At first glance Enslaved: Odyssey to the West’s post-apocalyptic plot might turn away some players, but unlike the dreary brown and grey colored action games like Gears of War, Enslaved is a vibrant, beautiful and consistently stunningly realized world that manages to breathe new life into the ailing ‘post-apocalyptic’ genre.
Ninja Theory, the minds behind the gorgeous Heavenly Sword (one of the PlayStation 3’s launch titles), have taken a genre that’s been used and abused for years now and turned it on its head. It may be hard to believe but apparently, games that take place years after something destroyed civilization actually don’t have to look so damn depressing.
The monotone colors and desolate wastelands made popular by other games in this genre, like the aforementioned Gears of War and Fallout series, have been replaced by lively set pieces filled with polychromatic flowers, vast green fields, sparkling oceans, and even the buildings have a personality of their own (as opposed to the concrete masses we’ve all become accustomed to).
That’s definitely not all your eyes will have to look forward to when you boot up the game because Ninja Theory’s incredible facial animating skills only seem to have become exponentially greater since their last title. The facial animations alone were enough of a reason for me to want to watch the cinematics over again. Few games can pull off interesting characters, much less realistic characters.
The interactions between the brutish and crazy athletic Monkey and his captor Trip (who shares a remarkable resemblance to Heavenly Sword’s heroine Trip) make the adventure feel real, and as you progress throughout the story you’ll find yourself empathetic with both characters as they learn to rely on each other’s strengths. This connection between the player and the characters they control is an exceptionally important element for making a great game, and more importantly having that game stick with said player long after they’ve beaten it.
Somehow, the developers found a way to make the enemies you destroy as unique and alluring as the world they inhabit. The basic enemies, the humanoid mechs, aren’t terribly interesting. I’m referring more to the bigger creatures you come across later in the game. They’re gaudy mechanical things I found myself wanting to stop and stare at rather than destroy. This in itself is an incredible feat.
Enslaved offers quite a bit of combat (some of which can be evaded if you inspect your environment enough beforehand) and when you aren’t fighting various sized makeshift robots you’ll likely be traversing the world that’s been filled to the brim with areas that are ideal for showing off your mad platforming skills. The combat, while not perfect, is surprisingly deep. You have your basic quick attack, your strong attack, blocks, dodges, and on top of that there’s a plethora of combos, charged and ranged attacks to help you deal with essentially any situation.
I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the platforming; after playing a game like Uncharted that’s practically perfected platforming in video games, Enslaved seems to have taken note of all the things that game did well and brought them into it with some tweaks here and there. Monkey is, after all, more capable of pulling off considerably more athletic undertakings that would make Nathan Drake green with envy.
In the end, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West left me bewildered by how much I loved it. I truly hope this game does well because it deserves to. When other games in its genre are busy showing off high polygon counts and big brown worlds, this is a game that isn’t afraid to show off its prettier side, and for that I commend its developer. If you’re looking for a game that offers all the amazing things I’ve spent the last handful of paragraphs gushing over as well as one of the most interesting and original stories in a game this year, Enslaved won’t disappoint.