Published by Namco Bandai Games and developed by Ninja Theory, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for the PS3 and Xbox 360 is one of 2010’s best action adventure games. Although it’s a little rough around the edges, it achieves a level of storytelling and character development seldom seen in bigger budget AAA titles. This is largely due to a great story brought to life by Ninja Theory’s amazing work in the areas of facial animation and motion capture, which was on display in the studio’s previous big release, Heavenly Sword on the PS3. Enslaved is coauthored by Alex Garland, the novelist and screenplay writer behind The Beach, 28 Days Later and Sunshine. With storytelling talent like that, it’s no surprise that Enslaved’s strongest assets are its narrative, and its tight pacing. Loosely based on the 16th century Chinese novel, Journey to the West, Enslaved is set 150 years in the future after an apocalyptic war. Humanity is decimated, and those who remain are scattered across a world largely reclaimed by nature. Unfortunately, the weapons of the last war, gun-toting, automata, who, like soldiers stranded on remote islands after World War 2, don’t know the war is over.
In Enslaved’s post apocalyptic world, the remnants of humanity not only have to worry about terminator-like robots that don’t know the war is over, but mysterious slavers swooping down and whisking them away in massive aerial slave ships. Enslaved begins on just such a ship in the midst of an escape by the mighty, overly muscled Monkey and the technologically talented Trip. During their escape, Trip fits the unconscious Monkey, with a slaver headband, which causes him excruciating pain if he disobeys, and will kill him should Trip die. So Monkey becomes Trip’s slave and must escort her through the mech-infested wastelands back to her home. Along the way, Trip and Monkey’s relationship evolves from obvious antagonism to something more complex and I don’t be surprised when you actually start to care about these two characters. Enslaved arguably does a better job nailing a cinematic feel than it does on pure gameplay, but for my money I thought it nailed just the right balance between gameplay and storytelling.
While games like Bethesda’s Fallout 3 are hallmarks of nonlinear gameplay, Enslaved is a necessarily linear experience for the sake of its tighter paced, more focused narrative. Also unlike Fallout 3 and most post apocalyptic game worlds, Enslaved is unusually colorful. You’ll recognize some familiar sites underneath the rust and overgrown flora, and Ninja Theory deserves a ton of credit for eschewing the ubiquitous bleak color palette of games like Fallout 3 (a great game btw!). Enslaved isn’t quite as innovative in its gameplay, as most of Enslaved is a combination platformer/brawler. The gameplay is relatively simple though, so hardcore gamers and newbies alike should be able to make it to the end credits. Monkey, who is the only playable character in the main quest, can make death defying leaps with a push of the analog stick and a press of the action button. Combat is a similarly simple affair, but with awesome looking, cinematic results, occasionally marred by a game camera that feels too close to the action leading to some cheap hits by off-screen enemies. Just when things threaten to become a little monotonous, a boss fight, cinematic chase scene or puzzle changes things up. At just about 10 hours, Enslaved doesn’t overstay its welcome and has a twist at the end that neatly wraps up the story while leaving room for more stories set in its world.
Enslaved’s focus on story and character development helps it stand out in a crowded field of derivative games, where military shooters and sequels are a much safer bet for publishers than original games. I picked up Enslaved for $60 on release day and feel I got my money’s worth. Today you can pick it up new on Amazon for $25, and at that price I shouldn’t have to put a slaver’s head band on you to get you to follow Trip and Monkey on their epic journey to the west.
FTC Advisory: I purchased a copy of this game for the Xbox 360. In addition, I don’t receive affiliate fees for anything purchased via links from my site.
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