ENSLAVED: ODYSSEY TO THE WEST

PROS:  Trip and Monkey are likable characters who form an interesting relationship.  The world it takes place in is well crafted and beautiful in its own broken down way.  There are some truly tense, some truly harsh, and some truly interesting moments all throughout.

CONS:  The things that make it great begin to piddle out in the last third of the game.  The ending falls a little flat.

PRO/CON DEPENDING ON YOUR PERSPECTIVE:  The combat is not what you’d call deep…this is a character and story-driven action game and you can win most fights by button mashing.

THINGS I LIKED:  The ‘cloud’ hoverboard is a blast.  True, you can win most fights by button mashing (for the most part) but the fights and kill-cams are exciting and cinematic.  Monkey and Trip.

NITPICKS:  No way could Pigsy move that fast.

Enslaved came out back in 2010, which may make a review a little pointless now but it’s available on XBLA for cheap, and it’s one of those games I feel never got the love it deserved.  I kind of skimmed right past it myself, and it wasn’t until much later that I tried the demo, and was immediately sucked in.

I’ll say up front it wasn’t because of the platforming or the combat…if you have really strong opinions on either of those game mechanics, then you’ll probably find Enslaved lacking in both.  The point of the game is not so much to make each leap and fight a huge challenge, but to put you in control of the fluid and powerful Monkey who pulls a lot of these moves off with relative ease.  The platforming is more akin to puzzle solving and in fact the game won’t even let you jump just anywhere…it’s more about graceful leaping and flipping from location to location and smashing mechs to oil-spurting pieces with your Staff of Ass Kicking.  It’s action-packed, but the action serves the story here, not the other way around.

To that end, the story is not half-bad.  In a nutshell, it basically takes place in a future where it appears our world (or some alternate reality one that was much like it) collapsed due – it would appear – to being overrun by weirdo mechs that have a kind of Final Fantasy vibe to them.  The specifics of this are never explained, but then, the characters aren’t in any position to know.  Judging by how overgrown everything is, this all went down a long, long time ago.  When we join the story, Monkey and Trip have been grabbed by the mechs and are being whisked off to some horrible fate, when the ship crashes.  Trip and Monkey narrowly escape, and Monkey awakens to find that Trip has fitted him with a headband that basically enslaves him to her.

This seems like kind of a dick move, especially since she herself was almost enslaved, but the headband doesn’t turn Monkey into a mindless zombie…it just prevents him from hurting her if he gets too unruly.  It also forces him to stay near her and protect her, because if he strays too far, or if she dies, the headband explodes killing him.

So, understandably their relationship starts off a bit tense.  She does what she does though because she knows she’ll never survive the trip across the mech-infested cities without help.  She also (correctly) assumes that Monkey would have ditched her in a second otherwise.  So, they begin their journey with the promise that Trip will free him once she’s safely home.

The rest of the game is the two of them making their way through the ruins, etc.  Perhaps not unpredictably, Monkey and Trip begin to actually grow closer to one another through their trials though not romantically (which I thought was a good choice).  The characterization is done very well here – better than you almost ever see in a video game.  Even when the two are joined by a third character (Pigsy) things stay interesting…Pigsy (an old friend of Trip’s) holds a torch for her, in spite of the fact he has no shot whatsoever.  This is in part because he’s ugly, in part because he’s kind of a letch, and in part because the last time she saw him she was a little girl and she thinks of him as more of an uncle or friend.  Pigsy doesn’t get any of this, though…he decides it’s because Monkey is standing in his way (he’s not).

So, the story is compelling, the characters are interesting, the voice acting is fantastic, and the action, while light, is fun.  Unfortunately, there’s a point about halfway through where the story changes, and at that point it begins to lose a little of its steam…the last third is mostly action, and the big reveal is a little underwhelming, but I’d still recommend it to anyone who might like a story-driven game with lots of action.  It put me in the mind of a western Final Fantasy where the story actually made some kind of sense.

BOTTOM LINE:  Enslaved has an engaging story, engaging characters, and the combat is fun, if not hugely challenging.  It deserved better than it got – download the demo and see if you don’t think it’s worth a double sawbuck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>