Genre: Action Developer: Publisher: Classification: M Release Date: 7th Oct 2010 Platforms:
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I often wonder if the author of the 16th Century Chinese novel, Journey to the West, ever dreamed of the far reaching implications or effect his writings would have on both Eastern and Western culture. It was translated into English by Arthur Waley in 1942 and became the basis for the wildly successful and cult classic TV series Monkey,
following the exploits of Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy as they escort the monk Tripitaka on his pilgrimage to the West. So what could be the next logical step in its evolution? Well, a video-game adaptation of course. But the past and Buddhist journeys are so passe, you don't move forward by looking back, so off to the future we go!
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is set 150 years into our future, in a world overrun by mechanical warriors and creatures, with most of mankind eking out their existence cowering in terror or as slaves. We join our hero, Monkey, imprisoned on a slaver ship and things are looking bleak. After a very cool tutorial stage, you meet up with Tripitaka (known here in the shortened form, Trip, and no longer a monk or male, but super sexy redheaded lass) and it's not the most auspicious of beginnings, as she shuns you and heads off to an escape pod. As you traverse the outside of the ship, yep, the OUTSIDE, it all goes to hell in a hand basket. It takes massive damage and impact is imminent. You negotiate your way to the last escape pod in spectacular fashion, find it to be housing Trip and both narrowly escape and crash land.
Upon awakening groggily, you find yourself with a slaver's headband on your noodle and Trip at the command, and so the unlikely alliance is formed, not out of desire or want, but necessity. Trip needs to return to her village, and where she excels in technical know how, she lacks in upper body strength. Monkey doesn't have that problem, so in simplest terms, he clears the path and she hacks her way through. But there is so much more to Enslaved than that. The gameplay is but one facet of this journey. The story, presentation and exceptional motion capture and, dare I say it, acting, all play a significant role.
The plot was fleshed out by Alex Garland, who wrote the novel, The Beach and the screenplay for Sunshine, and he has an interesting take on the future. The mechs are a sight to behold, some with a human like design, others mimicking animals, yet the biggest departure is that the world has not been ravaged or devastated. Sure buildings are crumbling and cities dilapidated, but Mother Nature has reclaimed her fertile land, and it is bursting with greenery. This is a captivating vibrant world that mesmerises you with its colour palette.
Heading up the motion capture side of things is the brilliant Andy Serkis, who both directs the sessions and plays Monkey. The attention to detail is amazing, with the relationship between Trip and Monkey
complex and wonderfully human. Lindsey Shaw is a find, and the frailty she exudes is quite touching. As Monkey, you want to take care of her and help her complete this odyssey.
On the subject of Monkey, Andy Serkis does a magnificent job. He moves with a hulking demeanor, and his swagger and motion is astoundingly monkey-like, for lack of better words. The sash he wears gives the illusion of a tail as he shimmies along pipes and structures, I just can't say enough about the look and feel. It captivated me from the moment I started and didn't let go until the final curtain.
So how does it play, you ask? Remarkably well. This is a little more tactical than your usual out and out hacky slasher. You and Trip are joined at the hip, so if she dies, you die, and her frailties leave you as her defender as you help her traverse obstacles and generally keep her out of harms way. She isn't completely useless though - this isn't one giant escort mission game. She can distract enemies, allowing you to slip by and flank, has an EMP as a weapon of last resort and is your hub of upgrades to you health, shields, staff and combat moves.
General gameplay is a mix of platforming and in your face combat. The platforming is fairly rudimentary, yet satisfying none the less. Combat is another kettle of fish.
I found it alarmingly addictive. There are many types of mechs you go up against. Some are just hand to hand, others have guns or turrets (which you can rip off and use against them), some explode, others have shields you must disable and some call for back up if you don't axe them quickly enough. You can use your staff to smash them to bits, or use it for limited ranged attacks to stun and destroy.
Did I mention I really, really got into the combat? I simply had to, HAD TO, destroy every single one that crossed my path, even if it required a little doubling back to do so. The boss battles nicely broke up the pace, though I wont spoil the details for you here. My only gripe was the limited use of Monkey's cloud. In certain sections you can call on your electronic cloud to zip around and past enemies, but you cannot attack whilst on it. You need to disengage before you can show them your Iron Claw technique. It felt like a huge missed opportunity, as I constantly wanted to jump on and knock down
everything in my path.
Though not perfect, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one hell of a ride. I completely connected with the characters and their plight, really enjoyed the visceral combat and was spellbound by the impressive acting across the board. Ninja Theory have once again proven that they are more than a one trick pony, and can nail both story and gameplay (and have an obsession with smoking hot redheads), which bodes extremely well for the upcoming Devil May Cry reboot. If you like getting immersed into a world and were disappointed with other such attempts like Heavy Rain, look no further than Enslaved.