What would the world look like years after the apocalypse?  I bet images of nuclear fallout, grey skies, and world devoid of any plant life pass through your mind.  In our modern way of thinking the most likely way of our civilization on the plant Earth coming to an end would be through nuclear war, and at this moment in time, you would be right.  But what about possible another angle?  Like another classic end of the world scenario, our obsession with computers, convenience, and technology turning against us and wiping out the human race.  That’s the angle that developer Ninja Theory took when developing the world that inhabits Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

It’s that angle that works in spades in the favor of Enslaved.  Since there has been no nuclear war plant life is allowed to flourish, and because plant life is allowed to flourish the Earth is able to retain all its majestic and natural beauty.  With all this natural beauty that the Earth provides for us the world of Enslaved is able to utilize just about every color under the sun and give the player a lush and alluring world to explore.  We get beautiful vistas, color drenched landscapes, ruins of old cities overgrown with foliage, and on top of all that, we get one hell of a narrative.

You play as Monkey, and he has just been awoken in his cell aboard an airborne prison ship.  Almost immediately there is a security breach and the ship begins to make its decent to an imminent crash landing.  Monkey is able to escape his cell and make a run for freedom.  While he is fleeing he encounters a mysterious young woman and he attempts to pursue her in hope that she will help him escape.  After loosing her in the chaos he continues his own escape and eventually he finds himself attached to an escape pod with the woman inside of it, and off they go, flying into the ruins of New York City.

When he comes to after his rough ride, Monkey finds that the mysterious woman is with him and that she attached a headband to him.  This headband he quickly learns has the ability to inflict immense pain upon him and if the she wishes, death.  The enslaved Monkey is told by the woman, who calls herself Trip, that he is to escort her to her home and ensure her safety, if he tries to run away or if she dies, he dies.  And from there their odyssey to the west begins traversing lush ruins and landscapes while avoiding robots and machine that wish them dead or enslaved to their cause.

That’s the basic plot of the game, but the narrative is strongly driven by the characters Monkey and Trip and watching them develop from seemingly one dimensional characters into a rather complex pairing is one of the joys of playing through this game.  The narrative is also move along in other methods of story telling that can pull inspiration from the modern classic Portal.  Since neither character say much as to what has happened to the world the environments relay the back story to what has happened to the Earth, and with the environments telling the backstory the game can focus on developing the main plot between Monkey and Trip and ultimately being able to tell a story in a way that can only be done in a video game.

The pairing of Monkey and Trip also adds to the gameplay mechanics.  And unlike every other game where you had to babysit and escort another character around, Enslaved makes the escort mechanic work wonderfully.  Trip isn’t an idiot and can handle herself and not meander off of a cliff or into a mine laden field.  She can jump and climb(most of the time, and when not she waits patiently for assistance), she is great at computers and can hack into things such as locks, and she listens to instructions well.  For example, an enemy turret is threatening the two, she can cause a distraction to allow Monkey to make a break for it and get into position to destroy the threat and she also has the smarts not to run into danger before it is cleared out.  Because she is such a well behaved companion, you are allowed to enjoy the other aspects of the game without having to worry about checking up on her every five seconds or roaming too far off to find out she got bored and walked off a cliff.

Other aspects of the game that you can enjoy due to the lack of babysitting that needs doing is fun Prince of Persia style climbing and platforming around the environments and explore around for hidden collectables or just soak in the beautiful landscapes.  There is also the combat mechanic, instead of going for a deep and complex combo system Enslaved takes a simpler route giving you just a handful of maneuvers and lets you explore a more methodical(in the loosest sense) and tactical approach to besting the robots with Monkey’s trusty staff.  Some enemies also allow you to use them as weapons after Monkey has dealt enough damage to them, for example, you can grab an enemy bot, impale it with it’s own arm and then kick it into a group of adversaries where it commences to explode destroying surrounding attackers.  The only thing that I wish that was added to the combat would be a lock on system, this would make maneuvering around a large group of attackers much more smooth and simpler letting you focus on tactics a bit more.  There are also a couple on and off rails shooting sequences and a couple parts where you get to fly Monkey around on his hoverboard.

Control wise the game is very proficient. There are times when you need to stand in a specific spot and Monkey’s first huge step makes it rather difficult to get precise positioning, but this happens very little and doesn’t take anything away from the game.  Combat runs smooth and responsive always performing the attacks and maneuvers that you command and the climbing and platforming sections run smooth enough, albeit not perfect, but not bad enough to fault them at all.  Communicating with Trip is quick and simple, all that needs to be done is hold a shoulder button and push the analog stick in the direction of the command you wish to give and she will happily oblige unless it means suicide for her.

Graphically Enslaved is rather competent, but it does suffer from some draw-in and at times the textures don’t load in fast enough slightly giving the game an odd look at times.  But it’s the aesthetic that fully redeems any graphical faults.  While you are looking at the lush green scenery, the bright red hair of Trip, or the silver and rust of your attackers you will rarely notice when the game has a graphical hiccup.  Like I stated before, Enslaved utilizes a vast color palette and will give your nice HDTV a workout with the amount of different colors it asks it to produce(green being the one it will be displaying the most).  Normally when I play a game I tend to turn the brightness, saturation, and contrast up a bit on the TV so I can see some of the detail that is obscured by all the dark colors, with Enslaved it was the opposite, a very welcome change.  The character models are very well designed with their bodies giving them as much personality as their mannerisms.  Monkey’s face can clearly express concern and Trip’s eyes and smile can express wonder and fear.  The attention put into the details of the aesthetics of the characters works wonderfully expressing things that words can not, much like a human movie actor.

If you have seen Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy you are very familiar with a character that goes by the name of Gollum.  His movements and facial and body expressions were captured by actor Andy Serkis, and he delivered an amazing performance bring a computer generated character to life and really tapping our emotions through his motion capture and voice over abilities.  Mr. Serkis also worked closely with Peter Jackson and the mo-cap team when developing the scenes with Gollum and now he has used all the knowledge and experience that he has gained to help the team at Ninja Theory bring the characters of Enslaved to life.  He headed and acted in the motion capture for the game as well as providing his voice to Monkey and stood as the director of all the cut scenes within the game.  His work on this game gleams through, the movement and expressions of Monkey, Trip, and friend shines though and makes these cartoonish looking characters believable, the voices are top notch and the cutscenes resemble a movie with attention payed to small things that make a big difference, such as angle, position, points of focus, and area of view.  It seems that Mr. Serkis has a passion for working in the world of video games and can’t wait for the next project he is part of.

Sound wise the Enslaved is excellent.  The sweeping orchestral scores build to the majesty of the landscape and add to the emotion of the characters when needed.  The music picks up pace during battle scenes to give an urgent feeling and drifts off into ambient sounds when all is calm.  As stated before, the voice acting is superb and rivals and often times surpasses many big budget game releases.  The sound effects are excellent also whether it be the sound of footsteps passing through the grass or the clang of Monkey staff striking an opposing robot, the sound effects never fail to impress.

The game itself is rather short in length with a playthrough on normal mode taking about 8-10 hours.  But what you get is a game with that is all killer and no filler.  The short length allows the narrative to stay concise and not wander off and since it moves at a rather quick pace you never find yourself in a lull in the game, it does nothing but push forward.  And because the narrative is so well executed this is a game you will find yourself going back to just to experience the journey again.

I highly recommend picking this game up.  It shows new levels of  what can be done with a story within a video game and above all it’s just damn fun to play.  I have also heard that even if the game didn’t sell well, that publishers Namco are most likely going to approve the team that make this to develop a sequel, so get out there and pick up a copy and tell your friends about it so Namco doesn’t change their minds.  And if you have played it let me know what you thought down in the comments, Happy Gaming!!!!

Photo Credits:

http://videogamesdaily.com/features/201009/is-enslaved-a-slave-to-%E2%80%9Cmovie-game%E2%80%9D-convention/
http://ninjawanda.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/brand-new-screenshots/
http://jedineka.com/enslaved-trailer-behind-the-game/

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