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Enslaved Odyssey to the West Premium Edition

Enslaved Odyssey to the West Premium Edition

Release: 24/10/2013
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Ninja Theory
Genre: Action, Adventure
PEGI: T
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Enslaved Odyssey to the West Review – Introduction

Enslaved Odyssey to the West was a criminally underrated title based on the Chinese classic Journey to the West, made popular in the UK by television show Monkey (or Monkey Magic, if you’re from the US). Unfortunately, sales seemed to be about as lousy as the reviews, and with the announcement of DmC: Devil May Cry, Enslaved got thrown out by the anti-Ninja Theory crowd.

Released on PC for the first time last week, Enslaved has a second chance to thrive in a post-Last of Us world. Will people finally recognise it for the diamond in the rough it always was?

The Last of Us

The comparison to The Last of Us is apt. Two people must cross a post-apocalyptic world using only their abilities and smarts. Along the way, relationships are formed, arguments had. The games even share a visual similarity (and a lead designer).

The difference is in the gameplay. While The Last of Us was a pseudo-stealth title (like Batman), Enslaved is far more about hitting things. It’s resides in that place somewhere between the themes of The Last of Us and the combat of DmC: Devil May Cry. It works, but isn’t so terribly original that it manages to achieve far more than that. You’ll hit things and then move on. You’ll explore a little, find some more things to hit, and then move onto the next area.

Although the developers give you a fairly good mix of things to hit, and circumstances under which to hit them, this is never really built on very successfully. At first glimpse, it seems to be no deeper than any other beat ’em up.

But why should it be?

Journey to the West

For a start, it’s already got a lot more pedigree that most games. When Enslaved was originally announced, I was a little disappointed that they’d decided they needed to set it in the future. The original story is good enough that a straight up adaptation would have been great, complete with all the Buddhist mythology on top of it.

Enslaved is better judged as an experience, rather than by its parts. I hate to be one of those people but you have to get into how it flows to really see it at its best

The developers proved me wrong. Although I’d still like to see a game based properly upon Journey to the West, Enslaved managed to capture the very loose basis of the book while also capturing something else. The sci-fi setting works, mostly thanks to the focus on the characters.

It can be a bit melodramatic at times, and things too often seem like a means to an end (“Let’s set something up so that a robot can jump out for the player to fight”), but it’s not unenjoyable. Enslaved has character, and deserves more than just a passing glance. If you play the tutorial and decide the gameplay isn’t for you, if you turn it off and never play it again, you’ve done it wrong. It deserves more than that. It deserves more than many people gave it.

Enslaved is better judged as an experience, rather than by its parts. I hate to be one of those people – you can make any game perfect by ignoring its bad points and getting teary eyed over how much you enjoyed it – but you have to get into how it flows to really see it at its best. 

 

Yes, the fighting is a little dull, but there’s a weight there that quite suits the character, and the design around the way Monkey moves is very clever. Yes, sometimes the story can be a little heavy handed or will focus on the wrong bit, but overall it works.

It could have used a little more tying together, a little longer in R & D, but what’s there is by no means bad.

Born from an Egg on a Mountain Top…

It’s not the deviation from the source that’s cause for concern here, nor is it the occasional hiccup. Instead, Enslaved suffers from pacing issues that just make it a drag to get through. There are times where it just doesn’t feel fun. You seen more or less everything, and then you’re repeating. Some enemies have too much health as well, so not only are you fighting them again, but it takes ages as well.

By re-releasing, Namco Bandai are giving Enslaved a second chance. Now it's up to us to show we appreciate it

This makes the negatives stick out rather more than they would otherwise.

Audio is great – occasional score highlights important scenes and the voice work is especially good (even if Andy Serkis’s American access is a little difficult to get used to). Nothing to complain about, sometimes perhaps even amongst some of the better performances of this generation. The only complaint? Nothing quite on the scale of that original Monkey theme tune (he really WAS the funkiest monkey that ever popped).

The graphics were always quite nice, especially around the faces. This pretty much remains true. Even on PC, the backdrops are a little dated. Colourful, varied, but very old looking. In terms of movement and facial animation, it’s some of the best going. They put a lot of effort into this, and the direction is very strong as well. The PC version is certainly more smooth than the console version, although there are occasional stutters as you begin exploring new locations.

Conlusion

Enslaved isn’t the sort of game that you stick on a Game of the Year list, or that you remember as a beacon of innovation and creativity for years to come. It’s the sort of game that’s not just good, it’s solid. It’s enjoyable. It’s affordable. It’s the sort of game that you enjoy every second of, and that finishes just when it should.

It’s not perfect, but it’s worth checking out. By re-releasing, Namco Bandai are giving Enslaved a second chance. Now it’s up to us to show we appreciate it.

Positives

  • Facial and character animation is perfect, the rest of the world is above passable
  • The story is good enough, and it’s performed well
  • The fighting can be a little unvaried, but is a decent means to an end
  • The nature of monkey was… irrepressible!

Negatives

  • It can be an occasionally bumpy ride
  • Pacing is a little off
 

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Article By

Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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