Based upon the original classic Chinese novel, Journey To The West, which was also the basis for the 70s TV series, Monkey, Enslaved is a modern day retelling of the epic fable. Set in a post apocalyptic world where humanity is hanging on by a thread, and malicious mechs roam the ruins and countryside, Enslaved stars protagonist, Monkey, and his reluctant captor, Tripitaka.
At the beginning of the story, Trip escapes from a slaver ship, and in the process, inadvertently releases Monkey. The two escape the now crash-landing vessel, and whilst Monkey is still out cold from the rough landing, Trip fits a mind control device to his head. She needs to get back home, and like it or not, Monkey is going to be her bodyguard. From this point, the two are partners on a long journey through a destroyed America, one that’s full of Prince Of Persia-style platforming and climbing, and a heady dose of fast paced melee combat.
One of the first things you notice about Enslaved is the bright, vibrant characters and environments. This is no grey and brown covered wasteland, a la Fallout. This is a truly impressive and unique post-apocalyptic world where nature has begun to take over. Skyscrapers stand covered in greenery and vines, trees jut out of pavements and the sun shines brightly over lush, flower-covered vistas. It’s an odd sight for such a theme, but one that works, especially given the original story it’s based on.
This unique world design makes for an immediately engrossing adventure, and this is aided by some superb voice acting and well produced scripting. Both main characters are very likeable, and their relationship is very well handled. It no doubt helped to have input from the likes of Andy Serkis (who voices Monkey and lends his likeness) and writing from Alex Garland. The story, on the whole, is also well done, and although verging on the border of cliché with the post-apocalyptic setting that’s been done so much before, it always manages to avoid becoming trite.
With such high production values and great story delivery, all the game needs is some solid actual mechanics, and, luckily, Enslaved doesn’t disappoint, even if it does falter now and then.
The game plays in a very similar fashion to Prince Of Persia, and melds in acrobatic exploration and climbing with some solid fighting mechanics. For the majority of the game, your main role is to protect Trip, who will follow you around. You don’t have actual control of Trip, but you can issue some basic commands. These aren’t limited to the usual stay and follow, though, and although vulnerable, Trip is an invaluable ally.
Trip can project a holographic decoy that draws enemy fire allowing you to get the drop on foes, and can heal you and upgrade your skills and abilities, and she has a rather nifty little robotic dragonfly that can be used to recon areas for enemies and other useful information. She also has a useful EMP pulse attack that can help in dire situations, should she get captured by a mech.
Monkey is where the majority of the action is, though, and, as well as possessing the climbing ability and agility of his namesake, he’s armed with an expanding staff that can also fire projectiles, a shield which can absorb bullets and shake off damage and he also has a cloud. This isn’t a literal cloud, as seen in the TV series, but is instead a hoverboard-like device that can be used in certain areas of the game.
Monkey’s agility allows him to climb the game’s various towering structures and obstacles, and he can jump, grab and swing with the best of them. This mechanic is handled very well too, and it’s very easy to pull off even the most impressive ascensions. The jumping and climbing is all aided by the great control system, and there’s no falling off ledges by accident or missing hand holds.
The game automatically lets Monkey grab the nearest ledge or beam, and it works very well. There were a couple of incidents where this system failed, even resulting in Monkey falling through the floor into an endless void, but ninety-nine percent of the time, the platforming element was smooth, fluid and always enjoyable.
Trip is also able to climb certain obstacles but, for higher ledges and longer jumps, Monkey needs to give her a hand. Luckily, he’s able to pick her up and carry her and he can also throw her across large gaps and up to higher ledges.
Combat controls are also good, using a decent control system for light and heavy attacks, as well as blocking and dodging. It’s easy to string together combos, dodge incoming attacks and block hits. The fighting is fast and fluid, and again, feels very similar at times to Prince Of Persia, but it’s a lot more visceral and has a little more impact to it.
Monkey is a brutal warrior, and he certainly shows this in his scraps.
As good as the core combat is, however, it’s here where Enslaved also reveals its major downside: the camera. While exploring, the camera isn’t bad. It’s certainly no award winner, and the odd movements in some areas may annoy some, but in combat it becomes a whole different beast.
When fighting foes, the camera tries to automatically focus on your fight but, should you attempt to readjust the view manually, you’ll often be met with a camera that takes on a life of its own, focusing on anything but the fight. It’s a real problem, and in one boss fight I witnessed the camera actually moving away from my fight altogether, instead focusing on random parts of the scenery. It’s an odd flaw, and one that’s hard to overlook. Sure, it’s no game-breaker, but it’s a shame that the team didn’t spend a little more time getting it just right. At the very least, I’d expect to see a Zelda-style manual lock-on but, alas, there’s no option to fix the camera to a foe.
The lack of such a lock-on detracts from combat quite a bit and, although most normal fights with standard enemies are fine, when you’re desperately trying to avoid massive hits from bosses by dodging, the camera sometimes ruins things, and you’ll often roll the wrong way, or right into an enemy’s fist while the camera goes into a fit. A patch to add a lock-on would greatly help alleviate these camera issues.
Projectile use is also a little dodgy. It’s often very hard to hit your foes and, at first, Monkey’s staff fires very slowly. As most enemies are fairly rapid and zigzag around, you’ll find it difficult to land a shot, especially on some larger robots with small weak points. Ammo can also be quite rare, making this an even bigger issue. Of course, practise makes perfect, but even with time and effort, the aiming just never seems to feel quite right.
As well as out and out combat, the game does feature some pseudo stealth elements. Don’t panic, though. This isn’t a cheap attempt to do a Metal Gear impression, but is, instead, well done.
Often you’ll encounter enemies that are deactivated, and if you’re careful you can sneak past, avoiding combat, or, at the very least, you can get the first shot in, improving your chances. Other times you’ll be up against shielded turrets and will have to use cover to make your way around them so you can attack from behind. These sections usually involve the use of Trip’s abilities as well as some exploration of alternate routes, and help to break up the glut of combat and platforming a little.
Overall, the flow of the game is pretty solid, although it does start to get a little repetitive and predictable after a while. Basically, the game often flows in set patterns. First you explore a bit, and maybe do some climbing, then Trip will scan an area revealing some foes, and you then have to either destroy or avoid them so you can reach a waypoint. The levels themselves are linear, and you will feel a little on rails at times. Despite this, though, the game doesn’t get dull or samey, and is always interesting and enjoyable.
Collecting tech orbs (used to level up Monkey’s abilities) can become habit forming as you scour each and every location for hidden caches, and some set piece sections of the game are truly epic. The first level, for one, is one of the most impressive openings I’ve seen in a while, and reminded me of Uncharted: Among Thieves‘ introduction, only larger in scale.
In fact, aside from some camera issues, the odd glitch, texture pop-up (it’s an Unreal engine game) and some repetition, there’s not really all that much to find fault with here. Admittedly, it’s a little on the short side, with little to no replay value, but while it lasts it’s an enjoyable romp through a genuinely unique post-apocalyptic world with well portrayed and believable characters and a decent story.
If you’re on the lookout for a game similar to titles such as Prince Of Persia and Uncharted, then Enslaved will certainly fill the gap, and is well worth a punt.
Enslaved: Odyssey To The West will be released on October 8th and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.