Enslaved captures the heart in new game



By Zach Walton

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is what happens when a Chinese folk novel is thrust ed into a post-apocalyptic America filled with murderous robots and even more deadly environments.

“Enslaved” is the new action-platformer from Ninja Theory, developers of the fabulous PS3 title, Heavenly Sword.

Ninja Theory has taken the lessons learned from Heavenly Sword to create a game that’s as much a great lesson in gameplay design as it is an argument that games can truly be art when the right developer handles it.

“Enslaved” begins on a slaver ship with Monkey, our gruff protagonist, and Trip, a hacker with a penchant for getting into trouble, who break out of the bonds of their captors and end up crashing the ship into a destroyed New York City.

Trip puts a slave headband on Monkey that will kill him if he lets anything bad happen to her. Thus begins a shaky partnership that will lead them to where else? An odyssey to the west.

Ninja Theory has always put story first in their games and it really shows in “Enslaved.” The story definitely takes time to grow on you, but when it does, I was engrossed in their tale and could not stop playing for the 10 or so hours it takes to complete the game.

I really hate escort missions but escorting Trip throughout post-apocalyptic America couldn’t be easier. The problem with most escort games is that the person being escorted becomes a liability. This is never the case as Trip has enough gadgets to keep herself safe from marauding robots, as well as creating diversions to let Monkey slip by turrets and robots unnoticed.

When combat is required to progress, Trip never stays around to be killed or get in the way. Monkey is able to go all out on the robots without ever having to worry about Trip getting killed. This really helps the flow of the game and leaves a better impression of Trip as a character.

Speaking of combat, it’s simplistic but graceful. There’s a weak and heavy attack as well as a stun attack. The combat staff can also fire plasma or stun shots, for offensive and defensive purposes, respectively. It’s a lot like the combat in Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia 2008 reboot. It’s great when I was fighting only one robot. Unfortunately, the game likes to face you off against multiple enemies at once and the combat is too simplified to accommodate.

Monkey’s abilities can be upgraded at any time which is a nice touch. The upgrades only add more health, shield or more damage to attacks. The combat is never really upgraded to handle multiple enemies at once so be prepared to die a lot. It’s worth it though, I promise.

The main bulk of the game though is the puzzle solving and platforming. It’s similar to Sony’s ICO in this respect as the player will have to maneuver Monkey around the environment while ordering Trip to perform a specific action to progress. It’s these moments that truly shine and really make the game worth playing.

“Enslaved” does a lot of things right and does a few things wrong. It nails the presentation, storytelling, platforming and puzzle solving to almost absolute perfection. It stumbles a bit with the limited combat capabilities and a few technical problems that are no doubt caused by the game’s use of the Unreal Engine.

Beyond a few minor problems, “Enslaved” is a wonderful game that deserves a place on any gamer’s shelf. It’s this year’s sleeper hit and a new example to be used in the games as art argument.