Did Finish Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Enslaved is a very hard game for me to review.

On one hand, it makes me angry. On the other, I think it brushes against the fabric that wove Shadow of the Colossus.

It all started when I played the demo on Xbox live. It was horrible! The camera was a battle, the animation wasn’t fluid, and the game almost led you by the nose with its blinking handholds.

Graphically, Enslaved was all over the place. Monkey looks amazing. The floor he is standing on looks like crap. After the demo ended with Trip enslaving Monkey to her will — an act that I found vile and repulsive — I wrote the game off.

A year later I was standing in Gamestop with a copy of Enslaved laying in the bargain bin, staring up at me. I stared back.

I don’t know why, but, I reached out and picked it up. There was something about the demo’s end that had been gnawing at me for the last twelve months. I took it to the register, were the employee had trouble figuring out fifty percent off thirty dollars (SPOILER ALERT: It’s fifteen dollars).

I now owned a game whose demo I hated.

My disgust carried over to the retail version of the game. Camera? Still Crap. Animaion? Janky at times, amazing at others. Graphics? Really messy and really stunning. The moment where Trip enslaves Monkey? Still vile.

But I pressed on, and it was very rewarding — after I came to terms with a few things.

The Camera (a.k.a., recovering Red Bull addict)

To this day, I cannot figure out how the camera made it through quality assurance.

When you are doing the free running portions of the game, it takes on a fixed, God of War style and doesn’t let you have any control. During combat, it gets distracted.

Mostly, that’s Monkey’s fault. Sometimes he does a (useless) finishing move and the camera goes in to capture the moment. It happens in slow motion, which is a very cool sight, but afterwards the camera doesn’t return to where you left it. Suddenly, the other robots you have been fighting are off camera.

It got to the point where I had to just leave the right thumbstick alone and fight by sound (the mysterious offscreen enemies heightened the excitement of battle, but that probably wasn’t intended to be a feature).

A simple lock-on button could have fixed ninety-nine percent of this problem. If only there was some way of identifying and correcting on these issues before a game is released!

Animation (fluid then rigid)

Monkey can free run, and he can free fun well. Not as well as Cole or Ezio, but good enough. When you get into a good rhythm (and the game doesn’t get in your way), you feel like a master of your environment. And Enslaved boasts some massive playgrounds for you to traverse.

The problem arises when you hit the ground. There are few — if any — smooth transitions in Monkey’s animation. It’s kind of jarring. After a jump he pauses for a second before resuming the run animation. It’s the same with coming out of the evade animation. He pauses.

It’s like the next animation set is locked in a library with an arthritic, eighty-year-old woman as the only librarian, and you’re stuck waiting for her to find it. It takes  a while, but she gets there. Eventually. (This sounds nit picky, but seeing it in action will show you how badly it hurts the game’s emersion factor).

Graphics (beauty and the sludge)

Trip and Monkey are amazing accomplishments in video game character animation. However, everything around them is not. The range of emotion that the two main characters convey with their faces is astounding. The wall behind their heads is something out of a first generation Playstation game.

I guess all the horsepower of my Xbox went into drawing the characters. It’s not that big of a deal, just on some of the larger set pieces where definitions in the environment get really muddy, really quick. That’s probably why the handholds have to flash.

But! (none of that stuff matters?)

It really doesn’t. I forgive Enslaved for its technical shortcomings, because it almost made me cry. The story is AMAZING.

You don’t hang on to your hate over Trip’s actions for very long. The writers of Enslaved deserve cookies — daily — for what they’ve accomplished. But laying praise solely at their feet (see what I did there?) would be wrong.

The voice acting is the top of the top flight. You can get lost in the character development and how they interact. They don’t have to tell you how Monkey feels about what Trip did to him, it’s obvious. Beyond that, you feel for him and his situation. The amount of work that went into bringing them to (as close as you can get to) life is breathtaking.

As the duo journeys to the West, some very bad stuff happens to them. The relationship evolves from master and slave into much, much more. You will become so invested in their lives and their plight that, after the final moment of the game, you will want to know what happens to them beyond that.

As I type, I am still wondering what became of them. I really would like to know… Ninja Theory? Any thoughts?

So? (I will tell you)

Here is the part you have probably been waiting for: will I recomened Enslaved: Odyssey to the West?

Yes, I will.

Not even its technical problems should keep you away from the wonderful journey that is played out in the cutscenes. And (when the free running moments are working) it will bring a smile to your face.

So please, go enjoy the Odyssey of Trip and Monkey. You won’t be sorry.

(Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is published by Namco Bandai, developed by Ninja Theory, and available on Xbox 360 and PS3)

About Donald Conrad

Donald Conrad is an avid father and a dedicated gamer -- or maybe that's the other way around. He loves his games, and he loves his family, and he's pretty sure he loves sleep, even if he doesn't remember what it was like. Follow his life confusion on Twitter @ConManEd