Reviewed: October 10, 2010
Released: October 5, 2010
It wasn’t that long ago that I was walking away from the Enslaved: Odyssey to the West booth at E3 with a general feeling of indifference. I couldn’t even muster up a level of disappointment since I had heard nothing of the game prior and had no expectations. Move forward to a few weeks ago when the Enslaved demo arrived on the Xbox Live Marketplace and things suddenly took a radical change for the better. I was totally captivated by this demo. I played it over and over and had people over to play it so I could watch. It was (and still is) the single best demo of any game on the 360 to date. If you didn’t want to run out and purchase this game after playing the demo…well, you must be dead inside, but just in case you need some more convincing read on…|
Enslaved is a post-apocalyptic action-brawler with subtle elements of cooperative gameplay and even a bit of RPG-lite when it comes to leveling up your weapons and even the main character's abilities. The second game to come from Ninja Theory (Heavenly Sword on PS3 being their first) Enslaved boasts an incredible story, totally immersive world, compelling characters, energetic combat, and some of the best environmental action puzzles since Prince of Persia or Lara Croft.
The story starts of with a literal bang as Trip, a doe-eyed redhead escapes from her slave compartment and sabotages the transport. As the airship starts to explode another potential slave, Monkey (that’s you) escapes from his pod and follows the redhead in an attempt to escape the doomed ship. I could go on but this is all in the free demo, which you should have already played by now.
Trip wires Monkey up with a slaver headband forcing him to escort her back home to her village. It’s a long and perilous journey fraught with hundreds of deadly robots, gun turrets, hazardous environments and some of the best weapons combat I’ve played since Devil May Cry. Spanning more than a dozen chapters, Enslaved will occupy at least 10-14 hours of your time as you head west from the ruins of New York City to the mountains, the desert, the swamp, and even an underwater base.
Trip is the brains of the duo, able to hack computers and taunt enemies with a holographic decoy. She scans the levels for danger zones with a robotic dragonfly and can also upgrade Monkey’s weapons and abilities provided he finds enough of the floating orange tech orbs that are generously distributed about the levels like Pac-Man dots. You’ll get even more orbs from enemy mechs once you’ve crushed them into scrap metal. Monkey fights using a simple set of moves for staff melee as well as being able to aim and shoot his staff firing pulse and stun rounds, the latter being used to get past shielded enemies.
While you could go into this game madly mashing buttons, the combat is extremely rewarding when you take the time to analyze the enemies and perform slick combos and counters. You can even listen for audible cues for counters on certain mechs. Some bots have icons noting you can perform a takedown move on them, usually with explosive results that can aid you even further against any remaining targets.
There is a bit of stealth where you have Trip decoy enemies so you can sneak around them or get to the next cover and then you can return the favor by drawing fire on your position so Trip can join you. Additional cooperation comes into play when you have to give Trip the occasional piggyback ride or throw her across some distance she can’t jump herself. It’s an interesting dynamic that is used just enough so it doesn’t get stale. Monkey also has a Cloud – a hover disc that glides on a cushion of air. This leads to some fast chase sequences as well as some more leisurely exploration. The physics and handling of this disc were surprisingly good once you get the hang of it.
Other action game staples are in place like the regenerating shield that protects the primary health bar, all of which can be upgraded. It’s a fairly elaborate upgrade system that is hard to max out unless you are extremely diligent in locating every last tech orb. Also hidden around the levels are dozens of masks that will glitch Monkey’s headband and give him some wild hallucinations. These make more sense when you eventually reach the mind-blowing epilogue.
I was continually stunned by the visuals that were coming from my HDTV. The term “post-apocalyptic” usually stirs up images of dark and dirty levels, but Enslaved is like a trip through Jurassic Park. We’re given hints that the “war” was 200 years ago, so we still have just enough of the NYC skyline remaining to identify the location, but then the designers have gone in and seamlessly overlaid civilization with a suitable amount of lush green vegetation, rust, and decay while keeping everything sunny bright and oddly cheerful – if it weren’t for those human-hating robot slave masters.
The animation is super smooth, both in combat and in acrobatic navigation where Monkey has a decisive weight and physicality about him. The camera can be a bit twitchy until you get used to the sensitivity of the stick. Character designs are breathtaking, especially in the close-ups where facial mo-cap work is used to convey even the slightest hint of emotion. Trip is easily one of the most innocent beauties to grace a video game in quite some time – a great contrast to the revolting Pigsy. The audio portion of the game is just as amazing as everything else with epic music worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, incredible voice acting and one of the best scripts in recent years. This is the kind of writing I expect from adventure games and Pigsy has some of the best lines in the game. The sound effects are just as impressive with great environmental sounds, creepy mech noises, and blazing combat and weapon’s fire effects that will blow you away in a stunning Dolby Digital 3D mix.
Enslaved is a long and challenging action game with a steady progression of difficulty. It’s not long before the designers start throwing excessive numbers of enemy mechs at you and mix and match their types, which forces you to do some impromptu strategic planning in mid-combat, especially when they throw in a mech that is signaling for backup and you have 10 seconds to destroy him. It pays to find those tech orbs and upgrade wisely; still, nothing can prepare you for the final level.
The story is totally captivating and I really enjoyed the relationship that develops between Monkey and Trip. It’s not your typical Stockholm syndrome, especially when Pigsy, an old friend of Trip joins the party and complicates things. In fact, from the moment Pigsy joins the story, the entire game gets exponentially better clear through to the very end. You really start to develop relationships with these characters.
There are some challenging Achievements waiting for you, some of which are easily earned while playing normally and others that will take some dedicated exploration and at least one additional replay. You can revisit individual chapters to find missing items or replay on a harder skill level. While there is no multiplayer there is the promise of future DLC so don’t run off and trade this game in anytime soon. Besides, Enslaved is one of those games that is so cinematically fantastic, you’ll want to revisit the experience in a few months just like a good movie.
I can’t believe how far this game has come since its disappointing debut at E3. What was once a clunky uninspired mess has now turned into one of my top picks for Best Action Game of 2010. If you play the demo (which is also the first level of the game) and enjoy it then rest assured in the knowledge that it only gets a billion times better the moment the demo level ends and the real game continues. Enslaved is an amazing ride that no action gamer should consider missing.