Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - Xbox 360

I already feel so bad for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. It came out in the most insane, overwhelming time for video game releases. It was sandwiched between Dead Rising 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, not to mention the plethora of titles that came out on the same day. On top of all that, it’s an unknown IP that needs to find an audience. I hate to say it,  butI’m not sure if this game stands a chance out there right now.

I’m here to ask you, nay plead with you, to please not let this game slip under your radar. It’s more than deserving of your time and it would be simply tragic if this game were to go by ignored.

Don’t believe me? Click onwards non-believer.

In Enslaved you play Monkey, who starts the game aboard a slave ship that is in the midst of crashing. After surviving the crash and escaping, you find that a woman, Trip, has attached a slave headset to you, forcing you to follow her demands. If you don’t follow orders or if you stray too far from her, you will be killed. She forcefully recruits you to help make the titular journey to the west, and this is where our story begins.

And what a story it is. It’s pretty rare that a game maintains a solid story right from the very beginning and straight through until the very end, but Enslaved pulls it off magnificently. You will not walk away disappointed.

Of course what really helps sell this story is the presentation. Anyone who played Ninja Theory’s previous game,Heavenly Sword, should remember how impressive the character work was. The voice acting, the facial animation, it was all incredible. Enslaved improves on it in every way. Andy Serkis is once again on board to assist with these elements and the results are pretty staggering. There is an amazing amount of subtle emotion going on in these characters faces that make it very easy to get attached to them and the events going on around them. The voice acting backs it up. There are only three speaking roles in the entire game, but everyone does a terrific job.

The environments you run around in are simply stunning. This is definitely one of those games where you will occasionally stop moving your character forward and simply spend some time soaking in the visuals. This is especially true during the opening half of the game, which takes place outdoors in a world where vegetation has practically taken over. The environments are expansive and often breathtaking. It is easily one of the most visually appealing apocalyptic worlds we have seen to date. Unfortunately the latter portions of the game take place indoors and are not the visual treat that the earlier sections are. Still impressive, however the game blows its load pretty early with the amazing outdoor scenery and from them on anything else almost pales in comparison.

So you have yourself a great story, incredible animation and voice work, gorgeous scenery and a fantastic musical score to lay on top of it all. Sounds like the perfect game does it not? Well there’s only one small thing holding back – the game play itself.

Now don’t jump to any conclusions here. The game is certainly not broken and in fact plays just fine. That’s my one issue though – it merely plays fine. There are certainly some stand-out sequences, such as the opening in the exploding ship or sequences later on that introduce the Cloud device (think Back to the Future II). For the majority of the game however, you alternate between some rather basic combat, and some very Prince of Persia-esque platforming.

The combat can be satisfying, as you primarily beat on robots with a giant stick, but it’s straight-forward and never rises too far above button-mashing territory. You do have the ability to throw your staff at enemies, which either stuns them or blows them up. Plus it’s always enjoyable when a combat sequence ends with a slow motion shot of you tearing a robot in half by ramming your staff through his mid-section.

When you’re not fighting, you’re maneuvering around the environment POP style. Once again everything here works on a basic control level, but the game tends to hold your hand through all of these sequences. All you have to do is point to where you want to go next, keep hammering the jump button and you will likely never fall.

While these two things will take up the majority of your play time, there are still some rail shooting sections and the occasional puzzle, some of which managed to stump me. The game is certainly not repetitive, but no one element of the gameplay stands out as particularly mind-blowing.

Were you to strip just the gameplay out of Enslaved, you would be left with a fairly run of the mill action adventure title. But when you layer in one of the best video game stories I’ve encountered this year, as well as incredible visuals, terrific audio and just wonderful presentation in general, you have a forerunner for the sleeper hit of the year. Please don’t let this one go ignored.