LTTP or ‘late to the party’ pieces are opportunities for me to catch up and write about games I missed out on the first time around. They may contain spoilers.
Enslaved: Odyssey of the West may be the most surprising 2010 game I play in 2011. It has flaws in just about every area outside of story and character development, but taken as a whole and at just the right price point, this game was a genuine diamond in the rough.
Enslaved wasn’t on my radar until shortly after its quiet release in October of 2010. Folks whom I follow on Twitter and listen to on podcasts were saying nice things about Enslaved, specifically about the game’s narrative and characters. I didn’t act on those praises and recommendations due to the myriad of new releases at the time.
The story was loosely based on the classic Chinese tale “Journey to the West” which explained why I couldn’t stop seeing Dragon Ball when I saw the box art. All three major characters were in Enslaved including Monkey who wielded a staff, owned a portable cloud and demonstrated incredible athleticism. Tripitaka (or Trip) filled her role as the brains and somewhat helpless of the trio. And finally, there was Pigsy who served as both the source of comic relief and trouble in some cases.
The journey aspect didn’t involve gathering wish granting objects. For starters, it was set in a post apocalyptic world where the United States (and possibly the world) was ravaged by some robot apocalypse. Unlike other games with a similar premie, this world wasn’t dingy and brown, it was on its way towards a new future. So the only things I helped gather were a handful of spare robot parts.
The actual journey started as a journey towards home which then turned into a journey of revenge. The motivations behind everything were well established and built upon as the game progressed which was a pleasant surprise for me because I thought this game was going to be a straight forward four or five hour sprint towards home.
Not since Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune have I seen such likable game characters interact on screen. Monkey and Trip’s relationship evolved from unwitting slave and desperate homesick master into something short of lovers. I restarted the game to wrap up some outlying achievements and was shocked at how distant and awkward their initial relationship was. Kudos to the writers involved and especially to the voice actors and actress who brought these characters to life. Andy Serkis was great as Monkey, however I could have done without his mug and voice as the “Pyramid”.
While it fared very well on story and characters, Enslaved didn’t excel at being a game. It wasn’t fundamentally broken or unplayable, but it did keep the game from attaining a higher degree of acclaim.
Ninja Theory didn’t favor framerate or controller response with their previous game, Heavenly Sword, and that didn’t change with Enslaved. Input lag during combat and traversal sequences kept reminding me that this developer will most likely ruin Devil May Cry if they kept on this path. There were instances where I felt like I was fighting the controls — especially during chase sequences.
To their credit, on a whole the combat wasn’t as demanding as a Devil May Cry game. I was able to get away with mashing X with the occasional punctuation of the Y button. Also, I feel that I should mention that I played the game on the “Hard” difficulty which may have pushed the capabilities of the gameplay mechanics a bit too far.
I like the Unreal Engine and many of my favorite games are powered by this engine, but I also dislike it because I feel that it ruins the look of many games as well. Enslaved suffered from the same texture pop-in and ugly hairdos like so many Unreal Engine powered games before it. While there were instances of strong art direction prevailing over the technical shortcomings and producing incredible vistas, I couldn’t help wondering what Enslaved would look like if it was powered by the Naughty Dog Game Engine. If I had to guess, it would have probably been amazing.
The bottom line is that I enjoyed my time with Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. I wish to see more adventures featuring Monkey, Trip and Pigsy. Namco Bandai and Ninja Theory fell short of their sales goal, but are considering more Enslaved and to that I say: “Yes. Please! I’ll pay more than $9.99 next time as well.” For now, all I can do is recommend Enslaved: Odyssey to the West to as many people as possible. Despite its flaws, it’s still one of the more enjoyable adventure games out there.
For more information on Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, visit the official website.