The Gaming Guru Review of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

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by TRACY-MARK GORGAS / Special contributor to NWCN.com

NWCN.com

Posted on October 20, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 20 at 2:25 PM

Monkey, Trip, and Pigsy, what’s in a name? Today I am reviewing Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.  Is it really based on an over 400-year-old story?  Can something that old be fun?  Well let’s find out.

Story

Yes, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is loosely based on a Chinese story first published in 1590 called Journey to the WestEnslaved updates the magic and demons of Journey to the West with technology and robots, set in a post-apocalyptic future.

The game starts on a slave ship where Monkey has been captured and has been locked in a prison pod.  As he struggles against his bonds he sees a woman, named Tripitaka (Trip for short) escaping.  As she escapes she accesses a computer panel and sets up an explosive diversion.  This diversion allows Monkey to escape also.  Monkey makes his way through the ship as it slowly falls apart to the escape pods, only to find Trip in the last one.  As he bangs on the door for her to let him in, she hits the button to launch the pod, because of where he was at, Monkey is along for the ride.  At some point in the flight he passes out.

When he comes to, Monkey finds Trip watching him.  She explains that she has rewired one of the slaver’s control headbands and put it on him.  The head band will electronically cause Monkey pain if he does not follow her commands and that is tied into her heartbeat and that she dies, he dies.  She further explains that the village she was captured from is 300 miles away and that she needs to get to back there.  Once there she will release him from the slaver headband.  Reluctantly he agrees to help her.

That is where I will leave it as I do not want to spoil too much of the story.  Suffice to say the story is very good and it better be.  It was written by novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland, who wrote The Beach and 28 Days Later.

Controls and Gameplay

The controls are pretty easy to pick up.  They have the light and strong attacks, block, jump, and some shooting controls.  The gameplay is a third person action adventure game.  There is some tactical tandem play with Trip, she can distract enemies to allow you to move without being attacked, and you can do the same for her.
  
While this sounds like there would be some co-op multiplayer, this is not the case.  It would be nice, but it would also take away from the fact that Trip is supposed to be frail young woman who has no knowledge of combat.  The tandem controls works very well, a lot better than I originally thought.

Graphics and Sound

It is a beautiful game.  The graphics are really well done.  Post-apocalyptic New York just looks jaw-dropping good.   In some instances I thought I was looking at artwork done by some fantasy artists like Boris Vallejo or Frank Frazetta.

Sound is very good.  They got some top flight talent to voice the characters.  The big name to note is Andy Serkis.  He voiced Gollum for Lord of the Rings and voices Monkey for this game.  He also co-directed the game, bringing a great flair and eye for the cinematic.

Overall

I’ve gotten to play some really good games this year, Halo: Reach, God of War III, Alan Wake, etc. that all told really good stories.  They all pale in comparison to Enslaved.  Not only is the story good, but the telling of the story is really done well.  Credit bringing in the talents of Serkis and Garland and teaming them with developer Ninja Theory, who created the excellent game Heavenly Sword
 
Enslaved is the first game I’ve ever really noticed small things, like facial animation, eye position and body language.  In general most games have some basic form of these, but Enslaved took notice and use it effectively.  Characters move more humanly and less like an animation of human movement, nor do they stare blankly at you while they deliver their lines.

The story and storytelling are only one aspect of a game and if the gameplay isn’t good then it all falls apart.  Luckily that is not the case here.  Enslaved plays very well, it is part exploration and part action.  Again Andy Serkis plays a hand here by doing the motion capture work for Monkey.  The man must be a trained acrobat for some of what he does for the part.  If developer Ninja Theory are smart they will lock down Serkis and Garland for every game they do from here on out.

I really hope this game takes off; it is that good, so good I would consider it a contender for game of the year.  The only problem is its release comes at a time when a lot of heavy hitters are being released for the holiday season and it could possibly get buried.  Much like a few years back when Beyond Good and Evil came out, a really good game, lost in a sea of holiday releases.

I guess I could go on and on, I really enjoyed this game, so Enslaved: Odyssey to the West gets 5 out of 5. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is rated T for Teen for Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, and Violence.  It is available now for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

 

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