Ninja Theory has taken a strange trajectory through 2013. Earlier this year, the developer's third title, Devil May Cry, hit store shelves. The reboot of the iconic franchise was not without its detractors due to a dramatically different aesthetic and tone, and it proved to be a commercial disappointment despite a warm critical reception and strong core mechanics. 10 months later and the developer’s previous game, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, makes an unexpected appearance on PC.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a sci-fi reworking of the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West. Set after an apocalyptic war, the world has largely been abandoned and only a remnant of civilisation remains, alongside what's left of a hostile robot army.
The setting is at times be stunning. The skeletal remains of civilisation are being re-enveloped by verdant nature. It's a refreshing move away from the barren browns and reds we usually associate with post-apocalyptic settings. Despite its age and technical limitations - coupled with even more limited graphics options - Enslaved is a beautiful game with obvious care and attention paid to its lush environments, its detailed, motion-captured animation overseen by Andy "Gollum" Serkis, and its nuanced character design.
It's also clear that care has been lavished on the story. Main characters Monkey and Trip are fully rounded out. The nature of their strained relationship plays out naturally, and develops organically. There are the occasional fumbles, especially at the very beginning as the rules of their relationship are set, and the conflict feels a little rushed and too quickly resolved. Overall, however, the dialogue and character development prove to be sophisticated to a degree far in excess of what one might expect from an action-brawler starring a guy with a peroxide blonde faux-mo.
Other characters taken and adapted from the novel are equally well represented, and the central narrative pays homage to original story reinterpreting its themes of action, choice and consequence expertly and without the heavy hand mass market media so often utilises.
Early on, Monkey is captured and compelled to aid Trip by use of an electronic slave headband in order to escort her to her village. As a direct consequence the game plays out as an extended escort mission of sorts. The concept may strike dread in the hearts of many a gamer, but it’s not so much a burden and plays in a similar fashion to Bioshock Infinite’s Elizabeth. Trip will hide from combat while Monkey lays the smack down on robots. The combat its self is initially frantic and exciting, but soon it becomes clear it lacks any sort of depth. In fact, for all its visual punch the combat has no actual power behind it and its limitations quickly become evident. The real disappointment here though is that Monkey is supposed to be a magical master warrior, and it’s just not represented at all. This is brawling at its most basic with no challenge or pay-off. Even the addition of destructible cover and the constant need for movement and threat assessment can’t help lift the combat above being merely "OK".
Other aspects of the game also suffer from being pedestrian and uninteresting. Platforming and puzzle elements are functional, but both lack any imagination and act as little more than a distraction from the combat zones.
Enslaved is highly scripted and very linear, and despite the verticality of many levels and the sprawling nature of the world Money and Trip have a very narrow path to follow. The scripted nature of the game is both its strength and ultimately its biggest weakness.
Alex Garland’s script is for the most part exceptional. The story is compelling from the outset and only shows some tiredness at the very end where it loses some of its focus. Ultimately, however, it is a very satisfying and enjoyable tale.
The characterisation and interactions are mature and intricate, but the decision to funnel the player down such a narrow path in order to hit the stories beats limits the game’s overall impact.
The “Premium Edition” includes some additional skins for Monkey alongside Pigsy’s Perfect 10 downloadable content pack, a third-person shooter mini adventure where the player takes on the role of Pigsy from the main game. It’s a fun distraction and provides a very different experience from the brawler-centric mechanics of Enslaved, but it doesn’t provide much in the way of additional value.
As a port Enslaved sees very little effort put in to utilising the additional power of the PC over the Xbox 360. Graphics options are limited to a gamma slider and resolution selection, and although changes can be made to .ini files the lack of any in-game options is a huge oversight and a sore disappointment. The low resolution textures are muddy and no apparent care has been given to polish them up for PC release.
Thankfully, keyboard and mouse controls are remappable and full controller support is native. This however is the most basic of ports and despite solid frame rates and performance, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for PC is very undercooked.