Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Xbox 360 Review

January 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Xbox 360, Reviews & Features, Xbox

Publisher – Namco Bandai – Developer – Ninja Theory – Genre – Action Adventure – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 16+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is very much in the mould of the Uncharted series, so there’s an emphasis on spectacle and a focus on narrative. It’s also made with a broad audience in mind – just about anyone even half familiar with a good old fashioned controller can pick it up, play it and maybe even complete it, though it turns out that developer Ninja Theory’s efforts to reach them has been somewhat in vain as at, the time of writing, the sales haven’t exactly been great, though pleasingly a sequel is still looking likely.

From the developer of the underrated Heavenly Sword, it’s hardly a surprise that the team have used the same impressive technology to breathe life into their characters as they did in that game.  The excellent facial animation and voice acting in combination with proficient characterization has resulted in some excellent characters, more than fitting for such a character driven narrative.

You take charge of Monkey, a muscular, though agile and somewhat mysterious character, and for most of the game you’re accompanied by the more vulnerable, but technically gifted Trip. The two form an uneasy alliance when Trip fits Monkey with a headband that link the lives of the two together, so in simple terms if one dies the other dies. The likeable duo’s unfolding relationship along their journey grants a level of intrigue and in, terms of narrative, it’s the characters that are the most memorable facet.

Monkey is as agile as his name suggests but is built more like a Gorilla.

Trip is a likeable companion to have around, never getting in your way and capably dashing into cover whenever enemies show up. Unsurprisingly there are occasion where Monkey and Trip must work in conjunction with each other to bypass seemingly inaccessible areas: pulling levers to move a bridge up and down for each other for instance, or having one of them distracting enemies whilst the other gets safely to cover.

One of Enslaved’s strengths is its post apocalyptic world, which, thanks to the Unreal Engine and an appealing art direction, often looks stunning. Whilst post apocalyptic and Unreal Engine usually would have you thinking of a bleak, grey and brown world, Enslaved stands out from the crowd and instead fills your screen with lush vegetation and blue skies that belies the ruined world, making it a joy to explore.

Perhaps explore is a bit of a misnomer, as Enslaved is largely linear, with the only occasional opportunity to go off the beaten path in search of tech orbs to upgrade your abilities. It’s the views and such that will keep a lot of people playing, as, along with your limited scope for exploration, platforming is also completely devoid of challenge here. It’s almost impossible for death to come as a result of falling and there’s always just one clearly signposted route that you can take through each section.

From time to time, Monkey can also hop on to his cloud, a disc shaped object that offers you a mobile platform to explore dangerous areas, as well as to make a quick getaway in a boss fight, or to chase down fleeing enemies. It’s enjoyable to use and it’s a shame that you only gain access to it at a few points throughout.

There's no co-op play, for once.

There’s a fair bit of combat, too, and this is similarly simple to the rest of the game, though still flashy and enjoyable. Monkey wields a staff and has a light and strong attack, as well as a wide attack which is useful to create space when surrounded by enemies. When you inflict a certain amount of damage on malfunctioning enemies, you’re also able to take them down, allowing you to use them as makeshift bombs and such. This is largely your lot when it comes to melee combat options, though Monkey’s staff also functions as a ranged weapon, whilst there’s the occasional mounted gun that you can take charge of. The enemy AI never really does much to surprise you and for some there just won’t be enough complexity to retain their interest.

Much of the same can be said about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West in its entirety. For many the interaction will be merely functional, although it’s definitely one of those games where the journey takes precedence over anything else. But the combination of simplicity and triumph in storytelling gel really well, functioning just as well together as a partnership as Monkey and Trip and, whilst not quite as likeable as them, it still has plenty in the way of personality and soul.