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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Ninja Theory
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2010 (US), Oct. 8, 2010 (EU)


Xbox 360 Preview - 'Enslaved: Odyssey to the West'

by Thomas Wilde on Sept. 17, 2010 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

A tactical action-adventure game, Enslaved centers on the complex relationship between the two main characters and challenges players to employ a mix of combat, strategy and environment traversal.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is probably easiest to describe as a Western developer's take on Ico. It's an action-platformer with a great sense of spectacle and some amazing scenery, where it often doesn't feel like something you play so much as something you motivate. It's about furthering progress through a bizarre and often striking world.

Also, you beat up a bunch of robots with a staff, so there's that.

Enslaved is based upon Journey to the West in that there is a journey westward and that the main character, Monkey, is vaguely reminiscent of Son Goku. He's got a scarf hanging off his belt as a sort of tail, he's got a hoverboard he calls a "cloud," he uses a heavy staff, and in the gritty post-war dystopia he inhabits, he has somehow found a limitless supply of hair gel. There is where the obvious similarities immediately end.

Monkey is among the unlucky survivors in postapocalyptic North America to be abducted by the Pyramid company, a group of slavers that routinely raid the few remaining human settlements in what used to be the United States. The ship transporting Monkey crashes in what used to be New York City, and Monkey barely manages to get aboard an escape pod before the ship goes down.

When he wakes up, there's a modified slave headband bolted onto his head and a skinny teenage girl staring at him. Her name is Trip, and she's gimmicked up the headband to force Monkey to do as she says. She wants to get back home to her father, and if Monkey kills her, gets too far away, or doesn't do as she says, he'll suffer for it. If she dies, he dies. With no real choice in the matter, Monkey's stuck shepherding Trip through New York City to points beyond.

Much of the game is spent exploring and climbing around, and Enslaved is a pretty decent example of the post-Prince of Persia 3-D platformer. Monkey is insanely strong and agile, and navigating a series of handholds is as easy as pushing the thumbstick in the right direction and hitting the A button. At its best, Enslaved's capable of a great sense of momentum and fluidity.

Most of New York City is currently occupied by hostile robots, though, and that makes up the rest of the game. Monkey can use his staff as both a melee and projectile weapon, switching from one to the other on the fly. The melee system is reasonably straightforward, with simple combos and fairly lenient targeting, and you can customize it to get a few new moves or improve the ones you use the most often.

In an interesting change of pace, Monkey actually has a health bar and must find health packs to fix up any damage he takes. There's an option you can purchase in-game to give him the now-standard self-replenishing health meter, and he has a personal shield that deflects small-arms fire for a limited time before needing to recharge. It's a weird combination, as you can often go from feeling invincible to utterly vulnerable within a few seconds, depending on what's trying to kill you.

Enslaved is basically one long escort mission, but thankfully, Ninja Theory has learned from other recent games. In most stages, your main goal is to either protect Trip or clear the way for her, but in most action sequences, she holes up somewhere safely out of the way until everything's been cleared out. In the event that an enemy gets close enough to her to attack, she has an electromagnetic pulse generator that stuns every nearby enemy for a few seconds, but that's the only trick she's got. She only winds up having to use it at certain predetermined points in the game's story, though, so it's more of a sudden time trial than anything else.

In the best moments of Enslaved, it's a smooth and fluid platformer that's supported by a simple but understandable story; you're a guy helping a girl on her way back home. The action moves quickly, and you always feel in control, and the robot enemies often manage that tricky blend of being satisfying to beat without tipping over the edge into being either too easy or too difficult to take out. They feel like the major threat that the characters take them to be. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is basically a one-way trip through a story, but it's a fun trip and an OK story.

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