GSY REVIEW | X360, PS3 Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | 8:00 PM

Gamersyde Review: Enslaved

Gamersyde Review: Enslaved

Many games are hitting shelves at this time of the year and it is difficult to cover them all. As we are a small team, we unfortunately have to choose which titles will get a detailed Gamersyde Review. To start October, we chose the new game from Heavenly Sword’s creators. Follow me inside for the complete review of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West accompanied, for once, by a bunch of videos taken from both versions of the game.

Free adaptation of the famous Chinese novel Journey to the West (which also inspired Akira Toriyama for Dragon Ball), Enslaved's main ambition is to embark players upon an odyssey that will follow the adventures of Trip and Monkey. Two protagonists who are diametrically opposed, Trip being fragile and attached to her clan, and Monkey a lone wolf armed for survival in a hostile world apparently controlled by machines. Two heroes who will have to stick together in an epic story whose narration was the object of a quite particular attention. We must admit that, with director Alex Garland (28 days later, Sunshine or The Beach) behind the scenario of the game, we could expect something good.

Forced to help Trip to go back home because of the slave headband she fixed on his head (see our video of the demo of the game to find out more), Monkey will nevertheless need the talents of the young woman to survive. Story of a permanent co-dependence, Enslaved succeeds where many other games fail, developing a strong relationship between both main characters and thus making them very interesting for the player. Thanks to efficient cutscenes and a good character modeling, it will be difficult not to embark upon this great journey. Reminding the Prince of Persia of 2008 or both Uncharted titles, the work on the characters is undoubtedly a great part of the success of the game.

It is not long before the player realizes that Monkey needs Trip as much as she needs his. Thanks to her computer skills, she is for example able to use a decoy that will allow Monkey to avoid enemy fire. To do that, provided the gauge is full, simply use the circular menu (L1/Lb) every time that a diversion is needed. Trip is also able to scan the area to reveal hidden mines or lurking enemies. This ability however, is automatically triggered when you first visit a new place thanks to a little device found in chapter two which is perfectly integrated in the universe of the game.

The HUD itself is justified by the scenario at the beginning of the adventure. It is maybe an easy way to explain it but after all most games don’t even take the time to justify its presence (health and shield bars, objectives, ammo etc). But let’s come back to Trip’s talents if you don't mind. Apart from allowing Monkey to upgrade his skills (which we shall talk about more later), she will also give him strategic information about his enemies (weapon type, shield or not, technical failures etc) and, before maybe opening the gates to her heart, she will have to unlock many doors so they can continue their adventure.

Now that we introduced a few aspects of the game it is time to speak about gameplay. There will be people who won’t like the work of Ninja Theory, the kind of players who only like games when they are challenging and offer total freedom. To prevent them from being disappointed, I will put it down right now: yes, Enslaved takes the player by the hand, from start to finish, he is assisted at every moment, remembering that he is stuck on rails. But what rails!

Even the most open minded players might regret the lack of freedom during the platform sequences of the game. If the Prince of Persia from 2008 was already pissing you off, then you will most probably dislike this game even more. This time, not only is the way marked out by glowing pieces of the stage to avoid the player getting lost, but it is even impossible to fall from a platform. That is to say, if you don’t find the right direction for a jump, Monkey won’t even move a muscle.

On the one hand, the gameplay gains in pace and dynamism but on the other hand, it lacks the challenge you might be looking for, and maybe even, some will say, its main interest. Uncharted 2 had a similar approach even if it left the possibility (though it was rare) to fail the action and fall to your death. In Enslaved, Monkey will automatically adjust the length of his jumps and, unlike Lara Croft who has always had to endure painful deaths because of the player's failed attempts, here you won’t be able to jump if it wasn’t previously decided by the developers.

Does it mean that the platforming aspect of the game is not fun at all? Well, once again, it depends on the kind of player you are. The way these sequences are staged makes you feel like the hero of an adventure movie, so it is really immersive in the end, even though death is almost impossible. That being said, sometimes a good timing will be required in order to survive, as some platforms will actually crumble and fall should you decide to take a little too much time sightseeing. One example is when Trip and Monkey have to climb the Brooklyn bridge while part of it is falling to pieces, a sequence where Monkey will also have to take care of his lovely companion. As the demo of the game gives a pretty good idea of what to expect, I won't say more, but suffice to say that the platforming sequences are indeed very effective when watching. Now as for playing, you will either be sensitive to it, or reject it completely.

Monkey can also use a device he calls the cloud, which allows him to somehow levitate above the ground much like Marty McFly in Back to the Future 2. It is of course very reminiscent of Dragon Ball too, but given both stories got their inspiration from the same tale, it is no wonder. The game feels a little bit less linear in its structure when using the cloud, because you are more or less free to wander around the area you are exploring. Don't get me wrong, there are not several ways of dealing with the situations, but the players has a bit more freedom somehow. Some sequences will still be scripted and straightforward though, as you will need to catch up with an enemy to save Trip from a horrible death. One should also note that the cloud cannot be used whenever you want, but there is a justification to that in the story too. That's why some areas or some bosses will require you to use it, while some others won't.

The combat system and the way health is dealt with is a bit more challenging than the rest. Indeed, contrary to most games now, where health regenerates with time, here you will need med kits every time you are badly wounded during a fight. Because of that, it is necessary to learn the basics of combat before going head first. Don't hesitate to parry or dodge your opponents' attacks or you will not last long, especially when outnumbered. Unfortunately, the combat itself is nothing like what you can find in Bayonetta or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which means it is definitely accessible.

After Heavenly Sword, it comes as a bit of a surprise, as this PS3 exclusive offered quite a good number of combos and tactics to handle the enemies. Once again though, because the different encounters are well-staged, because you can feel the violence of every blow, it is always rather exciting to kick some robot's ass. The hate and determination of the main character is something that is easily transmitted to the player, and it helps the immersion process, however limited the combat may be. I just said that health does not regenerate in Enslaved but it is not entirely accurate. You can actually choose to upgrade your character (three levels are available but they cost a lot) so you can recover without having to find a precious med kit.

Which brings me to the upgrade system of the game, a system that makes it possible to enhance Monkey's abilities: defense, attack, health, firepower. Nothing really original stands out, but it is still a welcome addition to the game. All you need to do is collect all the red orbs you see scattered throughout the levels and use them with Trip. Since the enemies you have to face are well-equipped most of the time (protective shields, gatling guns etc), needless to say collecting orbs will not be a waste of time.

Talking about enemies, you should obviously expect robots to give you a hard time during your quest. So yes, you will only have to fight metallic beings, most of which are rather similar in design. There are not a great number of different foes either, but the little variety there is is not that much of a boring element. Given the context in which the story is set, it is indeed quite logical to find a limited amount of robot models. It is hard to imagine hundreds of different robot types after all, even in the Terminator movies it did not happen. Sometimes, running away or using your wits will be your best chance to stay alive, giving a sort of Crash Bandicoot meets Prince of Persia feel to the game.

Enslaved also has some Third Person Shooter elements as you can use your staff as a firearm. Two types of ammo are available: plasma, lethal and deadly, and stunt, necessary to buy you a little time. Monkey can also use turrets as well as the machine guns of his fallen enemies to take out those who might threaten Trip's life. One thing I noted was that the PS3 controller makes it a bit trickier to aim because of the two analog sticks, and it was also easier to handle the camera with the 360 controller because of that. I know that some will argue that it is just a matter of getting used to, but still, that's how I felt when playing the two versions of the game.

One of the main strengths of Enslaved is definitely its artistic design and the world that it chose to depict. With a colorful post-apocalyptic world the player knows very little about, Ninja Theory manages to set some believable environments, whose verticality gives the landscape an impression of grandeur and size, even though the different areas are not that big. No open world here, as each location has only one exit and one way to get to it but it all makes sense in such a context. It seems indeed perfectly normal that there should be so many obstacles in the two characters' way, preventing them from having the freedom they are after.

Technically speaking, Unreal Engine 3 has known better days: texture pop-in (something that seems a bit more of a problem on 360), aliasing, screen tearing (on PS3)... There are some framerate issues too, as slowdowns happen once in a while but it appears the 360 version may be a tad more stable. Thankfully, all this never affects gameplay and however surprising it may sound, it does not make the visuals any less good. Obviously, it is all very subjective, but I found the game's graphics very pleasant and I immediately fell for Enslaved's design.

Ninja Theory had shown what they could do with Heavenly Sword, a game that may not have been praised for its gameplay or its very short adventure but that proved the studio's technical and artistic skills, and they confirm they have a talented team when it comes to giving life to enticing characters. The choice of Trip as the main female character is certainly a proof that they have a thing for redheads, but even if she bears a little resemblance with Nariko, she is different enough so we don't get a feeling of déjà vu. The voice acting should also be praised, as Andy Serkis and the others deliver a great performance from beginning to end.

Enlaved: Odyssey to the West may not be the most impressive game of this end of year on a technical standpoint, but thanks to rich and detailed environments, it definitely has a lot of charm. Aside from the visuals, the game offers a great adventure with believable characters it is quite easy to identify with. Sure, we could have done with more freedom and challenge, and it is true that the focus has been more on design and story than on gameplay in some areas. So if you did not like Prince of Persia in 2008 because of how it played, maybe Enslaved is not a game for you either. That being said, by borrowing ideas from games like Uncharted, making the game closer to a movie experience thanks to efficient scripts, Ninja Theory's new title manages to keep an almost perfect pace during the 8 to 10 hours necessary to complete the adventure. And if you do not want to finish it too soon, I advise you to choose the hard difficulty setting as in our videos. It can be a bit harder sometimes, but nothing impossible and that way you will have fun a little longer. Because in the end, what is to be remembered about Enslaved is that it is great fun to play, something of importance in video games, wouldn't you say?

Cutscenes (PS3)
Download: WMV HD | MP4 HD | AVI
Trip (PS3)
Download: WMV HD | MP4 HD | AVI
Platforming #1 (PS3)
Download: WMV HD | MP4 HD | AVI
Platforming #2 (360)
Download: WMV HD | MP4 HD | AVI
Combat & Upgrades (PS3)
Download: WMV HD | MP4 HD | AVI
Combat #2 (360)
Download: WMV HD | MP4 HD | AVI
Environments (360)
Download: WMV HD | MP4 HD | AVI

All comments

Commented on 2010-10-13 20:03:23
Well its been a while when i could really enjoy the game and acually finish it. Great game.
This message and account have been deleted at the user's request
Commented on 2010-10-13 20:57:50
Are you guys reviewing personal copies of the games, or ones the publishers sent you (along with score expectations)? It's been years since I regularly read or cared for reviews, now that it's all about hype and money. They actually hire people now to go on forums and hype games or troll whoever doesn't like them
Commented on 2010-10-13 21:02:22
Maybe it's good gameplay-wise, but graphic-wise it's pretty mediocre with some really awful textures here and there. Also I just hate main character design...
Commented on 2010-10-13 21:14:23 In reply to broman
Posted by broman
Are you guys reviewing personal copies of the games, or ones the publishers sent you (along with score expectations)? It's been years since I regularly read or cared for reviews, now that it's all about hype and money. They actually hire people now to go on forums and hype games or troll whoever doesn't like them
Namco-Bandai sent me a PS3 version and I bought a 360 version. Does it answer your question?

One thing is, as I said in the article, we are a very small team, so we will always choose the games that will get a review. The fact that some of them are sent to us by the publishers does not make our reviews any less honest. You may disagree with our verdict, as there's always a great part of subjectivity, but you can't accuse us of being bribed. Especially since we don't give scores, which is usually why some publishers put pressure on some journalists.

I also should remind you that we are not professional journalists, that we actually all have our jobs and that Gamersyde exists because we want to give the site some of our free time.

So you can rest assured that we will never get paid by anyone for what we do here.
Commented on 2010-10-13 22:30:47
I beat Enslaved: Odyssey to the West over the weekend, and I have to say, this game is fantastic!!!

Funny thing is, even though I own it, I have never beaten Prince of Persia (2008). It's an alright game, but I never felt it was worthy of my full attention from start to finish. About halfway through, I just kinda gave up and went on my way to something else. It was not until months later during a gaming lull, when I finally came back to it, and completed PoP(2008).

But despite the similarities between the two games, Enslaved is an entirely different beast altogether. Maybe it's the story, or the memorable characters, or maybe there is just enough of Uncharted added into the mix, to really make the formula work. Whatever it is, there are whole chunks of this game where putting down the controller and doing something else, could be considered a mortal sin against videogames. Marathon play sessions with Enslaved, seemed to be the norm with my play-thru.

I was doing my usual online browsing today, and came across a fan review/impression about Enslaved, that made some very interesting points:

Anyway, it's just been sooooo long since I have played a game that was this riveting and made me feel this good about playing it. There is a lot of old school (16-bit, Another World, Flashback, Rolling Thunder 2, Thunder Force III, Mega Turrican, Ranger X, Blackthorne, old school) design elements here. The story is truly epic, the characters are highly memorable long after you've completed the game, and each level is so much a complete feast for the eyes and the imagination, that getting to the next level and getting to explore it, is like a prize unto itself. I USED TO LIVE FOR GAMES LIKE THIS!

And yes Enslaved has it flaws. But even despite them, it still ranks is one of my favorite games all year. You know that feeling you get when you are fresh in love, and suddenly all the love songs on the radio just make sense? Playing Enslaved was like that for me. Not trying to hype the game up or anything (that's what Namco-Bandai's PR people get paid for). I just really liked the game. It really connected with me on a level that few games seem to these days. And in my book that is a very refreshing change of pace.
Commented on 2010-10-13 23:00:25
Enslaved is my second favourite game this year and it debateably tells the greatest story this gen, for that alone I say buy it.

Regarding gameplay, one thing people who haven't played the game can't understand is that whilst gameplay can be simplistic, you are never stuck doing one thing for too long, so it never becomes repetitive.

At one moment you are platforming, then next you are in a tactical battle field, next up your fighting mechs, then you're on a hover board (some self contained open worldish sections), then you find yourself on an on rails sequence, its now time for a boss fight, then a wonderful cutscene as well as alot of the story being spoken between the two during gameplay and then within each gameplay type they mix it up with things like set pieces varying platforming, different combos changing and improving combat, different bosses, different enemy types to make the game/ battlefield more strategic and then it all looks gorgeous and I mean gorgeous all of this is delivered at such a pace that you never get the feeling gameplay is shallow or derivative but instead consequential.

Enslaved could be classified as more that an adventure, platformer you could add racer (hover board sections), open worldish (sections have free roaming aspects with your hoverboard), hack and slash (the feedback from the rumble is so impactful that you really feel like you are monkey dealing the damage), obviously adventure (story in gameplay, environments and dialogue tell a tale you will not soon forget), shooter (Monkey's staff can be used to beat almost all sections of combat assuming it's leveled up enough and you have enough ammo) and RTS (on a simplistic level as you can order Trip to do things that aid traversal and combat on the battlefield) and so gameplay in Enslaved is definitely great for the sum off all its parts and whilst individually they may seem simple (which is to be expected when you see the wealth of genres it incorporates) as a whole it is nothing short of stellar.

It is not without its faults but honestly unless you are looking for them which I was not you most probably will not find any real issues, just sit back and enjoy the package, and what a package it is.
Commented on 2010-10-14 15:04:40
Got Enslaved and i literally couldn't stop playing it..finished it one Saturday

Really enjoyed it and i love how subtle things were, the character interactions were never forced, just allowed to grow and it worked so well.

I just can't believe how subtlety plays in making us human, the way we look, just a glance is enough to tell you how one feels.

Enjoyed the game very much though, it was short..wish it was longer and the boss battles and levels were great. My only grip was how climbing was very prefixed, you couldn't stop half way and go back down or anything, just had to run with it.

Highly recommend for action/adventure fans looking for a great story and satisfying experience. This goes with Prince of Persia, another game i thoroughly enjoyed with a story i found beautiful.

Now i got castlevania to go through, glad i played Enslaved first as Castlevania is looks to be a great game as well.. Good time to join the gamer crowd

oh and i forgot, i was fascinated with the ending of Enslaved and wanted to know others intepretation. Found this great discussion by gamers that is satisfying, highly worth a read!

*spoiler alert, only view if you have completed the game!*
Commented on 2010-10-15 01:29:15 In reply to Splicer261
Posted by Splicer261
Really enjoyed it and i love how subtle things were, the character interactions were never forced, just allowed to grow and it worked so well.

I just can't believe how subtlety plays in making us human, the way we look, just a glance is enough to tell you how one feels.
One of the things that I really loved about Enslaved, as that the subtlety did not end with just establishing and developing the characters, but in also establishing the human society as it was when it all ended.

I mean little things, like the fact that all the computer monitors are curved (something thanks to bendable, flat panel display techs like AMOLED and SED and Mirasol, all computer monitors will be in another decade from now). Or how they were in the final stages of transitioning from fossil fuel to energy cells. Or how there was a large political debate, with the mech issue being at the center of it, in the final days before the machines took over. Or even the general state of the economy in the final days. I mean clues to things like these are subtly placed all over the place in the design of every level of the game. It's so well done even, that you do not even really notice it, unless you are looking for it. And accurate enough, that while in the game we never exactly find out what year the war with the machines started, there are subtle clues left all over the place, where we as the player could logically pinpoint when it all ended, and probably be right within a 5-year radius of the exact date.

There is simply so much that is said about humanity as it was just prior to the end, by the game world itself, that is is truly amazing and something you just do not see in video games - ever.

Also note in the subtleness department, how at the very end in the Epilogue, how the roles of Monkey and Trip were ever so subtly transmogrified - talk about your character growth. I did not really catch that the first time I played through, but only after going through the epilogue a third time, did it hit me.

This game is all about subtlety, and I think in the future when more games have adopted this level of finesse about game design, gamers are going to look back at Enslaved as the point when it all began to change.
Commented on 2010-10-15 15:55:30
Nice review. Can't wait to try this after I finish Castlevania!
Commented on 2010-10-16 17:40:11
where is the clos review

About the game

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