – though this may be for the best), and Tomb Raider/Uncharted style jumping around and exploring of the pretty backdrops. Sadly, the exploration really suffers in favour of the combat – the game throwing enemies at you as soon as you enter areas, and then simply wanting you to move on afterwards. This leading you through pretty set piece after pretty set piece, without much interaction with it gets quite dull.

I also thought the background story was really interesting – the civilised world as we know it was destroyed at some point, and that it seems to be something to do with all the robots running around trying to kill what remains of human life. But sadly the game doesn’t develop it more…and the positives really end there.

The game play does become very repetitive quite quickly. After the first few stages exploring, and fighting battle after battle (sadly the combat takes up more of the game than the exploration), going through the obligatory vehicle sequences, there isn’t much else to appreciate other than the scenery. Which is very nice…but we’re playing a game.

The controls are good enough, the only major gripe I had while playing the game was the camera. It was a player controlled camera…most of the time. Occasionally the game really wanted the camera to point in a particular direction that while good for getting a look around, isn’t good for playing with. You do end up fighting a little for control which gets quite annoying – It really needed to be one of the other, not both.

The interesting story we get in return for all this really isn’t worth it as it moves on. The game doesn’t develop the back story any more which is a real shame, instead focusing on the relationship between our main characters. And for me this relationship wasn’t…good. Spoilers for anyone who hasn’t played the game, from here on. At the near beginning of the game the svelte, attractive and painfully generic female lead straps a ‘slave head band’ onto our badly proportioned player character Monkey (the name basically covers anything you’d need to know about him) and essentially sets up a ‘do what I want or else’ relationship. Then at the end of the game, Monkey decides to keep it on and still help Trip – apparently having developed an invisible romantic relationship between cut scenes.

The head band doesn’t really amount to anything in the end. Trip doesn’t abuse it, and knows it wrong. All it seems to be for is justifying the games HUD and the ‘escort’ type game play. But if Monkey was a she…and Trip was a guy – I’m betting people would have felt justified in being angry anyway. Slavery being a pretty bad thing. So, a touch of the sexism does put it down a bit.

Looking at it compared to Heavenly Sword as well, I really liked that Heavenly Sword had a big angry female character (Nariko) without feeling the need to make her more ‘girly’, or introduce a pointless love side plot that doesn’t make me like characters any more.

Enslaved also suffers a little from having such a limited cast of characters I think. While some people liked Enslaved’s only other main character ‘Pigsy’ – I didn’t (other people with taste I’m sure too…I mean, really? The design was call him ‘Pigsy’ and make him fat and messy? You really put the effort in their Ninja Theory). And with him and the not particularly interesting Trip there aren’t a lot of characters for me to…well, care at all about.

Heavenly Sword had it’s over the top bad guys who you kind of liked despite them being bad – it was awesome. All of Enslaved bad guys and bosses are…robots. Yeah.

Sadly, overall the game really makes me think of the Prince of Persia reboot of 2008 (the helpfully named “Prince of Persia). A game that was kind of pretty, with repetitive game play and uninteresting characters and plot, that was much hyped and well received at the time. These games are quickly forgotten as they just weren’t that good, at the time they were simply shiny and new – which is something a lot of reviewers need to get over.

I would still recommend playing Heavenly Sword a lot more than Enslaved, if only to enjoy its visuals and cast of characters. Interestingly enough Ninja Theory are developing the new Devil May Cry – DMC: Devil May Cry (oh god, why the silly name?) – and while the character design is painfully aimed at a young, low jeans wearing, cool kid crowd that I’d rather burn with fire, the recent demo was very fun. We’ll have to see.

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