Playing Ninja Theory’s previous game, Heavenly Sword, led me to the following conclusion: the game was different. I enjoyed it in a strange, indescribable way. There was simply something novel about the way the studio approached the game – a focus on strange, unique characters, lifelike facial animation, and fantastic production. For some people, this was enough. For others, it wasn’t.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Ninja Theory’s latest game, takes that same foundation and builds upon it, hoping to include all of the qualities people look for in a fantastic game. For the most part, the studio succeeds, but the game also leads to just a modicum of disappointment as well.
The element of Enslaved that is clearly far and above the others is its story, which is mature without being uninteresting and quirky without being entirely ridiculous. Its premise — a future war leaves most of the population gone and war-trained robots roaming the planet — instantly engages the player and stays interesting throughout, thanks in large part to the characters. While they number only three (two for the majority of the game), this ends up being an asset, as you’ll get to know plenty about them.
The conclusion, however, isn’t executed as well as it could have been. The concept is fantastic, but the pacing really speeds up, so much so that the effect is lessened. In fact, it seems to rely too much on the “concept” that the writer must have had. I found myself being OK with the ending, but at the same time, I wish it had been executed differently.
One of the greatest developmental focuses this time around was on gameplay so as to avoid so many of the complaints about Heavenly Sword, and the good news is that it is indeed improved. The game’s about a 60/40 split between adventurous exploring and climbing and third-person melee and ranged combat.
Exploration feels mostly good, but has its quirks. The game doesn’t have a “jump” button so to speak, but rather chooses the most appropriate action based on your proximity to certain environmental features. For instance, if you’re near a ledge, the button will make your character climb downward, at least as a best-case scenario. However, there are many times that you’ll want to make a certain movement, and the game will prevent you. Get too close to a corner and the game will struggle to make up its mind, causing you to dodge instead of jump down. This can also occur during some of the game’s more complex climbs, and it may lead to one or two frustrating deaths.
Combat is a similar story. For the most part, it is a lot of fun and very well designed. While it initially involves mostly the alternation of a light and heavy attack, it continues to develop throughout the story. There are new attacks to unlock, ranged abilities, crazy hoverboard surfing, and even a turret boat sequence. The great success of the gameplay is that it does all of these varied sequences well, and none of them feels like an unnecessary, tacked-on inclusion.
But the gameplay doesn’t always work as well as it should. This is the fault largely of the camera, which seems to fight against the player at the worst times. Often, the player can control the camera, but there are certain times that the game thinks it is more fit to have total authority. During these instances, the camera control isn’t only taken away from the player, but also makes some rather unfortunate camera movements. You might be right in the middle of a tough battle, ready to line up a hearty strike on an enemy, and the camera will shift and completely disorient you. This can even happen when lining up ranged shots.
What I’m perhaps most in love with in this game is the overall look and feel. The setting is absolutely stunning, with lush vegetation mixed with dilapidated American landmarks, making the journey an absolute joy to undertake. While there are some strange moments graphically, including some slow-to-load textures, a touch of slowdown, and some animation hiccups created by AI pathfinding, they don’t interfere with the player’s enjoyment to any large degree.
One aspect of the game that I didn’t expect to be so wowed by was the sound. The music has a fun and beautiful mood to it, perfectly fitting into the atmosphere of the game. The voice acting is all top-notch, with both Andy Serkis (Monkey) and Lindsey Shaw (Trip) both putting forth performances of the very highest caliber. I did have one weird glitch in which the dialogue track disappeared for a while during a cutscene, but it was an isolated incident that didn’t occur again.
Once again, I’m left with the feeling that Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a very different game. Luckily, this time around it’s also a great game, and it’s the kind of different that not many people can argue is a bad direction for videogames. This is a fantastic videogame tale, one of the best of recent memory. However, I really wanted this to be far-and-away the best game I’ve played all year, and it isn’t. Not quite. However, it’s quite close, and though it has its flaws, I love this game and I want a lot more of it.
The game's production is fantastic, with beautiful graphics and superb facial animation. Some other animation can be wonky, at times.
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Aside from some technical issues that get in the way of the combat and locomotion, the game plays very well, though it does nothing groundbreaking.
The music is quite fitting and a joy to listen to, and the voice acting is the best you'll find anywhere.
The game lasts between six to eight hours, and while there are some collectibles, the game just won't last as long as you may want.
The game has its flaws, but they didn't stop me from falling in love with the game. I just didn't fall quite as hard as I wanted to.