This February the cult classic, Beyond Good and Evil, makes a return to the console in HD. Although critically acclaimed, it was commercial flop, leaving those who did play the game clamoring for a sequel. And, unless you are content to play nothing but FPS-inspired sequels for the foreseeable future of disc-based games you’ll want to support the dwindling number of quality, novel experiences like this one.
Summer is a great time for catching up on games that may have been missed over the previous holiday season. One title that I consistently spotted on clearance racks (both virtual and physical) was Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Fellow NA’er Matt was kind enough to let me borrow his copy to decompress from LA Noire DLC (which is turning out to be quite substantial). I didn’t really know what to expect form Enslaved, but I was left with the feeling that this game falls into the category of critical success, consumer failure with the likes of other games such as Psychonauts, or BG&E. A little over halfway through 2011, I finally found the most overlooked game of 2010.
Previously, on Enslaved
Our world looks like the depiction given by the series on the History channel a while back about what would happen if humans vanished from the earth. Buildings are covered in moss, and cities are in ruins. The environments are some of the most visually striking I’ve seen from any console game, ever. This world is overrun with all manner of dangerous robots, looking to capture humans for some yet unknown purpose.
Your character awakens from cryo-stasis on a slaver airship as he spots a female prisoner escaping from her chamber. Soon enough the ship begins to take a nose dive leaving our character looking for escape of his own. Naturally, the female prisoner has little interest in helping our protagonist to safety. He eventually finds his way to the escape pod of the female prisoner and both plummet down to earth. And that’s where the fun begins…
Enslaved is an adventure-action game, maybe in the vein of our modern Prince of Persia series — where the main protagonist (herein known as “Monkey”) performs acrobatic feats through jungle-gym-like levels while being equally skilled in close quarters combat. The two blend together quite well as Monkey must often leap and bound between cover in order to close in on enemies and initiate combat with the game’s various robot slavers.
The game gets its name from another well-done game-mechanic. When Monkey awakens from the crash of the escape pod, he finds himself enslaved by the female prisoner, Trip. Monkey has been outfitted with a headband, linked to and controlled by Trip. Trip uses her computerized armband (man, those are becoming really popular these days: omni-tool, nano-forge, pip-boy) to communicate with Monkey. She is also quick to point out that if she dies, you die. Uh-oh… I smell escort missions.
No Monkey Business
Fortunately, you’re dead wrong. Yes, the primary goal of the game is to help Trip get back to her home; and, yes, you must protect her — but this is a team game. Trip has tools to help you, such as a hologram that distracts the gunfire of bots so you can sneak in close. She helps to operate the levers and switches that make up the games puzzles (think God of War or PoP). Trip also upgrades your equipment, using currency you collect from exploring the environment and defeating enemies.
If you let the enemies get to close to her (which, thankfully, doesn’t happen too often) Trip will emit a EMP from her armband, temporarily disabling nearby enemies giving you a chance to save her. Interestingly, you can also distract enemies to Monkey — there’s a dedicated shoulder button just to yell “HEY” at the robot baddies. How cool is that!?
Oddly enough, this is one of those games that starts out hard and ends up being easier as Monkey becomes more of a badass fighter with those upgrades. Monkey starts out with an energy staff, which eventually doubles as a makeshift shoulder cannon. The cannon is used to shoot and stun enemies from afar. The combination of acrobatics, minor gunplay, and close quarters combat make for some pretty great action-fighting sequences, really leaving it up to the player how they want to deal with enemies. Your cannon can ultimately become powerful enough to one shot the lower-level bots, but they can move… fast, so it’s easier said than done sometimes.
The game shines in ways that are not always obvious. Unlike PoP this game does not punish you in the acrobatics game. If you push the thumb-stick up, and there’s nothing there, Monkey doesn’t jump. There were more than a few times where I’d wished the Prince would have used more discretion. This pays dividends when the action is fast and furious — environments blow-up, crumble, and change during these sequences and the game would really lose something if you had to repeat the same sequences multiple times due to misjudged directional leaps.
As stated before the environments are beautiful. There are a number of different major environments in which the game takes place, and much of the game’s narrative is told through the scenery without really saying a word. I can’t stress it enough, the game just looks good. The characters, including robot enemies are also well-detailed, making the battles (bosses included) very much enjoyable.
Although I’ve made a few comparisons to PoP, this game has the heart of Beyond Good and Evil. Although the two games were created by different studios (Ninja Theory) with different publishers (Namco), I might even go so far as to call Enslaved a spiritual successor (or at the very least a distant relative) to the much beloved BG&E. I can’t really put my finger on why, but I will tell you you eventually encounter a human character who acts like a pig (his name is, ahem, Pigsy) … just go with it.
My only major complaint with this game is that the camera work sometimes fails you when the combat gets fast and furious. Instead of letting the camera pass through an object and using transparency, the camera will swing around to ultra-closeup angles or just point directly down at Monkey. A few well-timed evasion rolls will often solve the problem, but the combat does get difficult at times (I played on Hard) and you don’t always have the luxury of adjusting the camera while fighting.
Another minor grumble: Surround sound audio supports the game’s environments, but I’m fairly certain that pre-rendered custscenes where mixed as stereo 2.1 only, which made it sound quieter. Add that to the fact that some cut-scenes take place in the actual game; it just leaves you wondering why it all wasn’t done in game. No biggie.
This game also has some pretty interesting DLC. I say interesting because it is a side-quest with Pigsy… no Trip, no Monkey. I was highly skeptical of this, and I am still a little bewildered after playing it, but all in all it’s a good extension. What makes this bizzare is that the DLC: Pigsy’s Perfect 10, turns this adventure-action game into an adventure-cover-shooter. Seriously… he’s a pig. He’s got no staff, no acrobatic abilities, but he’s got a sniper rifle and an arsenal of tech abilities. It’s a totally different change of pace, but the striking visuals are still there. The DLC also enables 3D throughout the entire game — this is done either via 3D-capable display, or using the same glasses that were included in the Batman GOTY console version. Unfortunately the 3D glasses were not included with this game, which was something of a disappointment.
I’ve played a number of adventure games in my time, and this easily makes the top 5. It’s hard to determine how this game found a permanent place on the clearance shelf (about $14.99 most places) but it’s a total steal at that price point. The campaign plus the DLC will run you a solid 10+ hours, which is right in the pocket for these games. The striking visuals and endearing quality of the story and it’s characters make this game a must play during the summertime game slump. I heard a rumor that a sequel was planned for this game, but will most likely never see the light of day. However, if this game is able to garner the cult following of a Psychonauts or BG&E it always remains a possibility. Do yourself a favor and enjoy Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.