Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Reader Review
As a child the obscure Japanese pantomime drama Monkey was one of my favourite and most memorable TV programmes. The foreign faces and exotic (dubbed stereotypical) voices were such a departure from everything else on the TV at that time. Plus - Monkey was pretty damn cool - he could argue the toss with Gods, fly around on clouds and had a staff that could extend to the length of football pitch. (fnar fnar). Plus there was Tripitaka. To this day I am still not quite sure if that character was a girl or a boy, or a girl playing a boy or a boy playing a girl or just some random Thai bloke that wandered onto the set.
So when I eventually got around to playing this I was overjoyed to see that they had re-cycled the Monkey characters. You join the game having been captured by slavers and your first task is to escape from their ship. You play as Monkey, a triangular torsoed , athletic chap who is very good at climbing and likes to fight with a staff. He also has a fetching sash around his waste which swishes around and made me think he had a tail for the first hour.
Tripitaka(Trip) is first encountered during the escape from the slaver ship and is less than helpful. After falling unconscious on crashing back to Earth, Monkey awakens to find himself at the whim of Trip as she has fitted him with a slaver headband which means that she can force him to do her bidding and which will kill him if she perishes. The initial part of the game focuses on their journey to recover lost equipment and from there to get Trip home.
The setting is a post apocalyptic Earth ravaged by war and patrolled by hulking mech robots intent on killing any humanoid life. For once the Earth is not a barren wasteland but largely reclaimed by nature and very colourful. The game settles into a nice rhythm of cut scene, signposting of the task at hand, negotiation of the environment and combat. Trip herself is quite helpless - barring an attack that buys you a little time to get to her to help out. Thankfully the game avoids the irritation of feeling like a constant escort mission by limiting the occasions where she is genuinely vulnerable.
En route there are numerous collectable orbs that are used as in game currency to purchase upgrades. It is never explained what these are, or why they are there, but as gamers we rarely quibble about minor details like that.
The majority of Monkey’s role involves protecting Trip from the differing Mech threats she encounters. Combat is an important part of this game and it is here that some criticisms can be levelled at the game. I played the game on the ‘hard’ setting. At this level the game is fond of presenting you with enough enemies to surround you. In the early stages of the game - until you can purchase enough upgrades - the combat is quite tough. The camera often performs poorly with enemies attacking you from off screen. Some enemies call for reinforcements after a few seconds - the arrival of these enemies prompts a cut scene - combat continues during these cut scenes despite the fact that you can’t see your character at all. Monkey’s animations can sometimes fail to complete properly leaving you open to attack. The frustrations encountered are amplified by the long loading times between restarts and the presence of some skippable and some unskippable cutscenes between each restart.
There are occasional chase sequences that basically require a perfect run through to complete - these are quite frustrating given the imprecision of the controls and the handling of Monkey’s cloud skateboard. The main appeal of the game has to be the story, which was written by Alex Garland who wrote ‘The Beach.’ In particular the gentle development of the relationship between Monkey and Trip. The designers and actors did a really good job with Trip. Her vulnerability and beauty really make you want to protect her. It is fair to say that she would not have needed a slaver headband to get me to do her bidding.
Towards the end of the journey we get to meet Pigsy but unfortunately no Sandy.
The game builds towards a spectacular final level with a multi stage Boss with sensible checkpointing. The ending is delivered via an epilogue chapter which is not interactive and thankfully not marred by unnecessary quick time events. The story is tied up in a very satisfying and visually memorable way.
The final credits reveal that Monkey was voiced and acted by Andy Serkis and that the excellent soundtrack was written by Nitin Sawhney.
Despite its occasional difficulty spikes and frustrations due to the flaws in combat I thoroughly enjoyed this game and would recommend it to anyone. Unless you are totally wedded to your achievement whoring, or just very good at games I would probably recommend playing it on the normal difficulty level though.