A Virtual Tour of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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A Virtual Tour of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

So few games diverge very far from formula that when one does you can be rewarded with a special experience so long as you leave any preconceptions at the title screen. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one such game.

I'll provide some basic impressions based on the completed game, however, I find that my screenshots best convey the experience. While I'll try to not reveal too much in the way of spoilers, some screens do highlight poignant moments perhaps best left to a playthrough.

In fact, the nature of this game rewards exploration despite the mostly linear levels. The world Ninja Theory has created, and the reaction of Trip and Monkey to it and each other, is what elevates Enslaved. So take this SPOILER ALERT to heart unless you can't resist peaking behind the curtain.

Trip is a tech-savvy character who "enslaves" lone trader Monkey to help her return home. Their tense, involuntary relationship is the foundation for everything that follows, and their journey through a lonely post-apocalyptic world helps shape it in profound ways.

Though they will usually travel on foot, sometimes Monkey can -- or must -- carry Trip. This doesn't change gameplay in any appreciable way, except that from this position Trip can be thrown to otherwise inaccessible areas.

I forced myself to take screenshots of melee combat later, which you'll find below in all their blurry glory (it's not as easy as it sounds); meanwhile, there are sections such as pictured above where you can take control of turrets for a nice change of pace.

Monkey and Trip are rarely separated, except when Trip might be in mortal danger and is forced into hiding. Thankfully, Enslaved is NOT one big escort mission, and only rarely does Monkey have to protect her from immediate harm.

The refreshingly unique presentation is more reminiscent of the lush post apocalyptic Capital depicted in the classic film Logan's Run than it's wasteland counterpart in Bethesda's stunning Fallout 3. It's one of the reasons exploration is so fun and rewarding.

Besides turrets, Monkey can equip weapons from some fallen foes for a more effective ranged attack than is capable of with his staff, especially when it's a chain gun. Again it's a rare opportunity but a welcome diversion from the standard gameplay.

Surprisingly, you do have an element of control over Trip. A radial will appear with four gameplay options that are contextual, including movement, healing, creating a decoy and upgrading skills or equipment. They effectively add depth and a welcome element of strategy.

Storytelling is one of the strengths of this game, and poignant moments abound. They not only further character development and the interaction between Monkey and Trip, but they help to immerse the gamer in their world and their predicament, establishing a welcome emotional bond to their fate.

The otherwise linear levels mask a robust platforming mechanic this is encouraged through puzzle solving and object hunting. Orbs provide the in-game currency for upgrades related to shields, health, combat and equipment, while health vials and ammo canisters resupply those elements.

While textures are sometimes flat and draw distance is somewhat inconsistent, the production values in general are high quality and encourage sightseeing. Besides the flora, you'll sometimes also take note of fauna like deer and birds.

If Enslaved had a tagline (besides Odyssey to the West, that is), it would be "Discretion is the better part of valor." While the environment offers plenty of opportunity for avoiding hazards, glowing handholds and camera perspective regrettably diminish exploration and problem solving.

Once spotted, foes will target you with incessant fire, at least until you remain hidden for awhile and they renew their search. But sometimes it's best to keep moving as some cover will crumble under regular assault, adding another layer of strategy to such encounters. 

Periodically during your journey, you'll cross these masks that play out like glitches in the hardware that enslaves you to Trip. Sometimes they are in your path though on other occasions they are hidden, once again encouraging careful exploration.

Such masks are not to be missed, as they provide a welcome mystery to the proceedings. Typically you'll be treated to disjointed imagery that one assumes will coalesce later. I include the random image above because it's indicative of countless other cryptic visions that are separately inexplicable.

There are wonderful cinematic moments and the camera is instrumental in many. But it likewise points out another gameplay pitfall that sometimes bothers. Whether a perspective too limiting for combat or a changing perspective when platforming, the camera at times can interfere.

Character models are impressively detailed if not entirely creative. As many have pointed out, Trip bears a certain resemblance to Ninja Theory's Nariko from its Heavenly Sword PS3 game, while Monkey is derivative of a cartoonish brute, but thankfully his portrayal has more depth.

It's to the developer's credit that not all interaction between the protagonists is spoken. With the graphic detail and fluid animation on display, both characters exhibit nuanced behavior that speaks volumes more than the quality but spare dialog does.

Scripted moments and in-game cutscenes impress with their cinematic quality, befitting a title that reportedly was designed first for a film treatment rather than a video game. In this way, the environment itself becomes a main character in the unfolding story.

Though set in a future of mechanized horror, the design sometimes more resembles a steampunk sensibility. Combined with recognizable metropolitan landmarks, such debris helps establish an alternate universe that resembles our own but is enough removed to satisfy the futuristic fantasy.

The hoverboard is a great tool that allows for water traversal and jumps. Unfortunately, your enslavement limits its range. Likewise, its use is context sensitive, though when you do have the opportunity, the controls are intuitive and fun.

Momentary powerups in the form of boosts litter navigable areas and add an enjoyable arcade element to hovercraft gameplay, despite being no more realistic in this futuristic world as they are in the standard arcade racing games that inspired them.

Monkey's hoverboard doesn't stop at the waterline, allowing for fast, easy traversal of a variety of environments. In fact, exploration isn't its only application, as the versatile tool is later put to practical use in combat too.

The boosts enable access to areas otherwise out of reach through strategic placement in the environment, especially at the base of structures that form artificial ramps and serve as leaping off points. Helpfully, players can also press a jump button to traverse gaps and leap obstacles.

Versatility is also a hallmark of Monkey's staff weapon, which can be utilized for melee or ranged combat. As a projectile weapon, it can fire ammo that stuns foes or injures them. Your choice will sometimes depend on which foe and armaments you're facing.

Trip's repertoire of tools includes an artificial dragonfly that surveys the immediate area for hazards. These scripted moments provide the lay of the land in advance of combat, but generally are another example of gamer handholding as opposed to a necessary element.

The exception does identify objectives, but here too a more organic means of discovering such details would be preferred over the more obvious method employed here. For instance, a character can turn its head toward something noteworthy, or a partner can suggest something must have been overlooked.

Some foes require a measure of strategy to overcome, however, the relative lack of variety means a repeat encounter is more predictable. In fact, the few enemy designs are regrettable but not surprising considering that combat is intermittent.

It's to Ninja Theory's credit that its characters act believably in reaction to their changing predicament, often not with bravado or a cavalier attitude but with reluctance, fear or resignation. It doesn't hurt that every emotion is realistically etched into their faces.

In fact, facial expressions and body language are pivotal to our understanding of the characters and and their interaction. Monkey and Trip's relationship evolves despite their lack of communication, and without quality emoting its evolution would go unappreciated.

The evolving dynamic between Monkey and Trip seems natural and is handled with panache. It does not play as titillation, exploitation or cynical marketing ploy, but as dramatic character study of two disparate people destined to accompany each other on a fateful journey.

As in many quest stories, especially those told well, the destination might be the ultimate objective but it's the journey that proves transformative both for the participants and the observer. Enslaved is no exception as the characters -- not the action -- are the catalyst that propels the story forward.

What began as a flight through a ruined cityscape expands to include other locales as the tale progresses. This mountain refuge provides a nice alternative to the artificial steel canyons earlier traversed, and shows off the game's impressive draw distance.

Environmental puzzles become more elaborate as the game progresses, though the pernicious handholding undermines their creativity. Here, the two-head icon in the upper right shows where to go and the directive how to get there (perhaps on higher difficulties the HUD is less prominent?). 

The interaction between characters is not forced and develops at a realistic pace over the course of the narrative. In fact, the pace of the campaign in general is consistent and well conceived. Rarely, if at all, did I feel it drag, though those more interested in action and mayhem than story might find it tedious.

The facial expressions, animation, dialog, story, platforming and combat all meld into a compelling experience. I won't dwell on issues I've already covered, but will elaborate on the following screenshots when I feel it's appropriate. Otherwise, I'll allow the images to speak for themselves.

 

Melee combat features simple controls with a direct attack or more sweeping movement to create some elbow room when surrounded. Block and dodge likewise provide basic defense. This simplified approach feels appropriate in a title whose focus lies elsewhere than with conflict.

 

 As with orbs found throughout the world, more can be gathered by defeating enemies. Likewise they can be used to upgrade abilities or equipment.

 

  

 

Gamers would be forgiven for thinking Monkey and Trip were following in the footsteps of Nathan Drake on his quest for Shambhala. The design at times feels similar, though details are not as sharp as in Naughty Dog's tale. But that doesn't prevent Enslaved from having impressive production in general.

Though Trip's facial expressions show a range of emotion (see below), Monkey does not wear his feelings on his sleeve. At times, though, the gravity of their predicament clearly weighs on him, especially if you accept that the eyes are windows to the soul.

 

 

 

 

The mechanical world of Enslaved is consistent in its practical applications and overall presentation. In higher altitude settings, for instance, windmills dominate the landscape.

 

As the game progresses, puzzles become more intricate. This one can frustrate due to Trip's inconsistent command radial, but none are ever overly annoying and some are clever in their design.

 

High altitude settings show off the game's sometimes impressive draw distance, though graphical touches like haze can cloud the issue whether intentional or not. But the sense of setting is well established.

 

There can be vertigo-inducing scenarios, but you're often kept from making fatal mistakes, whether faced with strategically placed obstacles or retreating from ledges. Here again hand-holding is prevalent.

 

Despite the emphasis on electrical systems, the game does feature some steampunk design as alluded to earlier. This device is the most obvious example in the game.

 

Enemy design is limited, though enemy types are somewhat varied, such as shielded foes, scouts who will summon reinforcements, and foes with more firepower. 

 

The chicken dance is guaranteed to make you smile, unless you're Monkey and have something else on your mind.

 

Enemy takedowns are button-press affairs, but not of the QTE kind prevalent in so many action adventure titles today. Befitting a title that emphasis adventure over action, the one button executions are satisfying without being tedious or frustrating.

 

 

 

To their credit, Ninja Theory has designed environments that vary enough to prove interesting and evocative. This post industrial landscape is toxic but a refreshing change from the overgrown city ruins encountered earlier in the journey.

 

This "bridge" is a disturbing suggestion of what might await travelers, but as a narrative device is it foreshadowing or red herring? Such visual details are sprinkled throughout and add a great element of mystery.

 

This on-rails shooting sequence is standard fare for a FPS/TPS, but still a fun if brief interlude from this action-adventure title's standard gameplay mechanics.

 

 

 

Pigsy is a dynamic addition to the duo and provides comic relief. His knowledge proves helpful as does his shooting in firefights, however, his effectiveness with regard to the latter is inconsistent.

 

 

 Like the giant mech hand, this seeming centipede mech provides great atmosphere and compelling speculation on what came before -- and what could lie ahead.

 Iron Man apparently survives the apocalypse, though not this particular encounter. Designs are not always the most creative, but do fit well with the overall concept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some foes are difficult to combat, and might require a hoverboard or other strategy to overcome. As is typically the case in this genre, beware of stepping foot into makeshift arenas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you've found this tour interesting and helpful. Enslaved is a game I'd recommend to anyone interested in an adventure title with strong characters and story. Just don't expect a combat-centric actioner, and you might find yourself enjoying the journey.

 

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