I had more than my fair share of reservations going into Enslaved. Ninja Theory’s previous effort, Heavenly Sword was a bit on the short side and didn’t do much to advance the genre. Still to this day though few can match the presentation and facial animations they achieved in that game. Enslaved comes with a completely new set of circumstances. A new publisher, multiple consoles and an escort missions style premise, all usually a disaster in the making. Yet Enslaved manages to break all of the barriers with its incredible storytelling, unique set pieces and some entertaining combat and platforming to create one of the surprise games of the year.
Anyone who played the demo knows that our protagonists are in fact slaves. Enslaved takes place in a bleak future where mechs drive slave ships to human colonies to capture them for slavery. You play as Monkey, a brawler that is only concerned with getting home. After your slave ship crashes Trip manages to place a slave headband on you, thus taking control of your actions so you can escort her home. What follows is a narrative that slowly brings the two characters closer while you slowly uncover secrets around the world.
It is hard to create compelling characters in this day and age. Ninja Theory has done exceptionally well with the help of superb writing and of course their trademark facial animation. It also doesn’t hurt that Andy Serkis has once again lent his likeness and talents to the voice and motion capture work. Overall this creates an immersive, cinematic story that draws you in and makes you care about both Trip and Monkey, and their relationship constantly grows throughout the game. It is nice to see developers taking the time to create a convincing relationship within a game.
For those wondering what kind of game Enslaved actually is, it feels more like a combination of several ideas. The main course is definitely adventure and platforming, but mixed in you get some solid action, stealth and to a lesser extent RPG. Controlling Monkey takes some getting used to as he tends to feel a bit floaty at first. Ninja Theory has planned for this and made sure that bad jumps and falling off of ledges are really not an issue. Monkey seems to stick to what he can walk on, which will upset some, but it is much better than dying every five minutes due to a poorly judged step or leap.
There is a lot of platforming in the game. You will constantly be tasked with making your way across scaffolding or up the side of buildings. All of it is fluid, and all of it is fun. You really never have to worry about falling to your death which can take away some of the excitement. When you are not dangling around the rooftops there is a surprisingly solid combat system in place. Monkey has a staff that can stun enemies, melee and even shoot plasma rounds out of its tip. Everything here works like you would expect and combat is satisfying, but the depth of Monkey’s moves will leave something to be desired. Thankfully enemies are varied enough not to get too bored, and some boss and mid-boss encounters implement some clever mechanics that should keep you interested through the end of the game.
Amazingly the one area that I thought I would hate about the game turns out to be one of my favorites. The relationship between Monkey and Trip is by far the most unique aspect of the game. This isn’t your typical escort style game. Trip serves her purpose quite well offering up scans of areas and enemies as well as decoys and upgrades. The decoy works great when the area is littered with enemies. You can also distract enemies to allow her time to pass through the environment. As it works out the collaboration between these two really drives the game and your immersion in the story.
The upgrade system works fairly customary. You can access the menu at anytime by bringing up the Trip menu. You can spend the plasma you collect on upgrades for your shield, combat, health and staff. All of these are fairly straight-forward such as being able to carry more plasma rounds for your staff and of course the prototypical health and shield upgrades to do more damage. Overall these upgrades are a welcome addition and really help flesh out your skills. The entire package just feels polished throughout which shows that Ninja Theory really learned a lot from their first outing.
As far as visuals are concerned Enslaved is gorgeous. The world brings with it a colorful tone that is unlike most of the future-world gray patterns we are used to. Subtle touches such as the interior design of buildings and crumbling stone really make the world believable. Character animations are also impressive if not a bit canned. Not enough can be said about the impressive facial animations and everything comes together so well it is hard not to stop and take in the scenery as you work your way through the game. Sound is equally impressive with the aforementioned stupendous voice acting. The soundtrack rounds out the package with an epic entourage of orchestral flare that makes you want to won the soundtrack.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one of those games I am more than happy to eat crow about. I had my hesitations going in but after seeing what Ninja Theory has pulled off, I am thoroughly impressed to say the least. It is a shame that the game releases so close to such heavy hitters and without a strong marketing campaign because it could easily be a sleeper hit. Here is to hoping that word of mouth is strong enough to carry this incredibly immersive title into gamer’s hands. If you are in the mood for a great action/adventure title with a truly engaging narrative, you owe it to yourself to check out Ninja Theory’s latest title.
Review copy provided by publisher.