Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a pretty game. Really, really, unbelievably pretty, in fact, even if it’s not the most graphically advanced game out there. It’s also a linear game, and while that’s rare enough these days to be considered by some to be a flaw (which is ridiculous—not every game has to be an open-world kill-fest), it allows the writing to slowly build up the complicated-but-believable friendship of main characters Monkey and Trip.
Just monkeying around
You play through the entire game as Monkey, and your goal is to protect Trip and help her get home after the two of you escape from a slave ship. You don’t help her because you want to, of course, but she’s fitted you with a headband that forces you to do what she says, and resisting causes intense pain. Additionally, if she dies, the headband ensures that you die as well, so you end up with little choice but to go along with everything she says. While these circumstances could easily come across as contrived and spiral into overwrought drama in a lesser game, Enslaved manages to be remarkably subtle about it all, creating emotion without being emotional and drama without being dramatic. There’s even a splattering of lighthearted humor throughout that makes the game all the more amazing.
Trip definitely needs the help
It quickly becomes clear that Trip isn’t the kind of person who could survive alone in the game’s futuristic wasteland (think post-apocalyptic, only enough time has passed for nature to begin to reclaim everything). That’s not to imply that she doesn’t have talents of her own—she can do pretty much anything that involves technology, including upgrading Monkey’s abilities and creating distractions—but when the time comes to lift heavy things and fight the many robots (“mechs,” as the game calls them) that attack the two of you, she’s utterly useless.
Fighting and climbing
These two things make up the vast majority of Enslaved’s gameplay. The fighting is fluid and balanced, and while it’s not the best combat system I’ve ever found, it’s certainly satisfying enough to not take away from the game in any way. You can eventually upgrade your combat abilities, using the glowy orbs scattered across the world as currency.
Climbing is also a huge part of the game, as the world is destroyed to the point where you’re frequently having to manuever around broken bridges and buildings in a manner reminiscent of Prince of Persia or Remember Me. Climbing feels very fluid and natural, partially because it’s not possible to accidentally jump to your death like in a Prince of Persia game (though later on, you have to time your jumps to avoid fire and other obstacles that intermittently block your way and damage you), and also because objects that can be jumped to have a shiny quality to them that makes them easy to spot. The simplicity of it all ensures that there are no frustrating moments like in Tomb Raider (2013) where you keep dying while trying to figure out exactly what a scripted sequence wants you to do; when Enslaved’s scripted sequences kick in, it’s always very obvious where you should be moving.
Sneaking and shooting
You’ll be doing less of these two things than fighting and climbing, but they’re also crucial parts of the gameplay. Sneaking kicks in automatically when you’re dodging the game’s turrets, allowing you to hide behind low cover as you make your way to disable them. The shooting is done by Monkey’s staff, which can fire bursts of energy of both the plasma and stun varieties. This has two uses in the game: to clear obstacles/knock down objects, and later in the game, to attack enemies who can’t be attacked directly. I was honestly a bit surprised by how well sneaking and shooting were handled; while these elements are a bit simplistic, both of them feel natural and never like they’ve just been tacked-on unnecessarily.
You can also issue commands to Trip
You’re able to bring up a menu to tell Trip to do things, from upgrading Monkey’s skills to creating a hologram distraction that allows you to get past a problematic turret. This also plays a role in the game’s infrequent puzzles, but it’s never leaned on so heavily that the puzzles become overly complicated just for the sake of being so. In fact, the puzzles in Enslaved are generally on the easy side, being involved enough to break up the pace a bit without requiring so much time or effort that they wind up frustrating you.
The camera can be an issue at times
If there’s a single complaint that one could have about this game, it’s that the camera doesn’t always play nice. It’s not horrible, mind you, but when you’re climbing around, the camera angle will occasionally shift so that you suddenly have to be pressing another direction entirely. However, this means jumping back to your previous handhold instead of moving forward at worst, so it’s more a minor irritation than anything remotely game-breaking. The camera can also be a little troublesome during combat, tending to zoom in when Monkey is backed up into a wall or other obstacle, but this happens infrequently enough that it’s barely worth mentioning, especially considering that you’re rarely asked to fight more than a group or two of mechs at a time.
Did I mention that Enslaved is pretty?
This is a game that was originally made for consoles only, and as such, it has some console limitations. What this means is that some of the textures are a bit blurry in addition to the game’s motion blur and shadows having their moments of ugliness. That’s all speaking of the technical side of the graphics, though—when it comes to art design, this game blows 99% of other games out of the water. The locations that you find yourself in are all universally stunning, and always in different ways; while the beginning of the game is filled with lots of green and blue, later levels have more of a purple-red tint to them. Each area is totally distinct, and it’s obvious that a ton of work went into making the locations stunning. Put simply, this is an insanely beautiful game.
The music (and voice acting) is also great
I’ve always thought that memorability was one of the most important elements for a game’s soundtrack, and yet tracks like this, despite beyond too complex to hum or remember in depth after finishing the game, are so beautiful and fitting that I can help but wonder if I was wrong:
Almost all of the game’s music is great like that, and the voice acting is equally superb. Andy Serkis and Lindsey Shaw in particular are great as Monkey and Trip, each managing to capture the subtlety of each character.
Here’s what you should do: