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Revisiting Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Namco Bandai's commercial failure was Ninja Theory's creative success.

While history always remembers the games with the perfect reviews and the record sales, sometimes the best examples of the industry’s work have neither and become forgotten to all but the few who recognized them for being something special.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one such game.

Enslaved is a cinematic action/adventure game inspired by (and subtitled for) the ancient Chinese novel Odyssey to the West. Robots have destroyed civilization and enslaved humanity. Trip, a young woman who escapes their captivity, forces another prisoner, Monkey, to protect her while she returns home by using a device which prevents him from abandoning her.


Enslaved got respectable press while it was developed, owing largely to a creative team which included motion capture and voice acting by
Andy Serkis and writing by Alex Garland. A number of stylish trailers got my attention, and a pre-release demo sold me completely.

Reviews were generally positive upon Enslaved’s November 2010 release. PixlBit awarded it 4 of 5 stars, echoing Metacritic averages of 80 and 82 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions. Critics widely praised the presentation and story, but some believed the gameplay was too simplistic.

A single DLC pack, Pigsy’s Perfect 10, briefly extended media coverage before Enslaved was all but gone from the press. By February, Namco Bandai reported only 460,000 units sold worldwide—a far cry from the one million projected—and the game was already a popular clearance title at U.S. retailers. Since then, scarcely a word has been said about it.

Enslaved’s low sales and Ninja Theory’s involvement with Devil May Cry all but ensure Odyssey to the West will be a singular experience, but it’s one of my personal favorites nonetheless.

Monkey and Trip are well acted and well written characters who evolve both individually and as a team in response to their experiences. Monkey’s initial rage is replaced with genuine concern for his captor’s safety while Trip, initially a frightened girl who hugs her knees for comfort, challenges her fear and guilt to become a confident survivor. Vistas of an overgrown post-apocalyptic city, which is equally beautiful and unsettling, set the stage for characterization expressed more via subtle facial animations and vocal inflections than dramatic set pieces, although there are plenty of those to go around too.

Monkey uses a staff, which doubles as a melee weapon and a ranged weapon. He fights up close with a small but respectable set of combos and from a distance with a variety of ammunition. He attacks from the front and sneaks up from behind. He instructs Trip to distract and temporarily disable the enemy. He chooses which target to prioritize: the one about to explode, which he uses to damage the others, or the one about to call reinforcements. He fights bosses requiring a variety of tactics to defeat. He climbs and swings. He rides a hoverboard. He collects items to upgrade abilities and unlock achievements.

Some critics believed although the gameplay offers a lot of variety, it also offers little depth. Level design is linear. Combat mechanics are simple. Platforming requires little more than holding a direction while pressing a button to move from one highlighted spot to the next.

I concede to the game’s simplicity, but I also maintain its streamlined approach helps rather than hurts it. More challenging platforming, for example, could disrupt the pacing it establishes so well.

Considering the sum of its parts, Enslaved is both an artistic achievement and a blast to play. It may be short of a masterpiece, but it’s still an underrated game which shouldn’t be missed.

For more coverage and impressions of Enslaved, watch for a new episode of Backloggers Anonymous coming soon!


 

Comments

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

02/26/2013 at 12:04 PM

Ah Enslaved. This game really struck a cord with me. Maybe it was the art style and beautiful environments, or the incredible animations and emotions conveyed by the main characters. Trip in particualr was extremely memorable. I've always meant to complete the game, and hopefully I will come the backloggers segment.

angelfaceband42

02/26/2013 at 12:12 PM

I picked this up sometime last year on PS3 and it ended up in my backlog.  I bought it because of the story and heard the graphics were superb.  I will have to go back and play this soon.

mothman

02/26/2013 at 12:23 PM

The fact that this game ended up in the discount bins is a crime. I'm a sucker for story driven games and this one was definitely enjoyable.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

02/26/2013 at 12:32 PM

I loved this game but it got repetitive towards the end.  That opening chapter was killer though.  Definitely a diamond in the rough.  

Ranger1

02/26/2013 at 12:38 PM

Must find this and play it. I don't mind simplistic gameplay, especially of it helps move the story along. My favorite games have all been extremely story-driven, so this one sounds like a must-have for me. Hopefully, my mother and grandmother will continue their recent tradition of giving me either an Amazon giftcard or a GameStop gift card for my upcoming birthday and I can take care of this oversight.

mothman

02/26/2013 at 12:51 PM

It can be had for 15 to 20 bucks these days. I paid 30 for it and have no regrets.

SgtDawkins

03/01/2013 at 11:08 PM

I spent $50 on it when it first came out, and it was down to $20 a month later.  That having been said, I absolutely loved it.

On another note- this is where everyone ended up.  Hey everyone!

Chris Yarger Community Manager

02/26/2013 at 12:56 PM

Great game! I have yet to finish it though..

I'm too easily distracted I suppose

TheMart22

02/26/2013 at 01:31 PM

This has tempted me a few times when i've seen it around the $10 mark. Someday perhaps... sounds decent.

transmet2033

02/26/2013 at 03:54 PM

I absolutely loved the demo.  I picked it up and played a few chapters into it and then my ps3 died.  

jgusw

02/26/2013 at 06:09 PM

This is another game I couldn't get it to.  I really don't like escort missions and this whole game is an escort mission.  I also didn't care for the chick I was forced to save.  She rigs a device to kill me if I don't help her.  That kind of pisses me off.  

GrayHaired

02/26/2013 at 09:08 PM

If I find it cheap enough, I'll check it out. I like simplistic games.

GeminiMan78

02/26/2013 at 09:24 PM

Been tempted many times to get this one. But the mixed reveiws have alway made me a bit leary. I may have to just give it a go.

stratu23

02/27/2013 at 12:11 AM

I played the demo and enjoyed it. But your revisitation here of this game has inspired me to order it. ... Thanks a lot, Daniel, for assisting in further adding to my backlog :P

TripOpt55

02/27/2013 at 12:58 AM

I rather enjoyed this game for the characters, world and presentation. The platforming was the worst example of this gen's automated platforming trend where you literally can't jump the wrong way. Somehow by combining a number of gameplay elements though I enjoyed it more than each of the simple gameplay elements would suggest looked at one by one.

I like Pigsy's Perfect Ten though the ending frustrates me to no end. Man I hate Pigsy. But I really liked that they developed a whole different style of gameplay for a DLC add-on. Pretty good play length for a linear piece of DLC too.

I really wish Ninja Theory would have been able to make a sequel to either Heavenly Sword or this. Both are flawed games that I think could have had pretty great sequels. Good piece you wrote here.

MrDingy

02/27/2013 at 01:56 AM

If you haven't played Enlsaved or gave up on it early on, I implore you to go back and give this game the time it deserves.  The characters and story don't just develop they pull you into the world, by the end of the game I found myself caring more about this world than I have for any other game this generation.  

I dislike using the term simplistic when describing this game, I prefer to think of the gameplay as unobtrusive.  The gameplay is a vehicle to experience the story through the eyes of these characters, and in that regard it does so superbly.  

Halochief90

02/27/2013 at 02:26 AM

  Didn't really care for this one. I got for $15 and I still didn't feel I got my money's worth. But that might have more to do with the fact that I forced myself to finish the game. I had fun for the first hour, but once I realized the combat had no depth and there would just be an endless parade QTEs, I only pushed myself through it knowing it was short (probably not short enough either). 

jgusw

02/27/2013 at 05:36 PM

I did the same thing, only I didn't force myself to finish it.  I plan to force myself one day. 

markheg

02/27/2013 at 10:06 AM

loved this game!!!! characters and story where on key. wish they would do a second one. basically the same result with Heavenly Sword -  same company! never got the cognition that the games deserve!

BrokenH

02/27/2013 at 05:46 PM

The story and characters carried it for me. Monkey,Pigsy, and Trip were all great! I understand when people say the combat and platforming mechanics were simplistic but that's kind of why I enjoyed it. It had a seamless flow to it all.

GamerGirlBritt

02/27/2013 at 08:06 PM

I love this game. I got it at launch, and I was stunned that the response was so underwhelming. It was near perfect to me, and it was easy to get into. However, I will say the ending left something to be desired.

DukeLuke

03/03/2013 at 02:15 PM

This was key to me:
"believed although the gameplay offers a lot of variety, it also offers little depth"
I would likely be one of those who was underwhelmed. I enjoyed the game, but I suppose the thing that disappointed me was that it had so much potential that I didn't feel it lived up to. There wasn't the sort of depth to it that I felt there could have been. 10 hours on the campaign with the abrupt ending you mentioned, platforming that flirted with exploration without letting you actually EXPLORE (rather than just follow a relatively linear path). I was also slightly disappointed with the environments, but that's my own fault. When I first heard in the previews of the game that it was going to be a post-apocalypse that abandoned the slightly overdone rust & grime take on apocalyptic landscapes, I was incredibly excited. While the atmospheres were cool, I felt like they could have done much lusher environments. I think I was expecting something closer to a mix of Farcry 3's overgrown grasses, trees and forests mixed with Mirror's Edge's suburban sprawl -- if you can imagine it. What we got was something not bad, but very very different (with the exception of a moment here or there -- like the aquarium that was still standing, I remember that vision vividly). So that expectation is purely my own fault.

Michael117

02/27/2013 at 08:13 PM

I only played the demo for this and I liked what I saw. I didn't love what I played, but I loved what I saw. The artwork is beautiful and there's a lot of spectacle that pulled me in. I've heard a lot of good things about the characters and story too, so I definitely want to give this game a chance one of these days. I think I'd like it

V4Viewtiful

02/27/2013 at 09:54 PM

A flawed gem from my perspective, and some mechanics where a little patronising.

It just sopped short of it's potential really however it does have great atmosphere and a good world builder.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/27/2013 at 09:58 PM

There's a moment towards the end of the game between Trip and Monkey that is one of the most poignant things I've seen in a video game. Really love this title.

ShoeShiner

02/28/2013 at 02:39 PM

I picked up Majin and the Forgotten Kingdom awhile back, placed it in my backlog, and forgot I had it.  I heard it was along the same lines as Enslaved in that it sort of fell through the cracks in the wake of big name titles.  I will keep an eye out for this title though, as I have seen it in the discount bin and have picked it up to look at on multiple occasions.  Now that I hear some praise for it, it might be worth looking into.  

Nicoleb1989

03/03/2013 at 03:52 AM

I totally love this game, and I felt ashamed of buying it at the 11$ tag it had because it was worth more than that personally to me. I sadly try to hold on to this tiny hope that maybe they will look back and see its worth a sequel and make it.

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