10 years ago, I played the demo for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. I thought the demo, which was the first level of the game, was fantastic. It was an amazing set piece which involved a massive ship crashing into a city. I never bought the game though. It was a point in my life when I was a poor student and couldn’t justify buying it at that time.
Over the years though, I’d see it in shops and I always meant to pick it up. Always remembering how much I enjoyed the demo, but still never committing to a purchase. It was my loss because Enslaved is a beautiful game with a compelling world. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but let’s take a look as to why this is the best game I never played.
But I have now played it. And finished it (just to be clear).
Enslaved is an action game set in a post-apocalyptic future where Mechs from a world-destroying war are a constant threat. You play as acrobatic, angry man – Monkey. He is captured by slavers and freed (but quickly Enslaved again) by Trip who was also captured. The game then revolves around Monkey trying to keep Trip alive as they traverse this deadly landscape of crumbling skyscrapers and deadly wastelands. The story is a touching tale as Monkey and Trip’s relationship slowly evolves from master and slave to something altogether different.
It is the characters and story where Enslaved excels. The combat itself isn’t exactly inspired. Using a two-button system of quick and heavy attacks, it, unfortunately, lacks many combos. Essentially this means fights are kind of boring and repetitive. Thankfully, there aren’t too many of them and they are over fairly quickly. This is one of the things about this game that I sort of dislike, however, it in no way hampers my enjoyment of what is otherwise an excellent game.
Talking about the setting once again, Enslaved does a fantastic job of whisking you away to this unusual world rule by destructive robots. The art style does an amazing job of helping the game to age exceptionally well. From the beautiful vistas to the character animations, Enslaved stands up wonderfully considering its age. Speaking of the characters again, the facial animation is some of the best I’ve seen and the voice acting is truly superb. I find it next to impossible that like Horizon Zero Dawn and even TV series like The 100 haven’t taken some inspiration from Enslaved due to the similar themes and narrative design at play. I won’t spoil exactly what, but you can see where I’m getting at with the giant robot animals shared in Horizon and Enslaved.
Enslaved itself probably owes a decent amount to the Uncharted series in terms of action set pieces and excessive climbing. However, tonally it is completely different. Whereas Uncharted is an action romp, Enslaved is more of an introspective sci-fi epic. While I don’t like the Pigsy bits, the bleak atmosphere penetrates every element of this game. Even the action set pieces, such as the opening scene with the plane, are beset by the fact that the world has ended and humans are at the whims of the machines. All of it builds together for a unique game and an experience unmatched by any other.
Enslaved could easily be considered a 3D platformer, thanks to all the jumping and climbing Monkey does throughout the entire thing. The game is strewn with glowing handholds. However, these aren’t meant to be challenging. Monkey is a badass who can effortlessly climb basically anything. I mean, he rips literally robots apart with his bare hands, so I’m pretty sure climbing is like breathing to him. Instead of these being challenging, players can make Monkey do tricks by timing jumps exactly as he lands. This shows off flashy flips, swings and jumps. It makes the platforming a treat, especially because a lot of conversations occur during these sections, too.
This is also a love story. In a way that I wasn’t expecting, the relationship between Monkey and Trip evolves over time and what starts with a master and slave ends with two people who care about each other. This throws up all kinds of questions around how that bond was made as Monkey didn’t have a lot of choice in the beginning but by being bound to another person he opens himself up and through there adventures they grow close. It’s nice to see two people find joy in a world that is so devastated and it counter the bleak atmosphere with a spark of hope, even if the foundation of their relationship is that Monkey was once Trips slave via a headband that cause him pain if he disobeyed her. But the fact that it makes you think and care about the relationship is a testament to the game’s writing and characters.
Enslaved was a treat to play and I’m honestly disappointed in myself for never playing it on release. It just goes to show that even though this is probably one of the most wonderful games I’ve played in years, if nobody buys it then it’s dead in the water. More people need to play this excellent game and hope some of what I’ve said has convinced you to give it a try.
And to do something different, let’s end with a joke.
Q:What do you call a mechanised boat?
A: A row-bot.
Thanks for reading. If you want more video game retrospectives, then check one of my Uncharted reviews. If you want more angry men, then one of our Bookclubbing articles on Warhammer are perfect for you.
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