Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a game developed by Ninja Theory, and published by Namco Bandai. It is available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It is a less than mediocre game and clearly intended for a ‘casual’ audience. The Xbox 360 game was played for the purposes of this review.
I’ll admit I’m hesitant to give a bad review to a post-apocalyptic kind of game, as I generally like this kind of stuff. What drew me to this game was the art work, the cover art, and the screenshots. It’s very different than most post-apocalyptic kind of scenarios, in that the world isn’t so desolate and barren. So think Wall-E, but instead of dust and nothing growing, there is plant life growing all over the place. The New York skyline is full of greenery, the buildings are
literally taken over by plants, slowly being broken down to the effects of Mother Nature. The idea of exploring New York like this is was really appealing to me.
Unfortunately, that is where the appeal ends. Heard of two people abandoned on an island that don’t really like each other at first, are forced to work together to avoid immediate death, and totally end up falling for each other? If you haven’t, that’s alright, because Enslaved has you covered. You play as your classic tough guy raised in the jungle. The “I have no family and I have no name” kind of hero. You and your companion are prisoners of some sort, and she controls you by means of a headband device which doesn’t allow you to leave her side without killing you. Which is why the game is called “Enslaved.” You, “Monkey,” are enslaved to Trip, your companion.
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I knew but one thing about this game before I bought it, just one quote I must have read online somewhere: “It’s basically one giant escort mission”. Honestly, that sounds like a recipe for suck. You know it, I know it: escort missions usually boil down to fending off the hordes while being restricted in your movement radius due to some defenseless ball and chain you’re forced to lug around. An uninspired and endlessly repeated gameplay mechanic meant to forcibly establish an emotional connection between the player’s projected game-persona and the “object” he’s meant to defend. While some games, such as ICO, opt for a subtle approach to establish an emotional connection, most games end up going with the traditional horde-fending-ball-n-chain-protecting-bravado that banks on the “overcoming unfavourable odds” trophe, which triggers a victory gulp of testosterone in order to emotionally engage the player.
To my recollection, Enslaved: OTTW has only two of such moments. In one of the earlier chapters Monkey (the protagonist) stereotypically runs to aid the damsel in distress, Trip, by kicking a small selection of mechs around. It’s only in the last chapter that this mechanic returns in the form of energized pillars that need to be protected. This nicely illustrates exactly why I choose to avoid “previews”, “eyes-on”, “hands-on” and “impressions” articles as they often portray a game based on the seemingly most prevalent game mechanic, bestowing an opinion onto every reader, colouring their ‘pre-impressions’ of the game. Sometimes this is harmless, sometimes it means a pleasant surprise when you buy the game and don’t find it anywhere near as tedious as the article made it out to be, and sometimes it goes horribly, horribly wrong. In the latter case, as the reader, you may be quite enamoured with the picture painted for you by eloquence materialized, aka Mr. Previewer, as he excites you for things to come, only to have you realize you’ve been taken in by false promises and empty predispositions. Yes, I’m looking at you Brütal Legend, looking in disgust I might add, you falsely advertised hybrid dream-killer! Damn you Schafer, was an open-world beat ’em up, loaded with awesome, not good enough? Hmm? Anyway, back to Enslaved.
Hey kids! Want to be indie like me? Now you don’t have to play weird, esoteric games with poor production values! You can play Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, whose real subtitle should be “Try as we might, no one will ever give a flying fuck about our game”.
Seriously. What more can Ninja Theory do? They’ve got a brilliant looking game. It trailers well. Lots of games journalism types love it, and sing its praises (okay, mostly Jim Sterling, but you know what? That’s good enough). And yet, 4 hours after posting, the dozen trailers on youtube have about 20 combined views. Maybe it’s just their luck, releasing their newest trailer on Bioshock Infinite day. Maybe their game is cursed. I don’t know. What I do know is, I’ll be buying this one. Because it looks fantastic.