With all of the big name games stealing the public’s attention last year, from Mass Effect 2 to Red Dead Redemption to Call of Duty: Black Ops, it’s understandable that some pretty amazing games didn’t get the recognition they deserved on the grand scale. For me, the most overlooked would be Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
Like many games and films of today Enslaved involves an apocalypse, taking place in the future after the events that seem to have wiped the human aspect of civilization off the map. As desolate as this sounds, the lack of human bustle has allowed the world to start anew as nature reclaims what was taken from it, covering the remaining evidence of our species with foliage once more. However, the calm silence is broken in the first chapter of the game as a slave ship starts experiencing some inner turbulence, with our protagonists right in the middle of it all.
Whatever the reasoning for Monkey’s presence (yes, his name is Monkey. More on that later) on this ship, one thing is clear: the landing sequence is not going to go according to plan and whatever plan of escape he was most likely brewing in his mind is going to have to adapt rather soon. With the ship literally falling apart as the camera gets jostled about behind Monkey, he must move from one area of the ship to the next, introducing most aspects of the gameplay to the player as they make their way towards the escape pods at the front. Though it doesn’t top Uncharted 2 or Mass Effect 2 for my favorite introductions into the game (I know, someday I will stop gushing about those games. Maybe…), it does an amazing job of integrating the basic controls of the character as he interacts with the environment that is quickly falling apart around him, as well as hinting at the powerful visual presence and beauty of the world we are about to plummet out of the sky into.
Loosely based on an old Chinese story entitled Journey to the West, the game truly begins once Monkey finally opens his eyes to the world following his ungraceful collision with the ground. Quite the rude awakening, his eyes peel open to the sight of Trip, the girl who was not very helpful to his escape on the ship, or rather pretty counter productive for him. With that basis for a rough relationship, he reaches up to his forehead to realize she has taken it one step worse be putting a headband on his head that the slaves were forced to wear on the ship. With this she can inflict pain on him if he does not do what she wants, and if she dies while still wearing it he will die as well, forcing him into the role of protector.
As the gameplay gets under way it is obvious that Trip definitely made the right choice in this forced alliance. Monkey is everything you would expect in a man who earned a nickname like this; he’s strong, aggressive, and has a ridiculous knack for climbing that would make free runners jealous. Falling somewhere between a certain Persian Prince and assassin in skill and realistic climbing, Monkey has evolved (or devolved?) into a man who can easily move about the world that is mixed with natural and man made elements, traversing the scalable objects marked with a shiny texture with the simple press of a button. Though this makes the platforming elements of this game pretty simple, the one thing that really made this game stand out for me was the character animation in concern to movement. Ok, maybe I got a little more excited than I should about the simple fact that instead of swinging around at a vomit inducing pace like he was competing for a gold metal on the uneven bars like a lot of platformers, he actually did things like stop and perch on the bar, branch, or whatever until you moved him forward. Simple enough, but this is just one example of what made Monkey a character all of his own. He moves gracefully for a man of his size, yet they manage to give him weight to what he is doing so even though it is still pretty inhuman for people like me, his movement feels genuine and natural to him.
With climbing and combat included in his repertoire, there is still plenty of stuff that Monkey cannot do. He cannot jump while running unless it is onto something platforming wise, nor can he always remember that he should be jumping instead of somersaulting at the edge. Silly Monkey. But all joking aside about Monkey, there is far more to Trip than simply being a damsel in distress. What she lacks in fighting and acrobatics she makes up for in technological knowledge so that she does come in handy from time to time, especially with a mechanical dragonfly she has programmed to scout ahead. Plus she acts as the means in this game in which Monkey can upgrade his skills, shields, etc with the orbs collected around the environment. But in all honesty the best thing about having her around is because of the relationship that she forms with Monkey.
Already having a basic story for inspiration provided, the writers of this game are able to adapt it into something new and exciting that lends itself to beautifully created levels and worlds, as well as some of my favorite characters and relationships in a game. Once the initial team is built through enslavement, Monkey moves through different stages of resentment, to basically the best form of Stockholm Syndrome considering she is actually a pretty decent person, until finally the relationship grow into something more. This evolution between these two tugs at the girl in me for the romantic nature of it all (granted I am not quite sure if she is at the legal age), and I was pleasantly surprised at just how funny the dialog is, thanks in large part to the voice actors, especially when a third character is added to the mix, forming a ridiculous competition between the two men for Trip’s affection.
With a great story, environment, and characters to play with, Enslaved quickly becomes a game that deserves far more attention that it received. It blends all of the gameplay elements that make a game simply fun, such as combat, platforming, and vehicular elements (cloud surfing), and goes one step further than some games do by incorporating a story that is just as important as the gaming itself to make it the complete package. So if you haven’t yet, do yourself the favor and get this game.
Final grade: 8.5/10
Still not convinced? Check out the games official site at http://enslaved.namco.com/ and watch a trailer for the game below: