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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Review

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In late 2007, Ninja Theory released a game called Heavenly Sword. At the time, it proved to me what next-gen console gaming was all about. It was innovative. It was larger than life.

I was probably in the minority of people who thoroughly enjoyed Heavenly Sword – so it came as disappointing news to hear there would be no sequel (Ninja Theory originally planned it as a trilogy).

Naturally, I was interested when I heard Ninja Theory were working on a new title called Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Even more so when teaser footage revealed a character who bore many similarities to Heavenly Sword’s heroine, Nariko.

So, three years down the line, have Ninja Theory bounced back to deliver the grand scale, story-driven experience we received in Heavenly Sword? Or is it just a flash in the pan?

Story
150 years into the future, after a catastrophic global war has destroyed most of modern civilisation. Cities lay in ruin, the Human race almost annihilated; only a race of robots now hold population. Still operating on their original coding, they seek to kill off the remnants of Humanity.

Our main character, ‘Monkey’, awakens in a containment cell aboard a huge slave air ship as it’s in the process of going down. He – and another slave aboard the ship, ‘Trip’, manage to escape their cells and barely escape as the ship smashes down into the remnants of a city.

After passing out in the crash, Monkey comes to, quickly realising that Trip has befitted him with a slave headband – albeit with some of her own personal hack modifications. Trip tells him that he is under her control, both of their lives bound as one – I die, you die – and she needs him to escort her home as she would never make it on her own.

Realising he has no choice, Monkey succumbs and joins Trip on her journey.

Gameplay

As you’d expect, the game focuses around one massive escort mission. Normally this would be cause for concern. We’ve all played the odd escort mission in games before – and generally they’re a frustrating, tedious experience that usually ends up in the stupid AI character waltzing into the middle of a pack of enemies while you’re busy despatching someone else – and it always ends up with them dying a cheap death that you had no control over.

Enslaved takes a different route to the escort aspect of the game however. Trip only serves to provide benefit to the game play. While, yes, you are essentially escorting her around, she will wait for you – in a safe area – well away from the danger while you go about your business. And the occasions where enemy contact is unavoidable, you generally have plenty of warning and you’re always within reach for rescue.

In addition, they’ve used the coupling system as a whole new game play mechanic. You have access to a handy ‘ability wheel’ that can be brought up with the L1 button. You can use Trip to send out holographic decoys to distract enemies, or administer you health for example. You can control when she walks to you and when she holds position. Conversely, you also have the ability of creating distractions yourself, providing cover for Trip while she moves into a new strategic position.

The whole system just works. And it’s quite unique in its delivery.

While Trip is definitely the brains of the operation, Monkey makes up for this shortfall with an impressive showing of brawn.

Possessing a powerful Staff weapon that acts both as a melee combat tool as well as a long-distance ‘gun’, Monkey can smash and crash most of his robotic foes. Your Staff has two main attacks, a quick/low power and slow/high power hit, which obviously can be combined in a small group of combo attacks.

The staff is also capable of a charge attack. Some heavy robot enemies you encounter are armed with an impenetrable shield, but the charge (or Stun) attack knocks robots back and forces them to drop their shield as a result, leaving them vulnerable again to melee.

Additionally, Monkey can shoot plasma projectiles (in the form of Shock/Stun blasts and more traditional damaging Blast spheres) by collecting the requisite plasma from around the game world.

Trip controls your upgrade system, also from her abilities wheel. Throughout the game worlds you will encounter countless Tech Orbs which translate to currency used for upgrading everything from your Health, Shield durability and recharge to Melee Combat and Staff Projectile improvement.

The levels themselves are a mixture of platforming and combat set-pieces. Ninja Theory have borrowed inspiration from titles like Uncharted with some brilliant climbing/platforming sections as bridges and structures fall apart around you. There’s a smaller element of puzzle solving drizzled throughout the game, used to unlock new areas to continue the platforming or to assist Trip’s main objective. There’s a very memorable set piece overloading an electricity generating Windmill that is simple but effective.

Boss fights come in the form of grossly overpowered ‘Demolition’ robots or ‘Dogs’, both of which requiring a unique approach and usually in selective arenas or chase sequences. All of which are very enjoyable and have a real Hollywood production value to them.

Graphics & Sound

Varying from the post-apocalyptic worlds we’ve seen in Fallout for example, Enslaved takes the lush jungle approach to post-global war environments. Huge cities and robot production facilities make up the vast majority of the game world, but nature has reclaimed most of this area, so buildings and objects are covered in thick undergrowth and lush green vegetation. The art style is superb, even down to the choice of robot design.

As with most titles out of the Unreal Engine 3, it does suffer from some texture melt-in here and there (think Bioshock levels) and some odd frame rate dips accompany areas of heavy on-screen activity. The graphics junkies will probably find it a little prohibitive, but the game remains playable throughout these slow downs and never reduces to a slideshow.

Voice acting (and particularly lip-syncing/facial animation) is superbly well done. There are some great cinematics and cut scenes, also some humour thrown in later when encountering the oddball character ‘Pigsy’, but I’ll not spoil the dialogue here.

Conclusion

Slight graphical niggles aside, the art style, game play, uniquely functional escort nature of the game and story make this one a solid title worthy of a look. Ninja Theory have delivered an enjoyable game of decent length (took me three solid sittings on Hard to finish) and offering moderate replayability for the completionists. It should be mentioned that the difficulty might be too easy for some, Hard wasn’t close to controller-throwingly tough, but besides this, I struggle to fathom a reason not to recommend Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

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