Monday, November 1, 2010

Review: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Game's a lot of fun, give it a shot.

There are sometimes games released that are so fun and engrossing, so enjoyable from the moment they start all the way to the end, that they remind me of why I started playing video games in the first place. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West seems almost destined to be lost in the shuffle, which is too bad, because it's a game that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I'd easily recommend it to anyone who's a fan of platformers or games with great storytelling.

At the start of this cinematic adventure, you're given control of Monkey, a warrior-type who bears a bizarre resemblance to Mel Gibson... though thankfully, once you get past his odd character design and initially aggressive attitude, he becomes a very likable character. He wakes up in a prison aboard a slave ship, where he's freed from his captivity by a girl named Trip. In this futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, humans live in fear of mechs, robotic remnants from the war that destroyed their way of life, as well as the slave catchers, who look for humans and bring them against their will to a mysterious Pyramid. Monkey and Trip escape the slave ship just before it crashes in the ruins of New York City, a deserted wasteland that nature's already beginning to take back. Trip wants to return to her home town some 300 miles away, and needs Monkey's help. Though Monkey initially refuses to help her, Trip reveals to him that while he was unconscious, she put a slave headband on him. She informs him that if he fails to follow her orders, or tries to run away, the headband will deliver a fatal shock.

It's in these circumstances that the two unlikely main characters are partnered up and of course they grow to like each other more and more as the game progresses, their dynamic together being one of the story's highlights. Their cooperation also plays a big role in the gameplay department. Though you only control Monkey, you'll often have to pick Trip up, throw her across gaps, help her up ledges, etc. Very similar to Resident Evil 4. Trip has no skills in combat but lots of technical knowledge, and both characters quickly discover that they need each other to get where they're going. The game's a platformer very reminiscent of Prince of Persia, but with more emphasis placed on the combat than the platforming. Though there's a healthy amount of hopping platforms and climbing up walls to be found in this adventure, Enslaved will rarely let you fail while doing this. There are sometimes cinematic sequences where you must climb walls or hop platforms in a hurry as you run from something, and you can certainly fail these, but for the most part, the platforming element is totally painless. If there's a jump that Monkey can't make, you will simply not be allowed to attempt it, the A button only responding when you try to jump to a pole or ledge that Monkey can reach. Though some platformer fans might find that this makes the game too easy, I thought it helped Enslaved avoid the try-and-die" mechanics that make me personally not able to stand the Prince of Persia series.

Instead, much of the difficulty comes from the combat system, which may not re-invent the wheel, but provides a lot of fun. Monkey's movements feel fluid and natural, and he has plenty of moves and techniques that you can unlock as the game progresses. Scattered throughout the environments and inside enemies are collectable experience orbs. Collecting these allows you to customize your character the way you want him, and it's a surprisingly flexible system. For example, don't want Monkey's health to automatically regenerate? Simply don't buy that ability, and you get to rely on health packs just like the good old days. Though I would have liked to have seen maybe a bit more offensive combat moves at Monkey's disposal (I found myself relying on the "evade, jump-behind-the-enemy's-back" move far more than any others,) there's still plenty of cool upgrades and abilities that Monkey can learn.

As far as exploration goes, you're kept on a linear path, with your goal always clearly mapped out for you, which keeps things moving. The game sticks mostly to combat and platforming sections, but there are an assortment of puzzles, shooting segments, boss fights, and even a pretty awesome hoverboard-like machine that you can ride, all of which help to keep things fresh.

Also helping to make Enslaved such a compelling experience are the visuals and audio, which is, simply put, incredible. Though Enslaved takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting, the world is refreshingly colorful, and there's no shortage of breathtaking vistas and dynamic lighting. This is one amazing-looking game, and the sound design, from the atmospheric sound effects to the subtle musical score, is quite an accomplished bit of work as well. The only thing missing is a little extra polish. There are a couple technical glitches here and there, one of which required me to start from my previous check point, and other small issues, like a sometimes spotty camera, but these instances are rare and generally don't get in the way. The framerate can chug pretty badly at times, though this is for the most part unnoticeable, only really becoming apparent when facing off against large amounts of enemies in areas big enough for you to run from them.

Tying this all together is a great story. Co-written by 28 Days Later scribe Alex Garland and with a voice cast that includes the likes of Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) and some great facial expressions, (well, except when someone starts crying,) this is a story that never ceases to be entertaining. The characters are all likable, with one you encounter later in the game, Pigsy, adding to an already great dynamic. There's also a very effective use of live action (think Wall-E) and an ending that's actually pretty thought-provoking, sticking with me well after I finished the game. Like the rest of Enslaved, the story doesn't offer a whole lot of surprises, going more or less where you'd expect it to go, (except for that ending) but what it does, it does very well. The game might even be worth playing simply to see how natural and realistic video game dialogue can sound.

"What it does, it does very well" is pretty much Enslaved: Odyssey to the West in a nutshell. There's nothing here that exactly pushes the genre forward, but developer Ninja Theory (Heavenly Sword, which now I'm much more interested in playing) clearly knows how to do this type of game very well. The length is standard for an action game, (in other words, relatively short) and while I easily thought it was worth the $60, you should keep in mind that there's not a whole lot of replay value here. That said, Enslaved is a solid platformer with amazing visuals, great storytelling, fun gameplay, an intriguing world, and perfect pacing. It's the type of game where I couldn't put the controller down, telling myself "just one more level." It may be somewhat of a short-lived experience, but it's sure to stay in my mind for a long time.


(This review is for the 360 version)
(My reviews go by a .5 scale)

No comments:

Post a Comment